Before I formally start this singer analysis and mini-biography, I want to tell you something. A month ago, I planned on writing about inspirational singers. I thought it can further help you advance your career or motivate you to improve by acquainting you with the best artists there is, and there was.
I had a list of artists in mind, starting with Michael Jackson. Then he will be followed by various artists coming from different genres and musical styles. But the incident with George Floyd happened. The event was just nearby, and I can’t stop thinking about it. My mind nagged me that I need to do something about it. Contribute to the community.
Thus, I decided to focus primarily on black singers to make people aware that they matter a lot, especially in the music industry. Because if everyone were honest enough, almost half of the songs playing in the world wouldn’t be there if incredible black artists didn’t exist.
Anyway, let me start telling you about why I pick 2Pac as today’s artist. With the recent George Floyd incident, many people have been going to 2Pac’s YouTube channel to find solace. I know since I was doing it, too.
And as I listened to his songs and read the comments of people in his videos, it’s crystal clear that his songs are still relevant today. These songs were filled with stories centralizing in abuse, cruelty, and subjugation of a community, living in a supposed free country, trying to survive. And it isn’t supposed to be like this.
Tupac Shakur is an icon revered by people regardless of color and race. Despite his family members’ dark background, he came across as one of the modern idols in the black community. And if he were alive right now, I know that everyone involved in the incident will receive a word or two from him.
Let’s talk about why Tupac Shakur became the icon he is now before we get into what-ifs.
His beginnings are a humble one. It was a time when hip-hop and rapping/MCing were becoming widespread in New York. As the state was a huge melting pot in the United States, it further refined the genre to what we know today.
Tupac Shakur became interested in the genre and rapping. His interest intensified when he entered high school. In his school years, 2Pac focused on learning jazz, poetry, acting, and, surprisingly, ballet. And when there were singing and rapping competitions, he bagged top prizes and dominated them. That’s when he started viewing rapping as a potential career.
When he sincerely wanted to become a professional, he decided to take a poetry class under Leila Steinberg. She became his manager and mentor later. As if fate has united them, Leila was one of the critical people Tupac broke in the industry.
Together with Leila, they looked for labels that can take him in. One did take him in, but he got primarily stuck as a roadie and background dancer. His career would change when he started guessing as a rapper, and people heard his first single Same Song. It was then used in a film titled Nothing But Trouble.
Following the small fame he acquired, he then took the MC name 2Pac. I’ll discuss it later in detail since I want to tell you something first.
A Bit Something About 2Pac
Before I proceed, I want to mention that Tupac Shakur was one of the most charming celebrities during his era. He was born after the civil rights era concluded. He didn’t experience the same abuse, exploitation, and discrimination flung towards older singers like Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin.
He was a smart and friendly kid. Although his ways were easily swayed at this stage, the later events in his life toughened him. I’ll tell you more in the next sections.
War On Drugs and Issues Appeared During Post Civil Rights Movement
He lived with his mother (Afeni Shakur), stepfather (Mutulu Shakur), brother (Mopreme Shakur), and stepsister (Sekyiwa Shakur). His biological father never stayed with them, and Tupac thought that he was already dead.
The time was around the late 80s and early 90s. The situation of black Americans was worsening. At that time, the unemployment of black people was at its peak. Police corruption and abuse targeted towards the African-American community proliferated.
Even if the usage rate of drugs of white and black citizens were almost equal, more blacks were arrested and incarcerated. All these problems led to the high suicide rates of black males. Despite all of these events, a new type of drug was introduced in the market: crack cocaine. Tupac’s mother got hooked with it.
Afeni’s addiction drove Tupac’s family to a financial crisis. They were in Baltimore and had to move to the slums in Marin City, California, because of their situation. He was 17 at that time. They need to make ends meet, and Tupac, regardless of risks, decided to take part in illegal businesses involving drugs. The danger of having engaged with drugs was great. However, the boy had limited choices.
Note that this was during Nixon’s era, and the war on drugs had just been started, and New York, where Tupac and his mother lived, passed the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The Emergence of Hip Hop
This situation led to young black entertainers in New York to start the hip-hop movement. This was in the form of donning African clothing and wearing medallions and necklaces. They also become more involved in the socio-political and racial talks in their community.
