Tupac Shakur once said that his big mouth had the tendency to get him into a lot of trouble. The man responsible for violent songs like “Hit ‘Em Up” and “Bomb First” made his detractors confirm their beliefs when he got into trouble. And he sure did get in trouble a lot. He allegedly shot two off-duty police officers. He led the East Coast-West Coast feud that split the Hip-Hop nation. Not to mention—worst of all—his conviction of three counts of sexual abuse in 1994. It came as no surprise, then, that on Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z, ‘Pac parodied the media by hiring a dorky sounding White guy to ask the following question: “Mr. Shakur, can you please explain the meaning behind your violent lyrics?”
But the violent part of ‘Pac’s lyrics merely scratched the surface of one of the most complex personalities in popular music history. For every “ I Get Around,” with its tales of misogyny and promiscuity, there was a “Keep Ya Head Up” to empower young women, encouraging them to be strong in spite of that very same misogyny. It’s been said there were Two Pac’s (Get it? Two, 'Pacs).
In a roundtable discussion, we’ve gathered to explore both sides of Tupac’s lyrical personality. We’ve enlisted the talents of a few artists who knew him well--Pudgee The Phat Bastard, Buckshot the BDI Thug, Chino XL, Adisa Banjoko—and a couple of bona fide experts, Cormega and Makaveli Branded’s DJ Fatal to give us an insiders look at some of his most hard-hitting lyrics.
AllHipHop.com: Before we get started, do you guys have a favorite Tuac song that you’d like to talk about?
DJ Fatal: "Life Goes On" has always been my song because I felt the lyrics and where ‘Pac was coming from. It's tough when you lose someone and this record helps you mourn and continue on... you just gotta hold onto your faith. I just think about the good times I've shared with anyone I've lost when I hear this song. It's good to have memories and just sit back to reminisce to sometimes. It gives yourself a reality check. Tupac once said "You can run the red lights, but read the street signs." He's saying, take chances, but be cautious. That's what "Life Goes On" tells me; that not everything in life is sugar coated and to keep it rolling.
Chino XL: [“White Man’s World”] from the Makaveli album. He’s like, “Where my daddy at…Why they keep on calling me n***er? Get my weight up with my hate and pay them back when I’m bigger…Still thuggin in his jail cell…Hearing Brothers screaming all night, whishing they’d stop.” Being of mixed heritage, I got called on s**t from either side, and I kind of got my weight up with my hate. I paid motherf**ers back now that I’m bigger. Also, anybody that’s ever been locked down knows that if there’s one n***a screaming, you be like, “Shut the f**k up, yo!”
Buckshot: “Picture Me Rollin” [From All Eyez on Me]. “Picture me Rollin’ in my 500 Benz.” ‘Pac found so many ways to get back at people without making it corny. He was so poetic with his lyrics, but he wasn’t afraid to take it to the streets. He’s saying, “I don’t have time for you n***as. It’s about him flossin’ to fake motherf**kas. Can you see me, am I clear to you? That’s the mindstate that I’m in too.
Cormega: “Hail Mary.” He was definitely prophetic. It’s really crazy how deep he was. How many rappers to this day have tattoos on their chest? He was the perfect rapper. There is no rapper with more movie appeal. There is no rapper with more sex appeal. There is no rapper with more street appeal. I would compare him to Bob Marley as far as him being a true icon. There is no one in rap that is on his level.
Pudgee: “Never Had A Friend Like Me” is very special to me. If you knew him, you felt that he really wrote that song for you. A friend is a person that will smack the s**t out of somebody who talks bad about you when you’re not around. That’s the type of person he was.
AllHipHop.com: I want to start the discussion with a sentimental favorite, “Dear Mama.” What’s your reaction to “Even As a crack fiend, mama, you always was a Black Queen, mama”… Buckshot: It gave the world the ultimate respect for ‘Pac. He opened himself up to the world while not being afraid of the vulnerability of the truth. He went through the same thing that a lot of kids in the ghetto go through. He was giving ultimate respect to his mother—his Queen—no matter what ups and downs that she’s been through. That message was so thick to every mother and every kid who heard that.
Chino XL: When you get older, you notice some inconsistencies about your mom that you may not have seen when you were growing up. You start to realize that some of the things that she did might not have been great. But no matter what you do, you’re still The Queen of me. No can listen to this song and not wish that they can pick up the phone and call their mama. I don’t give a f**k who you are, it touches you.
