On June 16th 1971, Lesane Parish Crooks was born in New York to a single mother involved in the Black Panther Party. There were little signs then that this new born would go on to international stardom, and rather than represent New York, become an icon of the West Coast called 2Pac Shakur. The odds were stacked against him even to reach a comfortable living but, like his song title said, he was successful “Against All Odds”. Of course there are those that will point out his misdemeanour’s in order to detract from his legacy. Yet, in not being perfect, he is more relatable to those that come from broken homes; his poetic lyrics still resonate now more than ever. This months Food 4 Thought honours the man who has impacted on an unprecedented amount of lives in such a short space of time.
He was often asked how he saw his future, and his replies were very telling. “If I’m alive, I’ll change the World“, that very important “if” points to a startling awareness of the fragile nature of his own mortality. I’ve always felt that his leadership is sorely missed in today’s hip-hop scene. I can’t imagine a “Rick Ross” succeeding with 2Pac around, perhaps even Barack Obama may have felt his opinion was necessary to securing the young Black vote. The type of power Pac wielded was above his status as a mere musician. His death has allowed us to reflect on his contributions to racial and social issues, perhaps in a way that the East and West Coast beef of 1996 blocked us from doing so.
Of course he was more than just an inspirational leader, his emcee skills will forever set the bar for future generations. To pay tribute to his work I’ve included a list of “top 3’s” highlighting the man’s genius.
Top 3 2Pac Albums:
3. “All Eyez On Me”
This is a hip-hop classic no doubt, the enthusiasm and elevation of his lyrical content on a then unheard of two disc album was one of the defining moments of his career. We all know the classic tracks like “California Love” but it is some of the lesser known songs that stand out for me – “No More Pain”, “Heartz Of Men” and “Ambitionz As A Ridah” showcase the real 2Pac with their complex rhyme structures and honest reflections on his own life. This album was an event. In today’s modern era of disposable internet downloads, hip-hop lacks the considerable focus a project like this generates.
2. “Makaveli: The 7 Day Theory”
There has never been an album quite like this. It is a prophetic piece of work which is brutally direct and aggressive. 2Pac changed his style from rapping from the gut to screaming from his throat. The fact that it only took one week to produce is the stuff of legend – what other rapper could produce classics like “To Live And Die In L.A.”, “Me And My Girlfriend” and “Hail Mary” in one week? References to King Tut and Jimmy Henchman depict real life events and the speed the album was churned out in suggests Pac knew his days were numbered. I still find it eerie to think right before he was shot he played this album in the car with Suge, even been stopped by police in the process. That’s why when I listen to this album I see it as his final message to the world, and can imagine that’s how he felt about it too playing it that tragic night.
1. “Me Against The World”
“Me Against The World” is my favourite 2Pac album. It is his most polished piece of work from start to finish, especially in terms of production. Shock G and Johnny J brought out the best in 2Pac, who had finally reached his maturity as an artist with this project. This was a huge step up in consistency and quality from what had came before it (although those albums also boast amazing tracks), songs like “Dear Mama” and “Death Around The Corner” are some of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time.
These lyrics from “So Many Tears” always stick out in my mind as a classic 2Pac verse:
Now I’m lost and I’m weary, so many tears
I’m suicidal, so don’t stand near me
My every move is a calculated step, to bring me closer
to embrace an early death, now there’s nothin left
There was no mercy on the streets, I couldn’t rest
I’m barely standin, bout to go to pieces, screamin peace
And though my soul was deleted, I couldn’t see it
I had my mind full of demons tryin to break free
They planted seeds and they hatched, sparkin the flame
inside my brain like a match, such a dirty game
No memories, just a misery
Paintin a picture of my enemies killin me, in my sleep
Will I survive til the mo’nin, to see the sun
Please Lord forgive me for my sins, cause here I come…
Other great 2Pac albums: Still I Rise, Strictly 4 My Niggaz.
Top 3 2pac Videos:
3. “Holla If Ya Hear Me”
2Pac’s singles from this period all produced classic videos, it was very hard to leave out “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and “Keep Ya Head Up” but I’ve gone with this because of the energy and aggression he delivers. It is also the first hint of what would come in his Death Row days; the anger and emotion was a glimpse of the future Makaveli. You can imagine the response this video generated all across America, it was like a call to arms for all men oppressed and deserves to be mentioned in the same breathe as other iconic videos such as Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover” or Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day”.
2. “To Live And Die In L.A.”
I just love this video. It’s not often such a simple idea works so well. But for whatever reason, the sight of Pac driving around L.A. and visiting a shopping center encapsulates an entire era. The fashions and sights displayed in the video sum up 1996 and it’s like 2Pac showed he could still go out and have fun despite the ever impending dangers he was facing. He describes the song himself as “California Love Part Two” but in my opinion “To Live And Die In L.A.” was a greater piece of work.
1. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”
When I watch this video I go through a range of emotions. It is such a fitting release to remember him by – amazingly only coming out after his death and depicting that very eventuality. We see 2Pac in heaven with other music greats, it even includes an extra verse that’s not included on the album. It makes me smile but it’s also tinged with sadness in that he’s not here anymore. A perfect of example of why 2Pac was a prophet.
Other great 2Pac videos: Changes, Ghetto Gospel.
2Pac doesn’t just have fans, he has people that love him, idolise his every word and look to him as martyr. This level of extreme passion reflects how 2Pac approached his daily life. It was the man’s charisma, insight and creativity that made him one of the greatest figures of the 90’s. 16 years after his death he refuses to fade into obscurity, remaining in public consciousness with episodes like the 2Pac hologram and Suge Knight’s eerie suggestions that he faked his death. With this recent surge in media coverage showing no signs of abating, he continues to create controversy reminiscent of how he polarised opinion when he was alive.