Despite the movement, most jazz, soul, and R&B songs rarely talk about racism, police brutality, illegal drugs, violence, and mass incarceration. As a New York native and being heavily involved in the biggest problem of his generation, Tupac joined the fray and spearheaded the resistance. However, unlike the other people in the movement, Tupac was unafraid to put everything out in the open.
Going back to 2Pac’s career, I did tell you that he was assigned as a background dancer and roadie. He was supposed to be a rapper, but the management didn’t believe he could carry a show.
But when he got his first song recognized and used in a film, his label started promoting him and helped him to release his first album, 2Pacalypse. 2Pac became an instant rapping celebrity.
The album contained three of his best singles: Brenda’s Got a Baby, Trapped, and If My Homie Calls. Aside from catapulting 2Pac to fame, it also initiated the barrage of criticisms targeted to him because of his songs’ political and social commentaries.
One of the criticisms came from then vice president, Dan Quayle. He posited that Tupac’s songs should never be made public. Saying that the songs have no place in society. This was a result of the incident involving a man named Ronald Ray Howard, who shot a state trooper. According to the man, he was influenced by one of 2Pac’s songs, Soulja’s Story.
Crimes and Death
Tupac was in his 20’s when his career was at its peak. However, this is the same that he continuously got involved in incidents and performed criminal acts. Here are a few of them:
- Accidental discharging of gun resulting in a 6-year-old’s death
- The intended shooting of two police officers
- Assaulting a fellow rapper
- Assaulting a movie director
- Sexual assault
The harshest punishment he received was from the sexual assault case, which happened in 1993. He was sentenced for the imprisonment of four and a half years. The new label he signed up with bailed him out of prison.
Three years later, Shakur was ambushed by a Crip gang member in Nevada. Four bullets hit Tupac: one in his arm, one in his thigh, and two on his chest. The people with him were able to rush him to a hospital, but Tupac was unable to make it. He died of internal bleeding. One of the bullets reached one of his lungs.
Unlike most stars, Tupac isn’t revered because of Tupac’s rapping and singing skills. People admire him mostly because of the lyrics he spouted, the verses he preached. While most R&B singers and rappers nowadays sing about romance, promiscuity, and violence, Tupac delivered words about independence, equality, and life.
His music wasn’t loud because of abused compression, filled with repetitive catchy clichés and overused chord progressions. It was a well-meaning reflection of society and his life. Tupac cared about the length of his bars, the cohesiveness of his verses, and the rhymes.
Many felt that his lyrics were slipshod and devoid of artistic sense. And I might agree. However, his writings were mostly about the context and the story they told. You don’t have to listen to 2Pac to appreciate his works. You can just read the lyrics of his songs online. But I do suggest that you still check them out. Another key factor of his success was the way he rapped. With his words, he can deliver the emotions contained within the lyrics entirely. It can’t be denied. After all, it’s his history he’s singing about.
And a quick trivia: Did you know that Tupac can dish out two to three songs within an hour? One of his memorable tracks, Dear Mama, was only written in 15 minutes.
Anyway, with all said and done, 2Pac still remains in the heart of people. Even if he damaged his reputation significantly during his last years, people couldn’t deny how much his words mattered to people who’d been continuously oppressed.
I See No Changes
If things about the George Floyd incident are still on your mind, I recommend that you listen to the song Changes by 2Pac. That was the first song I searched for when it happened, and it is still great as it was when I listened to it first. And it definitely resonates with the status quo of the black community, I think.
Anyway, as a singer, what would you get from Tupac’s story? For me, it doesn’t matter if you start from the gutter. 2Pac was poor, discriminated against, came from a family accused of being a member of local terrorists, and often distrusted.
However, through his persistence and charm, he was able to climb the ladder of success. As he said in his song Hit ‘Em Up, he’s a self-made millionaire. When it comes to technicality, he didn’t just practice singing and rapping. He seriously took advantage of school and focused on subjects that he believed could help him.
Despite his appearance and image as a bad boy, it’s delightful to know that he valued learning. And another thing to note is that he didn’t sing just because he wanted money. He sang to let his message out to the world.
I know that we have different motivations and reasons for why we sing. People like me just to love to do it. You may be pursuing it because you want to become famous. But whatever it is, I’, sure you’ll make it as long as you put your heart to it like Tupac Shakur.