The Sweet Side of Tupac Shakur

Tupac Amaru Shakur died at the age of twenty-five. Tupac was gunned down when he was at the top of his game. He was young, outspoken, and didn’t give a fuck. He embodied the image of gangster rap. In his music, he expressed eloquently on police brutality and gun violence in the black community. His mantra was, “Live by the gun and die by the gun.”

As a fan of Tupac, I had to get beyond his gangster mentality as well as his misogyny. What Tupac had touched me was the sweet side of his music and he always included it in his albums. His 1991 debut, 2Pacalypse Now, is not my favorite, but “Brenda’s Got a Baby” stood out to me. It demonstrated Tupac’s articulate storytelling. It’s a tragic song about a young black girl who fell in love with the wrong guy. She ended up selling her body and found slain. Tupac narrated Brenda’s story:

She’s twelve years old and she’s havin’ a baby
In love with a molester, who’s sexin’ her crazy
And yet and she thinks that he’ll be with her forever
And dreams of a world where the two of them are together
Whatever, he left her and she had the baby solo
She had it on the bathroom floor and didn’t know, so
She didn’t know what to throw away and what to keep
She wrapped the baby up and threw him in a trash heap.

In 1993, Tupac followed up with Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.…. In “Keep Ya Head Up,” he showed his tenderness toward women. Tupac rhymed:

Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots
I give a holla to my sisters on welfare
2Pac cares if don’t nobody else care
I know they like to beat you down a lot
When you come around the block, brothers clown a lot
But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up
Forgive, but don’t forget, girl, keep ya head up
And when he tells you you ain’t nothin’, don’t believe him
And if he can’t learn to love you, you should leave him
’Cause, sister, you don’t need him
And I ain’t tryin’ to gas you up, I just call ’em how I see ’em
You know what makes me unhappy?
When brothers make babies
And leave a young mother to be a pappy
And 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?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t, we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up?
I know you’re fed up, ladies, but keep ya head up.

Tupac was charming and sweet when it came to women. He was on their side. Unfortunately, he changed completely after he was charged with sexual assault. From a caring gentleman, he turned into a misogynistic asshole.

His 1995’s Me Against the World was released while he was serving time for his sexual assault conviction. The album was dark and menacing as if the world were against him. Nevertheless, Tupac recorded “Dear Mama,” a loving, heartfelt tribute to his mother Afeni Shakur who was a single, addicted mother trying to raise her two kids. Tupac showed his appreciation:

I finally understand
For a woman it ain’t easy tryin’ to raise a man
You always was committed
A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it
There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan
Is to show you that I understand: you are appreciated.

I still know this song by heart. I remember the lyrics word by word. His third verse reminded me of my mother:

Pour out some liquor and I reminisce
‘Cause through the drama I can always depend on my mama
And when it seems that I’m hopeless
You say the words that can get me back in focus
When I was sick as a little kid
To keep me happy there’s no limit to the things you did
And all my childhood memories
Are full of all the sweet things you did for me
And even though I act crazy
I gotta thank the Lord that you made me
There are no words that can express how I feel
You never kept a secret, always stayed real
And I appreciate how you raised me
And all the extra love that you gave me
I wish I could take the pain away
If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day
Everything will be alright if you hold on
It’s a struggle every day, gotta roll on
And there’s no way I can pay you back, but my plan
Is to show you that I understand: you are appreciated

I missed my mama and I never forget the times she never left my bed side when I was sick as a little kid. I appreciated the unconditional love she gave me. “Dear Mama” brings me to tears every time, especially now that my mother is gone.

After joining Death Row Records, Tupac released his double album, All Eyez On Me, in which he offered a wide range of styles. “No More Pain” and “Got My Mind Made Up” were for the thug bangers. “How Do U Want It” and “California Love” were for the club heads. “All Bout U” and “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch” were for the haters. “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” and “Life Goes On” were for the homies that died too young. Listening to “Life Goes On” made me think of my homie Nate. We used to drink together and rap along this track:

As I bail through the empty halls, breath stinkin’ in my jaws
Ring, ring, ring — quiet, y’all, incomin’ call
Plus this my homie from high school, he gettin’ by
It’s time to bury another brother, nobody cry
Life as a baller: alcohol and booty calls
We used to do ’em as adolescents, do you recall?
Raised as G’s, loc’ed out, and blazed the weed
Get on the roof, let’s get smoked out, and blaze with me
Two in the morning and we still high, assed out
Screamin’, “Thug ’til I die!” before I passed out
But now that you’re gone, I’m in the zone
Thinkin’ I don’t wanna die all alone, but now you gone
And all I got left are stinkin’ memories
I love them niggas to death, I’m drinkin’ Hennessy
While tryin’ to make it last
I drank a fifth for that ass when you passed, ’cause life goes on.

Rest in peace, Nate. You will always be in my heart. After Tupac was murdered, I thought his music would end as well, but his posthumous albums continued to come out. R U Still Down? (Remember Me) released in 1997, just a year after his death. Tupac rapped with paranoia and anger on most tracks. On “Hellrazor,” in particular, he spoke out about Latasha who was killed at a convenience store where she bought a bottle of juice. He raged:

Dear Lord if ya hear me, tell me why
Little girl like LaTasha, had to die
She never got to see the bullet, just heard the shot
Her little body couldn’t take it, it shook and dropped
And when I saw it on the news how she bucked the girl, killed Latasha
Now I’m screamin’ fuck the world, in the end
It’s my friends, that flip-flop
Lip-locked on my dick when my shit drop
Thug Life motherfucker, I lick shots
Every nigga on my block dropped two cops
Dear Lord can ya hear me? When I die
Let a nigga be strapped, fucked up, and high
With my hands on the trigger, thug nigga
Stressin’ like a motherfuckin’ drug dealer
And even in the darkest nights, I’m a thug for Life
I got the heart to fight now
Mama raised a hellraiser why cry
That’s just life in the ghetto, do or die.

What I appreciated about Tupac was that he wasn’t afraid to show his sweet and sentimental sides. He was able to lay his soul naked for us to hear his words and to feel his heart. I still wonder how far he would have come if he was still alive today.