More than 20 years after his death, the trials and tribulations of Tupac Shakur’s life still remain culturally relevant. A fearless voice for the people, 2Pac fought for social justice, racial equality and believed in the idea of change. He used poetry as his greatest weapon, turning his pain into art and creating music so powerful that his legacy has made him one of the greatest forces in hip-hop history.
We take a look at 10 of the best 2Pac lyrics that still remain just as powerful (if not more) today.
1. “So we live like caged beasts waitin’ for the day to let the rage free. Still me ’til they kill me.” (‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ 1993)
One of the many police brutality and Black Lives Matter protest songs 2Pac made, this one remains one of the most powerful. Spitting his frustrations with Black poverty and police injustice, 2Pac calls on his Black youth audience to join his movement of resistance. The music video follows a choppy display of imagery, all in a sepia tint, of a young boy (it’s revealed at the end that she’s a girl hiding her hair in a baseball cap) navigating his life after he watches his dad die at the hands of police. 2Pac and his army marching down the street cut into shots of the young boy learning to fire a gun. More than 20 years later, it’s chilling to see how every lyric of the track still relates to our society today.
2. “And since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman and our game from a woman, I wonder why we take from our women, why we rape our women, do we hate our women?” (‘Keep Ya Head Up’ 1993)
In his iconic feminist anthem, 2Pac celebrates Black women and sheds light on pro-choice issues, rape culture and gender equality. He asks why men choose to demean and abuse women instead of celebrate and give thanks to the ones that raised them, and the ones who will continue to raise the next generations. There really wasn’t anyone better to get the message to fellow Black youth than 2Pac. His sensitivity and intellect made other Black men strive to be better and paved the way for Black women to be celebrated in not only hip-hop culture but society. We arguably still have a long way to go, but we can give thanks to the rapper for getting the conversation started.
3. “Before we find world peace, we gotta find peace and end the war in the streets.” (‘Ghetto Gospel’ 2004)
The lead single of his posthumous album Loyal to The Game, the track was 2Pac’s outcry for ending Black poverty. Citing systemic racism and the cards that are always dealt to keep giving Blacks the same outcomes, 2Pac reinforces the message that world peace cannot be achieved until racial justice and poverty is dealt with. The catchy hook from Elton John’s ‘Indian Sunset’ and Eminem’s trademark production has helped to make the track one of 2Pac’s best, but the underlying message will always relate to any era.
4. “Only thing they ever did wrong was bein’ born black in this white man’s world.” (‘White Man’z World’, 1996)
As racial injustice only continues to grow, and the world leaders continue to create policies that generally affect white people above anyone else, this track screams louder than it possibly ever has. 2Pac paints a picture of what it’s like being Black in a white man’s world, and how being proud of one’s blackness is frowned upon. But 2Pac demands he and other Blacks can’t be silenced and that they should all own their heritage and history, as that’s the only way to truly change the white man’s world.
5. “And although it seems heaven-sent, we ain’t ready to see a black president.” (‘Changes’ 1998)
Released posthumously off his Greatest Hits album, ‘Changes’ is one of the most popular 2Pac hits; not only for its sampled 1986 Bruce Hornsby and the Range’s ‘The Way It Is’ chorus but for its summary of every issue and topic the rapper stood for during his life. As a whole, 2Pac begs for change and notes the serious issues in the world such as racism, poverty, drugs and police brutality. While the entire track is still relatable today for many reasons, this lyric in particular stands out due to the weight of it. While Barack Obama became the first Black president in 2008, the racism that was still prevalent then and now (and the beliefs that still help white supremacy survive and keep being elected in America) prove that we still aren’t really ready for a Black president.
6. “And why the hell am I locked in jail? They let them white boys free, we be shocked as hell.” (‘God Bless The Dead’ 1998)
Released off his posthumous Greatest Hits, the track is (contrary to popular belief) an ode to 2Pac’s late friend who went by the name Biggy Smallz, and not a mock funeral diss to The Notorious B.I.G. On the track, 2Pac discusses his friend’s gang affiliations and his too-early-death, as well as touching on other friends who have fallen on the streets or been thrown into prison. And his statement regarding white vs Black punishment couldn’t be more relevant today. One only has to look at the Brock Turner example to understand that there’s a racial imbalance.
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7. “Here on Earth, tell me what’s a black life worth? A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts.” (‘I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto’ 1997)
His first posthumous single (a remake of the B-side version off ‘Keep Ya Head Up’s single), the track contains the same lyrical themes 2Pac always leant towards (he even includes an entire passage from ‘Changes’). Touching on growing up in the ghetto and the struggles of black poverty and racism, 2Pac pays tribute to 15-year-old Latasha Harlins who was shot and killed for putting a bottle of juice in her backpack; and became a reason for the 1992 L.A. riots. But when rediscovering this lyric, many other cases of Blacks being unjustifiably killed come to mind. 2Pac asks us, are these reasons really worth more than human lives?
8. “It’s sad, ’cause I bet Brenda doesn’t even know just ’cause you’re in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow.” (‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ 1991)
The shockingly raw and vivid narrative of the track sees 2Pac paint the life of a 12-year-old who ends up pregnant with her cousin’s baby. Based off a news article the rapper read of the true story, 2Pac penned the track to shed light on child molestation, teen pregnancy and the cyclical struggles of ghetto living and low-income family systems. While aspects of the true story may be dramatised, the themes still ring true today. As abortion rights are still debated over, and sexual assault cases only continue to grow, it’s important, more than ever, to step back and look at the situations we are causing.
9. “They got me trapped, can barely walk the city streets without a cop harasskin’ me, searching me, then askin’ my identity. Hands up, throw me up against the wall, didn’t do a thing at all.” (‘Trapped’ 1991)
On his debut single, 2Pac perfectly depicts life as a Black man in America and the fear of police. It’s harrowing that, more than 20 years ago, the rapper was touching on themes of police brutality and protesting against systemic racism, and we still haven’t made any changes today. For a debut, it was definitely a strong one and it saw 2Pac come out of the woods as the trailblazer he was. The imagery surrounding ‘Trapped’ was what 2Pac was most passionate about changing and more than 20 years on, we still seek guidance from the track to show us how to create a better world.
10. “S**t, y’all want us to put down our glocks and our rocks but y’all ain’t ready to give us no motherf****n’ dollars (send mo’ troops).” (‘Letter to the President’ 1999)
Released as a track from the posthumous album Still I Rise as part of his hip-hop group the Outlawz, 2Pac and his crew openly pen a letter to the President (Bill Clinton at the time) and seek refuge from all their issues and struggles. And, really, all you need to do is switch out the names and the track could easily have been released yesterday. 2Pac and the Outlawz beg for change, for a better world for Blacks in America, for peace, and for understanding, but they know that their demands will continue to be pushed aside. It’s eerily relevant to our current times and only proves further just how big the divide between our world leaders and us as citizens really is.