True legends never die, and although Tupac Amaru Shakur passed away 20 years ago on September 13, 1996 after being the victim of a drive-by shooting seven days prior, his legacy as hip-hop’s preeminent icon remains iron-clad. Over the course of his relatively brief career, he was able to touch the hearts of men, the ills and impoverished conditions plaguing the black and Latino community, and cater to the thugs and ladies, all while dominating the Billboard charts, a feat that has yet to be matched in the wake of his death. Not only a great rapper and a charismatic figure, Pac’s authenticity and propensity for having his life mirror his music would make him one of the most controversial and polarizing artists in history, regardless of genre.
His shooting of two off-duty police officers in November of 1993—a case in which he was exonerated—as well as being shot five times during the infamous Quad Studios robbery in 1994, only to show up to court for his rape trial the next day is the stuff of legend and encompasses his fearlessness, whether in front of or behind the gun. Part thug, part poet, and a full-blown revolutionary, Tupac’s influence is multi-faceted and endures stronger than any other figure’s in the history of hip-hop culture. Setting the template for what it means to be authentic as rap artist, Tupac’s distinction as the prototypical gangster rapper has become even clearer in death.
While names like DMX and 50 Cent have managed to come close, none have been able to duplicate the effect that Tupac’s presence had on hip-hop culture, and the world as a whole. Many may point to his prolific output, his charismatic, yet fiery disposition, his engaging personality, or his participation in the East Coast/West Coast beef of the mid ’90s when celebrating Tupac’s legacy, but one of his more underrated qualities is his love for children. From the beginning of his career until his untimely death, Tupac’s soft spot for the underprivileged and forgotten children of urban America was evident.
Whether it was songs inspired by children victimized by their families and the foster care system that Pac personally knew or learned about from news clippings, or fictional tales that were cautionary in nature and meant to shed light on those issues, he made sure to let the world know that Tupac cared, even if no one else did. With that in mind, we’ve highlighted ten songs from Tupac’s discography that embody his love and concern for the children of Black America.
1. “Brenda’s Got A Baby”
One of 2Pac’s most iconic songs is “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” on which Pac shares a story of a young woman who becomes impregnated by a member of her family and attempts to dispose of the baby by throwing it in a dumpster to keep her pregnancy a secret. Well, it has been alleged that the song was based more on fact than fiction and that Brenda may have been a character inspired by a story 2Pac caught on the NYC crime blotter during the filming of the 1992 film, Juice, which would be Tupac’s first starring role in a film. The article, which was published on March 28, 1991, involved a baby found alive in a trash compactor in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, whom would be given the name “Trevor” upon arrival at Brookdale Hospital, in East New York. While it has yet to be officially determined if Trevor is in fact the baby that helped inspire the story of “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” when mulling through the evidence presented, it’s not too far-fetched of a conclusion to make and is one of many examples of Tupac’s interest in touching on the harsh realities that plague children growing up in the inner-city.
2. “Part Time Mutha”
“Brenda’s Got A Baby” may be the most cited song from 2Pac’s debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, but the LP’s close-out track, “Part Time Mutha,” also finds Pac lamenting how being a neglectful mother can contribute to a child losing their way and become heartless. Speaking from the perspective of a young man who became a cold-hearted criminal as a result of a lack of attention or care from his mother, while the second verse sees guest star Angelique delivering a heart-wrenching tale of child abuse. Rapping, “I grew up in a home where no-one liked me/Moms would hit the pipe, every night, she would fight me/Poppa was a nasty old man, like the rest/He’s feelin’ on my chest, with his hand in my dress,” Angelique’s words are vivid and tug at your heart-strings as she details her mother’s failure to come to her aid, instead placing the blame on her for her well-developed body. “Part Time Mutha” is a brutally honest look into the lives of young boys and girls forced to grow up prematurely due to bad parenting, fueled by drug addiction.
3. “Keep Ya Head Up”
Other records in his discography may have been more successful, but none are more endearing than his 1993 classic, “Keep Ya Head Up.” The lead single from his sophomore album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., “Keep Ya Head Up” takes black men to task, but is also focused on the children. Lines like, “they say it ain’t no hope for youth, and the truth is, it ain’t no hope for the future,” signify his belief that without properly nurturing the younger generation, society will ultimately be doomed. It was inspired by his “god son Elijah and a little girl named Corrine,” as Pac notes at the beginning of the record.
4. “Papa’z Song”
2Pacalypse Now put the focuses on absentee mothers, but on Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., 2Pac’s sophomore release, would feature a selection that put the spotlight on fathers that choose not to be a part of their children’s upbringing. Lines like “I’m gettin sick of all the friendships/As soon as we kick it he done split and the whole sh*t ends quick/How can I be a man if there’s no role model?/Strivin to save my soul I stay cold drinkin a forty bottle,” touch on the revolving door of men in and out of the children subjected to single-parent households. “Papa’z Song” serves as a reminder to the men attempting to right their wrongs that the damage they have caused can be irreparable and speaks for all of the products of broken homes.
5. “Young N***az”
2Pac’s third solo studio-album, Me Against The World, has been deemed by some as the most cohesive and well-rounded album of his career. The album may be remembered more for cuts like “So Many Tears” or its title-track, but one of the more intriguing tunes on the album is “Young N***az,” which was inspired by a real-life event that shocked the nation in 1994. “I wanna dedicate this one to Robert ‘Yummy’ Sandifer/And all other lil’ Young N***as that’s in a rush to be gangstas,” 2Pac states at the beginning of the song, referencing the slain 11-year-old who was the subject of a cover story in TIME magazine after committing a gang-related shooting spree, resulting in the death of a 14-year-old girl, and would lead to his own execution. The story, which was published in September of 1994, almost exactly six months prior to the release of Me Against The World, would become one of the more notorious instances of the topic of senseless gang violence amongst children in the to hit mainstream news publications to date. 2Pac taking out the time to acknowledge the life and use it as an inspiration to craft a song dedicated to the lifestyle and mentality of adolescents just like him is yet another reason he stands apart from the pack as a figure in hip-hop.
