Tupac Shakur was perhaps once of the most “woke” rappers to ever lived.
Tupac Shakur would have been 49-years-old today, and yet it is still hard to define exactly what he meant to hip hop and American culture. He was an extraordinarily skilled rapper, an innovative businessman, a promising young actor, an accomplished poet, and a born revolutionary. While the last year of his life as an artist signed to the morally corrupt label that was Death Row Records often overshadows his most genuine intentions, Tupac was at his core a radical champion of social and political resistance. As he often pointed out, he was behind bars before he was born, living in his mother’s womb as she was jailed for her participation in the anti-racist activism of the Black Panther Party.
The presence of powerful activists in ‘Pac’s life at a young age heavily influenced his artistry, spilling out onto paper in poems like “Can U C The Pride In The Panther?”. Tupac would go on to relay stories of oppression in his music, with songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” on which he raps, “No money no babysitter, she couldn’t keep a job/She tried to sell crack, but ended up getting robbed/So now what’s next, there ain’t nothing left to sell/So she sees sex as a way of leaving hell.”
Tupac spoke sympathetically about those living a life of crime, explaining that America is only reaping what it has sown. In “Holla If You Hear Me,” 2Pac spits, “I make rhyme pay, others make crime pay/Whatever it takes to live and stand/Cause nobody else’ll give a damn/So we live like caged beasts/Waitin’ for the day to let the rage free.”
This righteous rage Tupac often described can be seen even now, nearly 24-years after his untimely death. In “White Manz World” Tupac speaks truth to power, painting a vivid picture of a world quite literally built on white supremacy, and recognizing the unending contributions of Black women with the lyrics, “Apologies to my true sisters, far from b*tches/Help me raise my Black nation, reparations are due/It’s true, caught up in this world I took advantage of you/So tell the babies how I love them, precious boys and girls/Born black in a white man’s world.”
With just a small sample of Tupac’s timeless words, it is clear that his message continues to resonate on many levels, perhaps holding more relevance now than ever before.
Honor Tupac’s legacy today by donating to Black Lives Matter to support their “ongoing fight to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end white supremacy forever.”