Fired Over Too Much Tupac? A Rap-Loving Bureaucrat From Iowa Says He Hopes Not The former head of Iowa's Department of Human Services says that, ideally, his dismissal will lead to "having open discussions about race and what we have in common, instead of what separates us."
NPR logo Fired Over Too Much Tupac? A Rap-Loving Bureaucrat From Iowa Says He Hopes Not

Fired Over Too Much Tupac? A Rap-Loving Bureaucrat From Iowa Says He Hopes Not

Tupac Shakur, photographed in New York on Nov. 29, 1994. New York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images hide caption

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New York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Tupac Shakur, photographed in New York on Nov. 29, 1994.

New York Daily News Archive/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Keep ya head up, Jerry Foxhoven.

The public servant who led Iowa's Department of Human Services was forced to resign in June, just one business day after he sent an email to more than 4,000 agency employees that included an inspirational quote from the rapper Tupac Shakur.

He used his love of rap from time to time to "reach out to our staff, tell them that I'm human, have a little levity," he tells NPR.

Foxhoven regularly held "Tupac Fridays" in his office, where the rapper's music was played — the lawyer said he liked breaking stereotypes about who listens to rap.

Jerry Foxhoven, the former head of Iowa's Department of Human Services, who was abruptly removed from that position in June. Courtesy of Jerry Foxhoven hide caption

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Courtesy of Jerry Foxhoven

"I'm a 66-year-old white guy from the Midwest who likes rap music, who likes Tupac!" he says.

In fact, Foxhoven is a Tupac superfan. The civil servant is utterly dedicated to the slain rapper, celebrating his birthday with Tupac-themed baked goods; marking Tupac milestones ("I might seem a little down because today is the 22nd anniversary of 2Pac's death," he wrote once to a staff member); and assigning Tupac as mandatory reading for his ethics class at Drake University.

But Foxhoven's tenure at the Department of Human Services ended without warning — and without a chance for an orderly transition. After his email citing the rapper, Foxhoven was asked to resign. He says that he was not even granted a meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Instead, the governor's chief of staff confiscated his cell phone and ID card on the spot and ordered him not to go back to his office. They did not cite a reason, and Foxhoven was not made aware of why he was let go after two years on the job.

Foxhoven was aware that at least one individual was not a fan of his Tupac quotations. In an email, one of his staff members alluded to the existence of a disgruntled employee, who then reported his Tupac references to state legislators. These emails indicate that action may have been taken due to his Tupac-related messages.

"I am going to hang in there on him — despite all the naysayers," he wrote in one email, after a staff member said that there were "haters" who didn't appreciate his Tupac quotes.

Although he knew one employee had complained about his frequent references to Tupac, Foxhoven says he hopes they were not the reason he was forced to resign.

He does wonder, however.

Foxhoven points out that Barry Manilow's birthday is one day after Tupac's, and wonders whether he have been dismissed if he had cited Manilow instead.

Email sent by Jerry Foxhoven to Iowa Department of Human Services staff. NPR hide caption

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Email sent by Jerry Foxhoven to Iowa Department of Human Services staff.

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"I always try to assume the best of everybody, and I can't imagine that [the governor] would base her decision on the Tupac incident," he says. "If this is the reason, I'm really disappointed."

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment from NPR. But according to the Associated Press, the governor's office would not confirm or deny that Foxhoven's rap references were part of the reason for Foxhoven's dismissal.

"She wanted to go in a new direction," the governor's spokesman previously said in a statement, according to Iowa Public Radio. The spokesman provided no specifics.

NPR made a public records request in order to obtain emails involving Foxhoven and his references to Tupac. Foxhoven's Tupac emails were first reported by the AP.

The email which preceded his ouster was a positive one, in which he recognized Father's Day, Tupac's Birthday and his own work anniversary. "Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back," he wrote, citing Tupac. "It simply means that you are 2 steps ahead."

In that same email, he praised his staff, writing that it was "absolute honor to lead such a dedicated and committed group of people." In response, more than a dozen employees at the agency wrote back to praise him for the positive message.

"You are such a breath of fresh air, Jerry!" wrote one staff member in response, according to emails obtained by NPR.

The hundreds of pages of emails reviewed by NPR show that by all accounts Foxhoven was widely admired by his staff and regularly took time to mentor subordinates. In one email he dispensed career advice, noting that he was inspired at the agency by the well-known Tupac song "Changes."

Tupac-themed baked goods, brought to the office by staff to celebrate Mr. Foxhoven's birthday NPR hide caption

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NPR

In fact, he regularly cited Tupac in staff and agency-wide emails — including a Valentine's Day email in which he marveled, "isn't it wonderful that we have a day to celebrate love?" This observation was followed by a quote from Tupac's "Dear Mama." The 66 year old's inbox even included a meme that referenced Tupac's famous collaboration with Dr. Dre, "California Love."

Ultimately, Foxhoven tells NPR he's glad that his emails about his favorite musical artist have now made national news, because it allows for a discussion about stereotypes and music. He said he was especially disturbed by a recent news story which reported that a 17-year-old boy in Arizona was fatally stabbed by a man who said the victim's rap music made him feel "unsafe."

"It's important for us to break down those stereotypes: if you listen to rap music, you're a criminal or dangerous. It's not true at all," he says, adding that he hoped his situation could lead to "having open discussions about race and what we have in common, instead of what separates us."

He first got into Tupac in the early '90s when the rapper was still alive — "we're going to have to get into this East Coast, West Coast thing," he says apologetically, as he explained his preference for the Californian musician. "Part of the reason I like Tupac [is that] it's good music — it's not just rap with a bass in the background. It's fun to listen to, and also I liked over his career, you could see him transform."

Foxhoven turns 67 next week, and is still figuring out what to do next. He wouldn't mind seeing the Tupac hologram in person, he says.

One thing is for sure: "I will be listening to some Tupac on my birthday. That's totally true."