6. “Shorty Wanna Be A Thug”
Even at the apex of 2Pac’s career following his signing to Death Row Records, he still kept the shorties in the ghettos across the U.S. on his mind, as evidenced by the All Eyez On Me cut, “Shorty Wanna Be A Thug.” A fictional tale centered around a middle-classed ruffian from a parentless home that finds refuge in a life of crime, 2Pac paints a description of the young man-child, rhyming “Was only 16, yet convicted as a felon/With a bunch of old n***as, but you the only one who ain’t telling/I tell you it’s a cold world, stay in school/You tell me its a man’s world, play the rules.” But 2Pac’s pleas for him to straighten out his act and focus on his education falls on death ears, as the teen continues to sharpen his skills as a career criminal. “No mother and father, you see, the n***as all alone/Old timers my role model, the war zone/Released with this game ’til its a part of me/My heart don’t beat no fear and it ain’t hard to see,” are couplets that define the mind state of young men coming of age in the inner-city while being swallowed in by their surroundings and the influences that come along with them.
“Hellrazor,” one of the more passionate selections on R U Still Down, finds Pac speaking from the vantage point of a 16-year-old thug that’s already given up all hope for the future. Admitting his lack of formal education and his thirst for violence with choice couplets like, “Elementary wasn’t meant for me, can’t regret it/I’m headed for the penitentiary and cuttin’ classing/I’m buckin blastin, straight mashin/Mobbin through the overpass laughin/While these other motherf**kers try to figure out, no doubt,” a fast-track to the prison system appears to be a foregone conclusion. But even amid his own madness and strife, the question of why the good die young is one he can’t reconcile. He rhymes, “While the po’ babies rushin’ into early graves/God come save the youth/Ain’t nothin else to do but have faith in you/Dear Lord I live the life of a thug, hope you understand/Forgive me for my mistakes, I gotta play my hand,” while begging for forgiveness for his transgressions a reprieve from his heartache. “Hellrazor” also mentions LaTasha Harlins, the 15-year-old Los Angeles teen who was shot and killed by a Korean store clerk after being accused of stealing from the store, which would contribute to the public unrest that spurred the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.
8. “Nothing To Lose”
“The only way to change me is maybe blow my brains out/Stuck in the middle of the game, can’t get the pain out,” 2Pac spits on the R U Still Down standout, “Nothing To Lose,” a track that takes a glimpse at the thoughts and emotions of a young teenager with no family and no where to turn. “Am I wrong for wishing I was somewhere else/I’m thirteen, can’t feed myself/Can I blame daddy cause he left me?/Wish he would’ve hugged/Too much like him, so my mama don’t love me,” Pac spits while speaking on the emotional neglect he’s faces and his lack of resources. He touches on instances in which children are forced to leave home and find their own way in the world via melancholy bars like, “I’m starting to lose hope, it seems everybody’s on dope/Mama told me to leave, ’cause she was broke/Sometimes I choke on the indo, creeping out the window/Alone, on my own, I’m a criminal/Got no love from the household, I’m out cold.” “Nothing To Lose” is a selection that encompasses how it feels to be young and black in America with minimal options and the sense that they no longer have anything to live for.
9. “I’m Getting Money”
R U Still Down was the first posthumous release by 2Pac, and aside from the hit singles like “Do For Love” and “I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto,” one of the more memorable numbers on the album is “I’m Getting Money.” Dedicated to all of the young hustlers in the hood grinding to make ends meet, the song celebrates the survival tactics of those forced to sink or swim in the land of broken dreams. Barking things like, “I’m up before sunrise first to hit the block/Lil’ bad motherf**ker with a pocket full of rocks/Learned to throw them thangs, get my skinny lil’ a** kicked/N***as laughed, ’til the first motherf**ker got blas-ted,” 2Pac takes on the persona of a young denizen of the hood that’s been groomed for the hustler lifestyle an to get his by any means. Already resigned to the fact that he may not live a full life, the young clocker instead focuses on living for the moment and building his rep as a gangster, with lines like, “Tell mama don’t cry, ’cause even if they kill me/They can never take the life of a real G,” making it clear that he’s been taken under by the hood and has no plans on turning back.
10. “Mama’s Just A Little Girl”
“She was born a heavy set girl with pigtails and curls/A heart full of gold, still it won’t change the world,” 2Pac delivers on the Better Dayz highlight, “Mama’s Just A Little Girl,” a tune empathizing with young single mothers and their emotional baggage and daily struggles. The first verse centers around a woman who witnessed her parents murder, only to discover that she has become pregnant as a result of being raped and will have to care for the baby on her own. Rhyming, “Never asked for this misery, but look at what you’re gettin’/It’s a blessin’ in disguise when you find out you’re pregnant/No money, no home, and even though you’re all alone/You gots to do this on your own, so baby gone,” 2Pac goes on to detail the birth and upbringing of the child, who would eventually grow up to become a thug himself. “Mama’s Just A Little Girl” is one of the more intricate cautionary tales of 2Pac’s career and is another example of his concern for the young back women that are robbed of their innocence.