I am a big fan of Tupac Shakur. I like his music and I like his style. Don’t stop reading this just because you don’t like rap music or think Tupac was overrated. Hear me out:
Rappers today have taken rap and watered it down. Raped it. While they might have the rhythm to sing along to a song with a lot of bass, their substance is absent. The have the means of reaching millions of people and yet write about things most people can’t relate to (mass amounts of money and multiple cars).
Tupac does this too sometimes. But (and this is aside from all the talk about “bitches” and “hoes,” which personally I don’t appreciate) there is an element of personality, honesty and skill in Tupac’s lyrics that won’t be found in any present day mainstream rappers. Listening to Tupac is like listening to your reminiscent grandfather tell you a long detailed story from the good old days. Except apparently they weren’t that great.
When Tupac talks about “Thug Life,” to me, he’s talking about the not-so-good old days. The fights, the struggles that some of us face in life. Through rage, poetry and bad manners he can express things that makes you either envy him or make you grateful for your own life. And I’m sure he’d be happy with either reaction.
What Tupac writes is like insight into his diary rather than something you can hump to in the club. Even when radio hits like “California Love” come on at a party, you realize you can’t really dance to it, but everyone definitely sings along. Am I right?
A lot of Tupac songs are about “the game,” money, women. And not in the best light. But even when he’s talking about things that rappers are stereotypically expected to rap on, he does it well. He writes it creatively and to a rhythm that today’s rappers can’t compare to. I’m not an expert in music and I definitely don’t have high standards for what I listen to, but even I can appreciate the way he expresses his words.
Like in his song “Death Around the Corner,” Tupac describes the environment he lived in: “Drinkin’ liquor out my momma’s titty/And smokin’ weed was an everyday thang in my household/And drinking liquor til’ you out cold./How many more jealous ass bitches, comin for my riches/ Now I gotta stay suspicious when I bone.”
And even though I don’t like his word choice about who he bones, so much more is being said than just “I’m a player and all the hunnies love me,” the common theme in today’s rap music. Tupac describes his distrust of women. Instead of claiming about how little he cares about “bitches” he uses the word “suspicious” (did you notice my own little rhyme there?) which connotes more a feeling of uneasiness than superiority. There are a lot of lyrics like this that can support my theory.
Another song that is revealing of Tupac’s sentiment is “Dear Mama,” which describes his appreciation for his mother and is apologetic for the hard times he’s given her: “And even as a crack fiend, Mama, you always was a black queen, Mama/I finally understand, for a woman it ain’t easy tryin’ to raise a man/You always was committed, a poor single mother on welfare/Tell me how you did it/There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand.” His appreciation for his mother while acknowledging her flaws, to me, conveys his sincerity.
Lyrics from “Until the End of Time” that expresses his feelings for true friends while living in poverty: “But you could run to me when you need me, I’ll never leave/I just needed someone to believe in, as you can see/It’s a small thing through and true/What could I do? Real homies help you get through/And coming new, he’d do the same thing if he could.”
Lyrics like these can easily be overshadowed by his portrayal of the reality of poverty through violence, sex, drugs. But what Tupac says about these conditions is poetic and very honest. His lyrics show waves of emotion, anger, guilt, depression, that any person could feel. The “Thug Life” doesn’t necessary have to include guns and violence, everyone faces hard times, but staying true to yourself and doing what’s right is what’s important.
SARA KOHGADAI is a thug fo’ sho’. If you want to tell her about your own thug life or how you feel about Tupac’s version, e-mail her at email@example.com.