Tupac Shakur would have been 40 this week on Monday, June 16. Tupac rapped about social issues as well as violence, sex and alcohol. He changed the rap game. He was an idol, an influence, a role model and his works are an inspiration to many.
My older brothers were fans and blasted his music defiantly loud on their boombox with the detachable speakers, those were the illest back then. I was a young lady who was coming into my own. I rejected chauvinism and hated sexism. I opened my own doors, burped loudly without saying, “excuse me” but still wore skirts with floral print and lipstick. I didn’t let being a girl stop me from loving rap and cars. But I hated rap’s depiction of women, then I heard Tupac’s Keep Ya Head Up, the first lines blew me away:
Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots
I give a holler to my sisters on welfare
Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care
My interpretation of his lyrics is that here he challenges the media’s portrayal of beauty and the stigma of having dark skin. I am a darker skinned Asian American and here Tupac made me feel beautiful. He follows it up with how he cares about sisters on welfare, another stigma. Poverty is not something to glorify or look down on. It is our society’s way of providing a safety net when times get worse than bad. And if you hit rock bottom and have to succumb to public assistance, feeling all sorts of emotions, Tupac cares. Although I was too young to understand some of the struggles Tupac rapped about in this song, the rest of his lyrics made me fall, hard, for him as an artist. Events in my life that soon followed my discovery of Tupac would make his lyrics real to me.
I was a teenager during the late 90’s and saw a lot of violence in my small, sleepy town in Calfornia’s Central Valley. My mother and I had a rocky relationship and I was quite rebellious in my own ways but kept trouble at bay. I saw the error in others’ actions and learned from their mistakes. Then, my father suddenly passed away when I was 15 and that same year a friend was murdered in a drive by shooting. Things were changing and I was devastated. I didn’t understand why gangs hated each other so much and fought and killed each other over basically nothing. Young girls where having babies and dropping out of school. I dreamt of more for my life. I wanted to escape the terror and problems and live a big and fun life in the city. Tupac’s music was escapism for me. I’d listen to Life Goes On, Me Against the World, Ambitionz Az a Ridah and Starin’ Through my Rearview. His lyrics expressed my own frustrations and exposed me to social ideals I’d study later in college.
I was a straight-A student and fortunate to have great friends, good teachers and school counselors who guided me. I attended the University of California at Berkeley after high school. UC Berkeley was where the first university course was taught on Tupac in 1997, titled “The Poetry and History of Tupac Shakur” taught by Arvand Elihu.
I can’t analyze every song lyric in this blog post so I invite you to take a listen for yourself, if you aren’t already a fan. Tupac’s achievements in his short 25 years remind me to strive everyday. His songs unite us and remind us that everyone’s struggle is different. There will never be another rapper like Tupac Shakur. Tupac Shakur is the best rapper of all time. May he rest in peace.