Every year on June 16, blogs and music junkie honour Tupac Shakur’s birthday by revisiting conspiracy theories surrounding his death. On this, his 49th birthday, there’ll be no pink panthering here about Pac allegedly faking his death and living it up in Cuba.
Instead, let’s reflect on some of his songs that resonate with the Black Lives Matter era.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks, Pac was renamed by his mom, Afeni, who was an active member of the revolutionary Black Panther Party. Exposed to the crime-ridden streets of Baltimore and the drug culture of California where he was raised, he found solace in poetry and music, and made his recording debut in 1991. With growing fame came legal drama and Pac even had his own experience with police brutality. In October 1993, Pac shot two white off-duty cops in Atlanta after an altercation. The investigation revealed the officers had been drinking and initiated the melee, with one officer threatening Pac with a stolen gun. Pac did not face charges, but the incident mirrors injustices still faced by African Americans, mostly recently George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Though his life ended six days after being gunned down while heading to a Las Vegas club in September 1996, Pac’s advocacy for human rights remains immortal. His murder is unsolved, but his messages are clear.
Here are five Pac records that best narrate the times.
White Manz World, 1996
Penned like an open letter to his mom and sister, Pac reflects on the wrongs he’s done and how he has changed since serving time on molestation charges in 1995. Backgrounded with messages from Malcolm X, Pac describes the reality of being black in a world ruled by whites, and calls for his race to recognise the power in its identity.
One of Pac’s most socially conscious records, Changes sees the rapper reflecting on a landscape of police brutality, institutionalised racism and corrupt politics, and its unending loop.
Cops give a damn about a negro
Pull the trigger kill a ni**a he’s a hero
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares
One less hungry mouth on the welfare
First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal the brothers
Give ’em guns step back, watch ’em kill each other
Keep Ya Head Up, 1993
Sampling The Five Stairsteps’ 1970’s O-o-h Child, this single is often tooted as the consummate ode to black women. The music video was dedicated to 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African-American who was unlawfully shot and killed by a Korean store owner in 1991. Her death paired with the brutal police beating of Rodney King, triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Holla If Ya Hear Me, 1993
This track of resistance sees Pac airing out his frustrations with structural poverty in the black community, racial crimes committed by the police and then-Vice President Dan Quayle who suggested his music influenced crime. Pac encourages people to rally against injustices, even if it means being armed.
Ghetto Gospel, 2005
This posthumous Elton John collaboration posits that healing the world should be a shared goal regardless of one’s ethnicity. Pac suggests finding inner peace, and being unified and open to learning from each other before one can achieve world peace. https://youtu.be/Do5MMmEygsY