Now there have been many posts lately about Tupac (also known as 2Pac, Pac or Makaveli, but I only call him/spell out Tupac), about how his music was overrated or underrated, but no one could really go in on Tupac until they understood him and where he was coming from throughout his life. Now I'm not saying I know his intentions, but he surely spoke out the most in his music and he had the most uplifting messages for folks from every hood possible. What I am saying is that Tupac was the most misunderstood hiphop artist ever.
He put out the kind of music that only applied to people in those kind of situations. His main focus was his message, not how his message was interpreted, which wasn't his greatest asset but to his audience his message overpowered his lyrical abilities. Tupac was (and still is) able to best speak to the thugs and the hood in a radical and political way. He was able to speak consciously in a poetic manner to a people who were unfamiliar to any sort of art form other than rap. He provided thugs another way to express themselves although he wasn't a thug. Although emcees like Nas spoke to the hood as an intellectual, Tupac spoke to the hood in their language. And with that, more people from the hood related to him than Nas. Now one thing most people can do is pull out three songs by Tupac, most of which being "California Love", "Dear Mama", and "Keep Ya Head Up". Two of those songs were amongst a few of his greatest uplifting songs he blessed the hiphop community with, those being "Dear Mama" and "Keep Ya Head Up". As for "California Love", it was a major big-up on California being the top dog amongst the other states in the country, and highlighted the things Cali has contributed, but it was mainly a party song.
Although the three songs were good songs, there are even more songs I can think of that were great contributions Tupac made for the people. The first song I can think of is "Brenda's Got A Baby". It was ok that the song was under three minutes, for it all he needed to tell the short tale of thousands of young Black ladies in the world who go through teenage pregnancy. Plus it was one thing to just tell the story about a particular chick named Brenda, but the social commentary is what made this song highly significant to hiphop. The line "That's not our problem, that's up to Brenda's family" let's you know Tupac is about to go in on how this 12 year old girl needs the community as much as she needed her family, who was extremely dysfunctional and could care less about her growth as an individual, as well as the newborn baby. So after the story of the baby's birth, Brenda's homelessness, and attempt to make money by selling drugs and prostitution, Brenda went from the 12 year old pregnant girl to "prostitute found slain", a headline seen too often in the news that includes young Black women in the streets.
The next song I can think of is "Pain" off of the Above the Rim soundtrack, plus the first single he released with Death Row Records. This song was the first song in my opinion that clarified what he meant by Thug Life. He started out in his first verse, "They'll never take me alive / I'm getting high, with my .45 / Cocked on these suckas, time to die... But now I'm labeled as a troublemaker, who can you blame / Smoking weed help me take away the pain / So I'm hopeless". Really, the entire verse spoke on how difficult it is for him to provide for his family when he had nothing to begin with, so he turns to the streets, who he often claims embraces him more than anyone else, instead of doing nothing. It is with this song that he begins to shed light in defense of the people who do their dirt in the streets, with his vivid images of selling drugs and killing anyone gets in his way.
Another song he blessed hiphop with was "So Many Tears". I can remember my older cousin, who does the very things Tupac raps about, repeating this song verbatim and I could see in his eyes he felt the same feelings as his favorite artist. This had to be the most spiritual song from him in the way to exposed his emotions in this song to God. He lays everything on the table to God, referring to Psalms 23:4 in the beginning of the song, and asks for forgiveness because of all what he has seen throughout his life - growing up with no around but the streets, witnessing so many murders, and ultimately asking "Is there a Heaven for a G?" - and all of what he is about to do as he, as a thug, envisions his death in the future. A line that has always stuck to me, and a line my cousin always went in on, was "My every move is a calculated step / To bring me closer to embrace an early death / Now there's nothing left". A door he opened in this song, as well as plenty other songs, was that it is ok for thugs to cry and ask for God for forgive them. He said at the end of the song "can't take no more / I'm fallin to the floor / beggin for the Lord to let me in to Heaven's door", which was a cry often stated in other cultures (i.e. as seen within the time of The Divine Comedy, Italian mobsters before committing a crime or death, and in the movie The Boondocks Saints), but not as prevalent in the Black community, especially the streets, until Tupac brought it to light.
So although most of his songs were aimed at being a voice for the streets, he indirectly exposed what it really meant to be a thug or a gangster. One thing Tupac did was glorify the misery behind being a thug as much as he glorified the actual things thugs did. With almost every line of violence Tupac had, he backed it up with a line of suffering or a line of confusion behind that action. He basically justified the streets with the conditions the streets faced, and he showed how miserable street life is. Whether or not he was a man from the streets, I can't say for sure, however he did grow up in a gifted school and a son of the Black Panthers, but if you ask anybody from the streets, and I'm not saying I'm a thug at all, but they will tell you Tupac got it right.
Most of the people in the mainstream society, and even in the hiphop community, weren't feeling Tupac as much as they should. One of the main reasons was that he focused too much on his message and not how to portray it. In other words, he wasn't the best lyrical machine in hiphop. He could rap very well, don't get me wrong, but compared to other emcees at the time (Nas, Biggie, and so on) he lacked the skills they had.
Another thing people didn't like about Tupac was his radical ways. He never held his tongue, and although we live in a country that claims to have freedom of speech, Tupac's image was always overshadowing his music. The difference between him and other emcees today (which is why I can disregard this major flaw of his) is that this image America/Death Row created for him was clearly out of alignment with who he really was, and that he was forced to be that image. I would go there and say his image was created by accident, and that dissonance between who America wanted him to be and what he really was turned him into the so-called monster he became. The fact that this very dissonance became enclosed is what really killed Tupac more than the beefs he had with anyone.
Which leads me to another issue people had with Tupac - this so-called East vs. West Coast beef. Of course with most of the country divided by Sides (east and west so the Midwest and South can be included), the folks on the Eastside weren't on the best of terms with him out of respect for their home and Biggie who was the frontrunner for the East Coast. All in all, Tupac's main flaw with others was his refusal to be what they wanted him to be - a prepackaged menace to American society.