Eyez Wide Open: Exclaim!'s Eight Favourite 2Pac Songs
Published Jun 06, 2017Promotional consideration provided by VVS Films
Over the course of a career that lasted just under a decade, Tupac Shakur (best known as 2Pac) firmly established himself as a hip-hop titan on the West Coast of the United States. While his murder in 1996 shocked the music world, his words and sounds have since influenced and inspired MCs not just in California, but across the globe.
The life of 2Pac as both man and musician is set to be explored on the silver screen this month with Benny Boom's All Eyez on Me. Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., the Pac biopic is set to chronicle the rapper's rise to fame, his incarceration and his time at Death Row Records.
Before All Eyez on Me hits theatres on June 16, which would have been 2Pac's 46th birthday, refresh your knowledge of one of hip-hop's most iconic figures with eight of his greatest works in our playlist below.
"Brenda's Got a Baby"
An oft-heralded aspect of 2Pac's lyricism is his vivid storytelling when it came to penning rhymes about social issues. His debut single, "Brenda's Got a Baby," which followed a 12 year-old girl who lives in the ghetto and gives birth to a child she can't support, was no exception.
Reportedly inspired by a New York Times article about a similar situation in New York, the single found 2Pac not only spilling ink about the plight of young mothers but also the troubling view that the government, family and society at large viewed his Brenda character with upon its release in 1991.
"Holler If Ya Hear Me"
While songs further down this list paint 2Pac as a lover, "Holler If Ya Hear Me" finds him as a fighter "bringing truth to the youth" as he rails against poverty, politics and police injustice against the black community.
Over urgent production reminiscent of the Bomb Squad's work with Public Enemy, Pac rallies his boys from the block to fight for, "Whatever it takes to live and stand / 'Cause nobody else'll give a damn." He even name-checks former United States vice president Dan Quayle, who called for Pac's debut LP, 2pacalypse Now, to be pulled from shelves in 1992 for inciting violence.
"Keep Ya Head Up"
2Pac's "Keep Ya Head Up" is one of his best-known pro-feminist critiques of misogyny, absentee fathers and a woman's right to choose. Eschewing the hyper-masculine side of his work and the genre at large, Pac urges women to stay strong in hopes of a brighter tomorrow.
"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?," he rhymes.
As one can glean from its title, "Dear Mama" was written by 2Pac in tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur. The song finds the rapper reflecting on how he took her for granted in his youth before appreciating and understanding what she'd been through in raising him.
"And even as a crack fiend, Mama / You always was a black queen, Mama," he raps, while bringing her struggles to light. "I finally understand / For a woman it ain't easy tryin' to raise a man."
Upon the song's inclusion in the United States' Library of Congress in 2010, Afeni Shakur remarked, "it is a song that spoke not just to me, but every mother that has been in that situation, and there have been millions of us. Tupac recognized our struggle, and he is still our hero."
His best-known single and first work for Death Row Records, "California Love" was released after 2Pac found himself "fresh out of jail, California dreaming" in 1996. Pac's West Coast compatriot Dr. Dre, who had initially sought to release the track under his name, produced the song's sunny, G-Funk instrumental.
Led by the robotic talkbox hook sung by Roger Troutman, the Cali love-in shouts out Los Angeles, San Diego, the Bay Area, Compton, Watts and more in showing that "California knows how to party." Former Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight pushed for the single to be released as a 2Pac track, foreshadowing the politics that would eventually consume Death Row.
"I Ain't Mad Atcha"
Taken from Tupac's 1996 full-length All Eyez On Me, "I Ain't Mad Atcha" finds the rapper reflecting on changes in his own life and those of friends. Despite these changes, good or bad, Pac reiterates in the song's hook that he isn't angered or upset at how things have unfolded.
The first verse finds Pac referencing a friend he grew up in the streets with who converted to Islam and left his old lifestyle behind, rapping, "It seems I lost my little homie, he's a changed man / Hit the pen and now no sinnin' is the game plan." The second verse finds him pressing pause on a budding relationship upon doing jail time, while the third finds him hitting out at those that question his street status after the wealth and success rap brought him.
"Hit 'Em Up"
Even over 20 years removed from its 1996 release, "Hit 'Em Up" stands as one of the most vitriolic diss tracks hip-hop has ever seen, fuelling the fire of the regional beef between East and West coast rappers.
Shakur pulled no punches in taking lyrical aim at the likes of Mobb Deep and Bad Boy Records head Sean "Puffy" Combs, but put friend-turned-rival Notorious B.I.G. squarely in the crosshairs, too. Pac alleged that Biggie had not only mimicked his lifestyle, but his style of rapping. He also alleges that he had an affair with the New York hip-hop legend's estranged wife Faith Evans three separate times on the track.
Though it was released posthumously on a 1998 hits compilation, "Changes" has become another of 2Pac's standout singles, even earning him a posthumous Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance in 2000.
Over a sample of Bruce Hornsby and the Range's "The Way It Is," Pac expresses frustration with racism, police brutality and the social and economical struggles of his community. With hope for the future, he addresses the listener in a spoken word bridge, saying, "It's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes. Let's change the way we eat. Let's change the way we live. And let's change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn't working. So it's on us to do what we gotta do to survive."
Catch VVS Films' All Eyez on Me in theatres June 16.