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. There is no better way to remember the icon than by providing our version of a hip hop staple: the illustrious ‘Top 5’.
Picking out a favourite five songs, albums or films of your favourite artist is a rite of passage for any true hip hop head. Therefore, to pay tribute to an icon of the art, we’re selecting our five favourite songs of Tupac Shakur.
Of course, part of Pac’s icon status comes, in large part, from his sad demise. At the height of his fame, amid a flurry of flashing lights and media drama, Pac was gunned down as he began to peak. Though his killer remains at large, it has left Pac remembered as a figure who can never get old, fat or boring. He is Makaveli, and his memory will now never be washed away.
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.
Below, we’ve got the five greatest songs of Tupac Shakur.
Tupac Shakur’s 5 best songs:
It may not be a diehard fan favourite, but there’s something wholesome and canonising about Shakur’s song ‘Changes’. One of Pac’s most famous tracks was released after his death. 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.
4. ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’
While gangsta rap was popularised around the intrigue and flashy nature of guns, girls and gripping chains, 2Pac operated out of the ghetto in a new way. 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.
3. ‘Dear Mama’
He may well have been a thug, but he loved his mama. The song was written in tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur, and sees Pac deliver some of his most emotional lines. Ranked highly as one of the rapper’s greatest songs of all time, the track is pure and blissful beauty.
In a press release of the time, Pac’s team called the song “a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper’s own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty and societal indifference.” It’s a sincere reflection of struggles Pac both faced and overcame
Trap music is the genre du jour. It has been so widely accepted as a part of our culture that it is sometimes easy to forget from where it derives and that, in fact, the trap is no place to be. Here, Pac makes a play on the word and shows how operating as a drug dealer is, in itself, a trap.
Pac accurately captures not only the excitement and enthusiasm one may have for working in the trap but then the series of snares ready to gobble you up should you make a wrong move. In the end, he makes it very clear that the trap is only good for keeping people caged.
1. ‘Keep Ya Head Up’
The first posthumous single of Pac’s career, 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.