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Behind the Mic: Tupac Shakur's tearjerker 'Brenda's Got a Baby'

There is an everlasting image of Tupac Shakur that is hard to shake off. At the beginning of his notorious diss track ‘Hit ‘Em Up’, where he takes aim at Biggie Smalls and makes threats of violence and disrespect like a machine gun fires bullets. Pac is in his classic garb, big baggy trousers, durag, shirtless with his tattoo reading “Thug Life” as brazen as can be. But, in truth, Pac was far more sensitive, far more progressive and far more socially conscious than the image he portrayed.

The truth is, throughout his career, Pac used his songs to highlight the issues his friends and family faced on a daily basis. Today, using Behind the Mic, we’re looking back at perhaps Pac’s most powerfully emotive song, ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’.

Gangsta rap found fame largely thanks to the explosiveness of N.W.A. and their anthemic set of songs aimed squarely at the police. It was an anti-establishment stance that not only affected a generation of rappers but inspired them. It saw the birth of the genre and with contemporary artists such as Biggie and Tupac picking up the baton, the course of 1990s hip hop was set.

While gangsta rap was popularised around the intrigue and flashy nature of guns, girls and gripping chains, Pac operated out of the ghetto in a new way — not escaping to the high ground but leading the way for his fans and friends to follow him. Though the rapper was never afraid to talk about the streets, he chose the darker side of life to illuminate.

His rhymes for ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ perfectly showcase this style as he provides an empathetic retelling of a tried and tested story. A single verse allows Pac to run through the progressively saddening narrative with a venomous flow. It would be some of the rapper’s darkest moments, even if it did enlighten us all. That verse is one of Pac’s most brutal and honest.

The story told is one that is tragically all too familiar to the streets. It’s unclear whether Brenda was a solid reflection of a real person or just a composite of many different mothers. But many have suggested that Pac wrote the song after reading a story about a 12-year-old girl who threw her baby into a trash compactor. The harrowing story, and the lack of social welfare to support the child, struck a chord with Pac and he penned one of his most visceral songs because of it.

Listen to ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ below.

Tupac Shakur, ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’ lyrics:

Brenda’s (Brenda’s)
Got a (got a)
Say that one more time Brenda
Got a (baby)

I hear Brenda’s got a baby
But, Brenda’s barely got a brain
A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name
(That’s not our problem, that’s up to Brenda’s family)
Well let me show ya how it affects the whole community
Now Brenda really never knew her moms and her dad was a
Junky, went in death to his arms, it’s sad ’cause I bet
Brenda doesn’t even know
Just ’cause you’re in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow (you can’t grow)
But oh, that’s a thought, my own revelation
Do whatever it takes to resist the temptation
Brenda got herself a boyfriend
Her boyfriend was her cousin, now let’s watch the joy end
She tried to hide her pregnancy, from her family
Who didn’t really care to see, or give a damn if she
Went out and had a church of kids
As long as when the check came they got first dibs
Now Brenda’s belly is gettin’ bigger
But no one seems to notice any change in her figure
She’s 12 years old and she’s having a baby
In love with the molester, who’s sexing her crazy
And yet she thinks that he’ll be with her forever
And dreams of a world with 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 the trash heap
I guess she thought she’d get away, wouldn’t hear the cries
She didn’t realize
How much the the little baby had her eyes
Now the baby’s in the trash heap balling
Momma can’t help her, but it hurts to hear her calling
Brenda wants to run away
Momma say, you makin’ me lose pay
The social workers here every day
Now Brenda’s gotta make her own way
Can’t go to her family, they won’t let her stay
No money no babysitter, she couldn’t keep a job
She tried to sell crack, but end up getting robbed
So now what’s next, there ain’t nothing left to sell
So she sees sex as a way of leaving hell
It’s paying the rent, so she really can’t complain
Prostitute, found slain, and Brenda’s her name, she’s got a baby