Tupac Shakur’s favourite song of all time
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Tupac Shakur's favourite song of all time

Most people know Tupac Shakur as the late gangster rap icon, but less widely understood is the artist’s penchant for ballet and the emotional soft rock of Don McLean. Tragically, Tupac Shakur was killed during a hit-and-run incident in September 1996, but had he survived, perhaps we would have seen a heart-warming collaboration between the two musicians. 

Shakur’s favourite song by McLean reveals another hidden passion: Vincent van Gogh. The ‘American Pie’ folky wrote his 1971 song ‘Vincent’ about the troubled Dutch painter. The lesser-known track would become Tupac’s favourite by McLean; he felt he could relate to van Gogh as a misunderstood artist. 

Shakur’s love for McLean and ‘Vincent’ was unearthed in Lauren Lazin’s 2003 documentary, Tupac: Resurrection. After watching the movie, Allen Hughes, the director of the 2022 docuseries Dear Mama, decided to give the track some attention. At first, he wasn’t impressed. 

“I’ll be frank,” he told Consequence in April 2023. “I heard [‘Vincent’], and I was like, God, this is corny as fuck. I didn’t like the feel of it. I didn’t want anything to do with this.”

However, when researching for Dear Mama, Hughes interviewed Donald Hicken, the rapper’s drama teacher from the Baltimore School of Performing Arts, and his old friend, John Cole. Amid their glowing, eye-opening character references, both discussed the importance of McLean and ‘Vincent’ in Shakur’s life. 

“He said Vincent van Gogh was misunderstood, and he related to that, as an artist,” Hughes recalled Hicken saying. 

After understanding a little more about Tupac’s connection to the song and its subject, Hughes gave it another chance. “I listened to it, and we started playing around with it, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is powerful.’ I must admit, I was never a fan of poetry, but this journey has opened my eyes to the power of poetry and how beautiful it is,” he said.

“I’m a big fan of the song now. I gotta admit, I didn’t get it at first — and that’s why these guys and gals, that are these incredible artists, are so ahead of their time,” Hughes added.

After releasing Dear Mama in 2022, Hughes reflected on his fascinating subject and his tragic end. “I think his greatest art outside of his poetry and his writing was — he’s a performance artist,” Hughes said. “I think that that’s also his self-destruction because the lines between performance art and reality, I think he… There were no lines anymore. And ultimately, his greatest piece of art, he painted in his own blood, unfortunately.”

So powerful was Tupac’s spiritual connection to van Gogh he wrote a poem titled Starry Night. Hear McLean’s ‘Vincent’ and Shakur’s poem below. 

Starry Night – Tupac Shakur

A creative heart, obsessed with satisfying

this dormant and uncaring society

you have given them the stars at night

and u have given them

Bountiful Bouquets of Sunflowers

but 4 u there is only contempt

and though u pour yourself into that frame

and present it so proudly this world

could not accept your masterpieces

from the heart.

So on that starry night u gave 2 us

and u took away from us

the one thing we never acknowledged

your life.