On September 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur was assassinated after being shot nearly a week prior by an unidentified assailant in a case that remains unsolved. As one of the most influential rappers of all time, Shakur was noted for his rap style and lyricism as well as his choice to tackle contemporary social issues through his work, particularly ones that impacted inner cities populated largely by Black people. As the Black Lives Matter protests continue to pour out into the streets, Shakur’s words and music that discussed the experiences of Black people, including that of suffering through police brutality, remain as relevant as ever.
In honor of one of the greatest rappers and hip-hop artistes to have ever hit the scene, here are our top five songs of Tupac Shakur that speak to both his talent and his reality as a Black man living in America.
‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’
The second single off Shakur’s debut album ‘2Pacalypse Now’, ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ was written about a young girl living in the ghetto trying to raise a baby she has no means of supporting. Shakur drew inspiration for the track from a newspaper article about a 12-year-old girl whose cousin got her pregnant, following which she threw the baby into a trash compactor. Featuring Dave Hollister and Roniece Levias on background vocals, this track addressed several grim topics, including the effects of teen pregnancy and the struggles of young and often single mothers, in addition to touching on sexual assault, drug abuse and government support – or a lack thereof – and it revealed Shakur’s commitment to raising awareness for important social issues.
Shakur would go on to pen numerous tracks that tackled similar social issues throughout his career, but this early number remains one of his greatest.
This is one of Shakur’s most beloved songs, and with good reason. Aside from being a great song in and of itself, ‘Dear Mama’ also sees Shakur pay tribute to his mother, Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur. Featuring a sample of ‘In All My Wildest Dreams’ by Joe Sample, ‘Dear Mama’ had Shakur ease off on his usually hard-hitting rap style and opt for a softer, more emotional one as he crooned, “And even as a crack fiend, mama / You always was a black queen, mama / I finally understand / For a woman it ain’t easy trying to raise a man / You always was committed / A poor single mother on welfare / Tell me how ya did it / There’s no way I can pay you back / But the plan is to show you that I understand / You are appreciated.”
Afeni, in addition to being an activist, was also an ex-addict and a single mother. On ‘Dear Mama’, Shakur addresses all of these facets that made Afeni who she was while also appreciating her for doing the best she could and raising him to be who he turned out to be.
Another track from Shakur that remains popular decades later, ‘California Love’ was penned by Shakur after he signed a three-page handwritten contract while incarcerated as a means to secure money for bail. Fresh out of prison, the rapper set out to prove to his new label Death Row Record that they’d made the right choice. Partnering with Dr Dre for the track, Shakur would more than deliver with his comeback, the lyrics of which include the matter of fact lines, “Out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreamin’ / Soon as I step on the scene, I’m hearin’ hoochies screamin’ / Fiendin’ for money and alcohol, the life of a Westside player / Where cowards die and the strong ball.” Since the song’s release in 1995, it has remained a timeless classic.
One of many of Shakur’s songs to address police brutality and the targeting of Black men in America, the rapper takes shots at the police for creating a system where killing a Black man earns them rewards while also discussing the epidemic of poverty and its close ties to crime. On the track, he states, “I’m tired of being poor and, even worse, I’m black / My stomach hurts so I’m looking for a purse to snatch / Cops give a damn about a negro / Pull the trigger, kill a n****, he’s a hero / “Give the crack to the kids: who the hell cares? / One less hungry mouth on the welfare!” Much like on ‘To Live And Die In LA’, ‘Changes’ references Shakur’s untimely demise in its final verse, with the rapper stating, “And as long as I stay black / I gotta stay strapped / And I never get to lay back / ‘Cause I always got to worry ’bout the payback / Some buck that I roughed up way back / Coming back after all these years /”Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!” / That’s the way it is.”
Shakur addressed police brutality once more on ‘Trapped’, which featured some hard-hitting, unapologetic lyrics including, “They got me trapped / Can barely walk the city streets / Without a cop harassin’ me / Searching me / Then askin’ my identity / Hands up / throw me up against the wall / Didn’t do a thing at all / I’m telling you one day these suckers gotta fall.” Featuring a sample of James Brown’s ‘The Spank’, ‘Trapped’ tells the story of a Black man’s experiences with police brutality. Rather unironically, not long after the song’s music video dropped, Shakur was beaten until he was unconscious by Oakland Police Officers for the crime of jaywalking. The scars from the attack remained on his face until his death.
Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!