An Introduction To Tupac In 10 Songs

Screen still/ Vimeo
Screen still/ Vimeo
Photo of Mary Pettas
17 September 2016

Tupac Shakur is arguably amongst the most influential and legendary figures in the history of rap music. Also known as 2pac or Makaveli, he was not just an important figure in West Coast gangsta rap, but in the music world as a whole. His message was relatable and significant in a way that touched many people, inspiring even those who weren’t typically familiar with hip hop. He had an easygoing, charming manner and stage presence which quickly endeared him to fans. His death at only 25 years of age immortalized him as a music god, appearing to contemporary rappers in visions and, famously, a hologram during a Coachella performance. The world will listen to these inspirational and memorable songs with the soulful performer in mind forever.

1. Hey Mama

Tupac’s mom raised him singlehandedly after overcoming drug addiction herself and his father abandoning them and ending up in jail. Tupac shows character by recognizing her dedication to him and the effect it had on his life and his success, by wholeheartedly paying tribute to her sacrifices in the touching true story he tells through his music.

2. To Live & Die In LA

The rapper was surprisingly originally from New York, although most people usually assume he was a California native because of his apparent love for Los Angeles and his influence on the west coast rap scene. When he moved here, it as a match made in heaven, and this track is a love song to his chosen city of angels.

3. Keep Ya Head Up

Tupac is one of the few rappers out there who turned the misogynistic themes of rap on its head, and instead made it cool to include a positive, even feminist, message about the women in his community. It earned him a lot of respect from his female listeners, and certainly placed him as a revolutionary ahead of his time in a show of appreciation that is still difficult to find in common entertainment. Fans respect Tupac for his reputation for boldly telling hard truths.

4. Changes

This artist’s immense natural lyrical talent is never more apparent than in ‘Changes,’ perhaps his most famous song, filled with social commentary. His clever rhymes are actually sophisticated poetry, packing a punch in a lamenting and ironic tone that criticizes the way society functions, especially in regards to the poor urban communities he grew up in. The song’s title was chosen not because ‘things will never be the same,’ but because Tupac is bravely calling on the world to change even when it seems that it never could.

5. Brenda’s Got A Baby

Tupac was a master storyteller in his songs, often weaving multiple plots into a single rap through the verses. This song is an emotional tale about a teenage mom who got pregnant at 12 years old by her cousin. With nowhere to turn, Brenda becomes a prostitute who is eventually murdered, leaving her child behind. Tupac’s point in telling this story is to illuminate the impact of growing up in a broken home in an impoverished community, and it’s another uncommon and important instance where he takes a woman’s point of view.

6. California Love

DJ’s will probably play this song at any venue in California for eternity. Nothing gets a crowd moving like this original upbeat mix. The opening sequence is unmistakable and the song is another dedication to Tupac’s great love of his home that he chose for himself. It was definitely one of the most commercial sounds he ever produced, and the bravado of his lyrics still appeals to the masses decades later.

7. Hail Mary

The hardcore and tough tone of this song is extremely dark, with church bells ringing in the background, referencing the spiritual themes so often prevalent in Tupac’s music. This song is about the death bell tolling due to the murders on the streets. The song was released posthumously, making it extra heavy for listeners who were grieving the artist.

8. How Do U Want It

This was one of the few singles to reach the number one spot on the US Billboard’s hot 100 list and garnered critical acclaim with a Grammy nomination in 1997 for Best Rap Performance. The song topped the charts for 8 weeks straight, and it could be said that it was the peak of Tupac’s career only two months before his untimely death. It featured famous R&B duo K-Ci and JoJo who were the lead singers of their group Jodeci.

9. So Many Tears

In this song, Tupac raps about his personal demons, all the friends he has in the cemetery and his premonition that he is soon to follow them. He even goes so far to claim that he has suicidal thoughts, insisting that each step he takes is another deliberate step towards death, which is a theme he always tried to confront in his music. Strangely, he released this song only a year before his death, when his own prophecy sadly came true.

10. Unconditional Love

Another criticism on the social situations and the struggle of his friends and family in his community, Tupac examines the difficult relationships and situations in his life in this aptly titled song. However, the themes are inspiring and uplifting, a peace offering to even the people he finds difficult to understand. Often it seems as if Tupac is soulfully singing right to the audience, comforting and providing understanding to anyone who is willing to listen.

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