AllHipHop.com: It seemed that for every “Dear Mama,” there was an “Against All Odds.” Where he said, “I’m a Bad Boy killa, Jay-Z die too, looking out for Mobb Deep, n***a, when I find you.” This was a very, very powerful line. Your thoughts?
Cormega: A lot of people think that it was about Biggie on the East Coast and ‘Pac on the West Coast. It wasn’t like that. Big ran New York. ‘Pac ran America I was in a club with Mobb Deep in North Carolina and n***as in the crowd were shouting “Makaveli!” This is on the East Coast! That shows you how powerful his influence was.
Buckshot: You got one time to speak. Speak now or forever hold your peace. So, if you wanna tell a n***a “Suck my di*k,” you tell that n***a that s**t. If you wanna tell him, “Peace brother, have a nice day,” tell him. But you don’t never tell him something that you don’t wanna tell him. That’s what I learned from ‘Pac.
AllHipHop.com: Similarly, he had choice words for old rappers as Makaveli on “Against All Odds.” He said, “N***as looking like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick, trying to playa hate on my s**t (Look at De La Soul), you eat a fat d*ck.” What do y’all think about that line?
Chino XL: I guess he was mad at De La Soul for whatever reason.
Adisa Banjoko: That is, possibly, the single funniest line ever in Hip-Hop. That is a line that showed that silly side of ‘Pac. Even when he was mad, he could still clown. One of the things that’s interesting about that is, nobody remembers the song “Old School”…
AllHipHop.com: Exactly! That leads me to my next song, “Old School,” where he raps “Went out to steal, remember Raw, with Daddy Kane, when De La Soul was putting potholes in the game.”
Chino XL: What is this, the De La Soul part of the interview?
Adisa Banjoko: Nobody remembers this song. No one ever, ever, quotes this song. He talks in depth about, not just the MCs, but the culture of Hip-Hop on the East Coast. No one ever gives him love for that. They forget that him and Naughty By Nature were hella tight. People make it seem like he hated the East Coast when—in fact—the East Coast nurtured him as much as the West.
Cormega: He even rapped about Italian Icees on this song. It shows you how much he knew and respected the culture. I came to know Fatal Hussein from The Outlawz and as we got to know each other we became close friends. Through him, I’ve learned a lot about ‘Pac. He always loved New York. No matter what the media said, New York always loved ‘Pac. He got shot, so of course he was paranoid, but that’s gonna happen to anybody no matter where you get shot.
AllHipHop.com: On “California Love,” he rapped, “Out on bail, fresh outta jail, California Dreamin.” What’s your reaction to that one Chino?
Chino XL: California really is everything you can imagine it is. If you imagine California as the beach on the weekend with a bunch of rich kids with bad bodies, that’s what it is. If you imagine going to Crenshaw on a Friday night, n***a, that s**t is real. If you imagine wearing the wrong color in the wrong spot and getting laid the f**k up, that’s real too. I can imagine ‘Pac thinking, “Yo, I’m a get out, get dipped up, go get these chains…and go down Melrose.” What he’s saying is, “I’m going to be trouble when I get free.”
AllHipHop.com: Adisa, you’re from the Bay. Any insights?
Adisa Banjoko: When ‘Pac went to jail, I didn’t know what to make of him. I remember my wife and I were driving through San Jose and the song came on the radio. I was like, “Oh my God, this fool is coming bigger and harder and stronger than anybody ever expected.” He came out supercharged. I regretted that I hadn’t written him before [he got out of jail]. Just based on the energy of this song, I knew that there was a lot of new factors in his life that he didn’t have before he went in jail.
AllHipHop.com: On “I Get Around,” he rapped, “If I couldn’t have it (silly rabbit) why’d you sweat me? There’s a lot of real G’s doing time cause a groupie bit the truth and told a lie.”
Adisa Banjoko: Man. Didn’t that almost end up being prophetic? Didn’t he come up with this one right before he went to jail? How crazy is that?
Chino XL: The best advice I ever got was from Eric B. He told me to never let [groupies] in your hotel room, never give them your phone number, and never to touch them. If you’re on the road with people you can’t control, either don’t stay on the same floor with the entourage or don’t even stay in the same hotel. You gotta think about it. Listen to that line. That’s your whole life, ‘Pac.