Tupac Shakur is without question the most polarizing figure in the history of rap and hip hop. Opinionated, brash, and often very confrontational, Tupac’s throwback personality felt more like a modern revolutionary, which is easily comprehendible when I found out he was raised by parents who were members of the Black Panther Party.
Somewhere in between the mixture of machismo and faux tough guy personas a lot of the knowledge and intelligence that rappers possess gets undermined. Tupac was a brilliant young man. Consider this, at the time of his death he was Twenty-Five, he had a more profound impact on the world by the age of twenty-five then some men ever have. Although he was young, wild, and aggressive which ultimately led to his untimely death I learned a number of great things from his music.
1. Respect Women
In 1993’s Keep Your Head Up, Tupac raps, “I think its time to kill for our women/time to heal our women/be real to our women.”
This might sound elementary to some and a tad bit hypocritical considering some of his latter exploits, but Hip Hop and Hip Hop culture can be very misogynistic so anything aside from the typical “fuck bitches and get money” is refreshing to hear. He had a strong compassion for women that was evident in a number of raps like “Wonder Why They Call You Bitch, Dear Mama, and a poem called Shinning Star Within that he dedicated to Marlon Monroe. If you don’t know by now I’ll tell you something, African American Men & Women, statically speaking hardly ever marry each other and when Tupac says “our women” he’s talking to the Black men that feel the need to disrespect Black women. Black singles have been at odds for a number of years and it needs to stop.
2. Embrace change if it means self-improvement
In Tupac’s I Ain’t Mad At Cha, he expresses that change is good for anybody as long as you’re making strides towards improving yourself. Taking the necessary steps to improve your current situation is always important. A goal without a plan is just a wish and I think sometimes, especially when you’re young, you shy away from the unfamiliar. For a long time I was a chronic underachiever, I’d set the bar so low that I could jump over it with one foot, I was afraid of change, but change isn’t always bad. To truly reach your goals you’re going to have to step outside of your comfort zone.
“It’s time for us as a people to start making some chances, lets change the way we eat, lets change the way we live, and lets change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn’t working so its up to us to do what we gotta do to survive.”
Unity was a focal point of Tupac’s message and anybody who’s ever analyzed his work would be able to tell you so. Tupac was overly critical of African American icons like Michael Jackson, for example, who he felt like did very little to support the community that helped cultivate his success. There are handfuls of stories that have an urban legend like mystique about them that involve Tupac’s generosity. Stories about Tupac visiting an innocent little girl wounded by unintentional gang fire, feeding friends who didn’t have the money to take care of themselves, and according to a 1996 Vibe Magazine interview, returning jewelry to members of the Wu Tang Clan after they were robbed by gangsters in Los Angeles.
“Through all the rain and the pain, you gotta keep a sense of humor. You gotta be able to smile through all this bullshit.”
The first time I ever heard Tupac utter those words on a song called “Smile” by Scarface they didn’t resonate with me, the year was 1997 and I was still a child, still sneaking and listening to my older cousins rap CDs in grandma’s basement. Fast-forward a decade later and I’m an adult male in my 20s, close to the age Tupac was at the time of his death, I can understand the need to smile through hard times. I once heard someone say that you have to laugh to keep from crying in desperate times that couldn’t be truer. In all reality, laugher or a simple smile can be just enough to get through whatever situation needed, sometimes you have to tackle your struggles day by day.
5. Be true to yourself
“A lot of people; black, white, Mexican, young or old, fat or skinny, have a problem being true to they-self. They have a problem looking in the mirror and looking directly into they own soul.”
Throughout my entire childhood and even now I struggle with moments of insecurity, just as most people do, however, its important that we remember to be true to ourselves. Hip Hop has always blurred the lines between entertainment and reality; some fans have a hard time deciphering what’s real and what’s hype. With that being said, it’s very important that the people who consume the music know the difference between reality and entertainment. I say that because very few rappers encourage kids to be themselves. Often the youth, young black men in particular, let music and the entertainment industry influence us in a negative way. I know because I was one of them. It’s intuitive that we remain true to ourselves because in the long run originality conquers everything.
Rapper, actor, poet, criminal, Tupac Shakur held a multitude of titles and labels before his death in September of 1996. Nonetheless the older I get the more impressed I become with his ideas and outlook on the world. I’ve learned more life lessons through Tupac’s music, poetry, and perspective than I have from any other entertainer. He’s been very influential in my life. Like most of us he had a dark side to him as well and the sad part is that allure of his dark side is perpetuated more in the media than his good side.
If you don’t take anything else from this article, I just hope that by reading this you understand that hip hop is so much deeper than money, cars, women, and clothes. It’s the voice for a fraction of people who in a lot of cases can’t speak for themselves, the dreadlocks, gold chains, and half-naked women account such a small portion of what the music has to offer. Don’t be misled, it’s only entertainment, ladies and gentlemen.