tupacAfter waking up and seeing this article on the front page of Digg, I was instantly in a Tupac mood. The article does a good job of narrowing down his music to 22 of his best tracks (I’d disagree with some of them there) and it made me start thinking about his true place in history as an artist.

A lot of people dismiss Tupac as a typical thug. In fact, one of the comments on the Digg page stated:

People should forget about this thug and spend more time remembering real men like Dr. King, the Tuskegee airmen and Bernie Mac. Question, how long do you think it would take Dr. King to listen to a Tupac album before he hung his head in shame and walked away? Do you think Dr. King would be proud of the whole thug gangsta mentality? I doubt it. I want to see any man become more like Dr. King, not more like Tupac.

I can see his point to an extent, however, this commenter is limited by what the media saw of Tupac most of the time. They never saw the good things he did, they rarely played the deeper songs on the radio, only the party and gangster tracks, they never showcased his poetry. At least his acting ability garnered positive praise (though, he usually portrayed a thug in the movies, but that’s an issue with Hollywood and typecasting of African Americans and not of Tupac himself).

In Tupac’s first 3 albums, he was not a thug. He rapped about his life, the life around him, his feelings. He spun tales of a young girl getting pregnant (Brenda’s Got a Baby), how poorly we treat women (Keep Ya Head Up), discuss the situation young black males face of either being caught in the ghetto or in prison (Trapped). Not only is he able to talk about these things, but he does it with such great imagery. For instance, take a look at his song So Many Tears. In today’s climate, it is frowned upon for a male rapper to show any form of emotion that shows just how vulnerable they really are. Tupac didn’t care. He wrote a song talking about his fears, crying, and paranoia. Not only does he discuss themes that are almost taboo in rap music, but he paints a picture so detailed that you see just how troubled this young man was. This song isn’t about his Thug Life. This song is all about the struggle with himself and the life he lives. Listen to the song and take a look at the lyrics:

[audio:http://pieceofshep.com/audio/08-2Pac-So-Many-Tears.mp3]

I shall not fear no man but God
Though I walk through the valley of death
I shed so many tears (if I should die before I wake)
Please God walk with me (grab a nigga and take me to Heaven)

Back in elementary, I thrived on misery
Left me alone I grew up amongst a dyin breed
Inside my mind couldn’t find a place to rest
until I got that Thug Life tatted on my chest
Tell me can you feel me? I’m not livin in the past, you wanna last
Be tha first to blast, remember Kato
No longer with us he’s deceased
Call on the sirens, seen him murdered in the streets
Now rest in peace
Is there heaven for a G? Remember me
So many homies in the cemetery, shed so many tears

Ahh, I suffered through the years, and shed so many tears..
Lord, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears

Now that I’m strugglin in this business, by any means
Label me greedy gettin green, but seldom seen
And fuck the world cause I’m cursed, I’m havin visions
of leavin here in a hearse, God can you feel me?
Take me away from all the pressure, and all the pain
Show me some happiness again, I’m goin blind
I spend my time in this cell, ain’t livin well
I know my destiny is Hell, where did I fail?
My life is in denial, and when I die,
baptized in eternal fire I’ll shed so many tears

Lord, I suffered through the years, and shed so many tears..
Lord, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears

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…

Lord, I suffered through the years (God) and shed so many tears..
God, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears

Lord knows I.. tried, been a witness to homicide
Seen drivebys takin lives, little kids die
Wonder why as I walk by
Broken-hearted as I glance at the chalk line, gettin high
This ain’t the life for me, I wanna change
But ain’t no future right for me, I’m stuck in the game
I’m trapped inside a maze
See this Tanqueray influenced me to gettin crazy
Disillusioned lately, I’ve been really wantin babies
so I could see a part of me that wasn’t always shady
Don’t trust my lady, cause she’s a product of this poison
I’m hearin noises, think she fuckin all my boys, can’t take no more
I’m fallin to the floor; beggin for the Lord to let me in
to Heaven’s door — shed so many tears
(Dear God, please let me in)

Lord, I’ve lost so many years, and shed so many tears..
I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears
Lord, I suffered through the years, and shed so many tears..
God, I lost so many peers, and shed so many tears

The year Tupac began to hit the height of his popularity (1995-1996 when he died), we did start to see a more thugged out Tupac. By this time he was rapping about his success as a rapper and a celebrity. Something that an artist in any field will start doing. Once a person hits major celebrity status, they are going to change a little, but he still had traces of earlier Tupac in him, just look at How Long Will They Mourn Me, I Ain’t Mad At Cha, or Only God Can Judge Me.

So should we forget this man because he was a thug? No. Not at all. Tupac was a product of his society. If he was a thug, examine why that was. Examine how the society he grew up in made him that way, and continue to make young men and women the same way. His art imitated his life, the good and the bad. If you don’t like the bad, then help do something about it, just don’t dismiss him as a thug because he lived something that you are so removed from you have no grasp of what it really is. Tupac was a thug, insightful, hypocritical, political, but most of all, Tupac was real.