(Credit: YouTube)

Old School Archives

The story behind Tupac Shakur's 'Keep Ya Head Up'

There is simply no doubt that Tupac Shakur’s legacy will remain untarnished for decades to come. The rapper wasn’t just a landmark lyricist or extremely gifted performer he was, the voice of a generation, the leading light of his field and, like many heroes before him, he is remembered as an icon. He made himself indispensable to the hip hop world through his visceral attachment to the truth.

It’s easy to point to Tupac’s death as a primary reason for his legendary status, and it certainly played a part. However, the real reason that Tupac Shakur is still as highly valued and trusted as he once was is that the artist was real in every sense of the word. Not only was he unafraid to throw a fist or put up a middle finger when he felt himself being corralled into a situation that he didn’t think was worthy. Likewise, musically, Pac was so self-assured in his talent that he was happy to kill any beat, any time anywhere.

Of course, Shakur was blessed with a natural rhythm and was more than capable of applying himself off the cuff to any situation. But the real reason his work is so highly respected is that he committed himself to the craft. On every song, within every album, we are given a piece of Pac. Unashamedly, he cut himself to see the blood; unreservedly; he taught us that the world was a dangerous place if we let it pass us by and, because of this, he became an unequivocal hero.

One such song that saw Pac really open up was his anthemic song ‘Keep Ya Head Up’. The song showcased his new direction for socially-centred songs. The song not only reflects on Pac’s troubled upbringing on the streets and the idea of systemic Black poverty but also shines a light on the murder of Latasha Harlins, who was shot and killed for putting a bottle into her backpack. The murder was the flashpoint for the 1992 L.A. riots and is immortalised in Pac’s song about injustice. His warts and all line “a bottle of juice, is no excuse” feels applicable to a whole range of Black murders and, upon rediscovering the track, it feels more pertinent than ever.

But Pac also used the first few bars of the track to pay tribute to a friend, Salt of Salt ‘N’ Pepa and her daughter as he notes: “A lil sumthin’ for my godson Elijah and a lil girl named Corin…”

“[We] had conversations where he told me he respected me,” Salt shared. “Nothing happened between us, but he met Corin a couple of times. One day, he called me and he was like ‘I dedicated this song to your daughter.’ I just chalked it up to… Me and Tupac have letters that I’ve never shown anyone.”

“I feel like he saw me in a way that he respected and he wanted me to know that,” Salt says of the song and their relationship. “It was something that was probably going on in his head – to go so far as to dedicate a song to Corin, [a song] concerning me – that I’m not completely aware of. It was just a weird thing.”

Listen to the brilliant ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ a song about Black womanhood dedicated to Salt’s daughter.