There are a few songs within the hip hop world that deserve special attention. Tracks that have transcended the realms of rap to become a mainstay of popular culture, the kind of songs that define a generation and soundtrack the stories of our lives. For those special songs, we give ourselves a little extra room to digest the stories. One such song is Tupac’s classic ‘Changes’.
Released posthumously and featuring vocals taken from ‘I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto’. Changes is one of the more referenced Tupac songs. The scathing lyrics take well-placed shots at the police and government, reminding us of the murder of Black Panther founder: Huey P. Newton, and a narration of what it is like to be an underprivileged Black youth in Ghetto America.
Pac is angry and frustrated at the lack of support and changes in the community. The final bars eerily predict his violent demise: “And as long as I stay black / I gotta stay strapped / And I never get to lay back / ‘Cause I always got to worry ’bout the payback / Some buck that I roughed up way back / Coming back after all these years / ”Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!” / That’s the way it is.”
Considering the song was released following his death, it makes the lyrics feel extra poignant. The song also did a lot for bridging the gap between gangster rap and pop culture. However, it wasn’t a song necessarily intended to be heard as it was, in fact, the verses were largely cobbled together from pieces of recordings Pac had previously done. It means two things: firstly, that the producer of the song was truly gifted and, secondly, that Pac had rhymes for days.
The track effectively borrows from Bruce Hornsby’s 1986 song ‘The Way It Is’, which allows Pac’s ideals and peaceful protest to really power through. It’s the sentiment of finality that makes this song feel even more poetic. not only does Pac refer to the stagnated progress of the hood, but the producer reflects on the immovable death of the artist himself.
Such was the power of Tupac that a single like ‘Changes’ can still affect the world he left behind. The words Pac spits not only highlight the direction his star was heading in – socially conscious and ready to fight – but the leaps and bounds we still have to take.
Following the inauguration of Barack Obama, the world languished in the joy of singing the famous line “we ain’t ready to see a Black President” but now, in the post-Trump world, it still feels like there is a long way to go before the need for this song diminishes.