2Pac aka Tupac aka Makaveli died on this day 19 years ago- September 13, 1996. One of the greatest rappers to ever lace lyrics on tracks.
Tupac Amaru Shakur born Lasane Parish Crooks grew up a home full of Black Panther members; it’s no surprise that this art- music, visual art, poetry- bears markings of political philosophy. He read books on philosophy that drove him and his creativity. When he was locked up in jail, he didn’t sink low and grow hopeless; he found the teachings of Niccolo Machiavelli.
Being named after a Peruvian revolutionary was all the more prophetic for the son of Afeni— he did cause a revolution not only in the Hip-Hop scene, but in America. Since the days of NWA, Public Enemy no artiste had had the country shook till Tupac released his ’91 debut 2Pacalypse Now; a record that got reactions from White House. It doesn’t get any realer.
He wished to have died in Los Angeles, but life willed him Las Vegas. He died on the 13th; for those in tune with numerology, that’s the number of death. Some may find that poetic, in a sense, given that he courted death and contemplated the act—but do tell, how many artists never thought about death? He died on Friday the 13th, an urban legend. Spooky. Double spooky.
As we remember the late great, here are 13 essential 2pac songs you need to listen to:
Hit ‘Em Up
How do you make a diss song? Tupac laid out the template for historians to catalogue. This isn’t that “Calvary greetings” Mr. Aubrey sent out to Meek Mill. One would have thought an artiste- Meek Mill- who recorded “Tupac Back” would have learnt under the god? No, he decided to send flowers like asking his girl to lunch in response. When you get shot 5 times by your friends (allegedly), you hit the studio and bless the world with the most profane, most direct, one of the most memorable songs ever made. 2pac took shots at his old pal Biggie, Diddy, the whole Bad Boy crew, Junior Mafia including Lil’ Kim, Mobb Depp, Faith Evans, Chino XL. This is the most explicit record ever made—the record in Hip-Hop with the most impact, setting the West Coast against the East Coast. The irony of it all: 2pac was born in New York. Outlawz offer pages of their wrath, too. Some credit this song, which was released 3 months before his death, as the turning point that eventually led to his, Biggie’s and Kadafi’s deaths.
These days, rappers dedicate songs to their mothers, and it sounds vapid, forced with little emotions shown; the stereotype that Hip-Hop is way too sexist and misogynistic to spit lyrics in honour of a woman was broken by this singular effort. The Tony Pizarro-produced track kicks off with a mellow beat. “There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand—You are appreciated.” Pac had Reggie Green and “Sweet Franklin” to give it a soulful feel. Afeni Shakur will always be remembered in the annals of music history; so much Eminem, a 2pac inspired-artiste, wrote her a handwritten letter.
California Love is the most Funked out record ever made. Dr. Dre combined elements of West Coast Hip-Hop, Gangsta Rap and G-funk for Pac to ride on. This was the first song Pac released after getting off the law and into Suge Knight’s Death Row. It was also his first song to top Billboard Top 100. Roger Troutman adds his vocoder-treated voice.
Keep Ya Head Up
Hip-Hop started as a movement against institutional racism, black oppression, modern slavery, poverty, economic lack in the African-American community, black killings, police brutality, war on drugs, women rights, single motherhood. 2pac lives up to his Black Panther upbringing and dedicates this ’93 record to black women and Latasha Harlins. The chorus samples The Five Stairstep’s “O-o-h Child”.
Political issues were at the centre of 2pac’s discography. Changes talks about police brutality, unnecessary wars, racism, human behavior, life in the black community, and institutional racism sending blacks to jail for little crimes—while those of fairer skin get probation or fine. “And though it seems heaven sent, we ain’t ready to have a black president”- line so relevant in an era where President of USA, Barack Obama gets questioned on his use of the N-word, an era where blacks still get killed by police and those of fairer colour; blacks still get locked up on possession charges while the Marijuana industry has been legalized for whites to make a killing. “Some things will never change.”
They Don’t Give A F**k About Us
“Look it, cops are just as crooked as the n***as they chasin’/Lookin’ for role models, our father figures is basers/Some say they expect Illuminati take my body to sleep […] I gotta deal with brothers flippin’/I don’t see no devils bleeding, only black blood drippin’ […] I’m seeing it clearer, hating the picture in the mirror/They claim we inferior, so why the f**k these devils fear ya?”
Brenda’s Got A Baby
Teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional family, economic (social) welfare, drug peddling, prostitution laid out the carpet for 2pac’s first solo single. 2pac penned this socially conscious record after reading a newspaper story about a 12 year old who was impregnated by her cousin and threw the baby down an incinerator. 2pac said: “Yes…When this song came out, no male rappers at all anywhere were talking about problems that females were having […] about child molestation, it talked about families, it talked about how one person’s problems can affect a whole community.”
2pac channels Niccolo Machiavelli to keep the baroque theme on the Hurt M Badd- production, featuring his protégés, Outlawz. Hip-Hop sure honours “Hail Mary” as one of the best rap song ever made. The dark-religious mix of this song sends cold shivers down the spine: “Picture paragraphs unloaded, wise words being quoted/Peeped the weakness in the rap game and sewed it/Bow down, pray to God, hoping that he’s listening”—a journey through the valley of death.
It then became poetic when Eminem, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes decided to spit rhymes on this to end Ja Rule’s career—“I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me.”
How Do U Want It
K-Ci & Jojo brought out the soft side of Mr. Shakur because even thugs need love. You hit play on this for sexy time, for the love of tryst (pun intended). This song asks a rather polite question for a genre associated with misogyny: “How do you want it?”
Letter To My Unborn Child
How do you write to your unborn child (metaphoric or real) and not sound cheesy or corny?
Ambitionz As A Ridah
Before The Game and Dej Loaf made a joke of this track… Before Rap was filled with tight pant-makeup-wearing artistes who kiss each other on the lips, before Rap changed and became fitted with R&B for mainstream appeal, before Jermaine Cole started jacking the use of ‘z’s. Off the magnum opus “All Eyez On Me.” “My murderous lyrics equipped with spirits of the thugs before me/Pay off the block, evade the cops ‘cause I know they coming for me […] Now I’m back my adversaries been reduced to tears.” How do you get out of a hole, a sad place? Perfect your art!
2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted
The back and forth between 2pac and Snoop Doggy Dogg is pure joy—“Two of the best from the Westside”.
Life Goes On
RIP 2pac Amaru Shakur!
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