There’s no doubting the impact Tupac Shakur had on music. Aside from his intense charisma and charming personality, something he used to devastating effect, 2Pac was capable of some of the most incredible verses the rap world has ever seen. While much of his output has come out after his shocking death in the mid-1990s, we like to think of his best work coming while he was alive.
There are few artists who can boast the kind of huge impact 2Pac had on his audience, and he did it largely with a plethora of massive songs. It is in these songs that 2Pac made himself a legend, and with these songs that we still pay tribute to the late, great rapper—arguably the greatest of all time. Below, we’re picking out ten of the rapper’s best lyrics.
Shakur never thought of himself as the most technically gifted rapper or indeed gifted lyricist. But what 2Pac did was commit to his craft and provide songs that were obvious reflections of the life around him. His charisma and his attitudes were as vitally important as his work on the mic. But still, despite being considered far from the top of his class, 2Pac quickly ascended to the top of the pile and refused to be taken down. During his lifetime, there was no rapper bigger or entirely better than Shakur.
He used his songs to offer up a series of vignettes on his life and looking back, the collection of tracks listed below offer up a remarkable retelling of the artist’s life. Whether he was attempting to reach the inner Pac or indeed affect the wider world, Shakur never turned away from the challenge of expressing himself.
Here, we’ve grabbed Tupac’s ten greatest lyrics of all time as a reflection of the rapper’s legendary status.
Tupac Shakur’s 10 best lyrics:
‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’
“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.”
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.
“I see no changes, all I see is racist faces
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races
We under, I wonder what it takes to make this
One better place, let’s erase the wasted
Take the evil out the people, they’ll be acting right
‘Cause both Black and White are smoking crack tonight
And the only time we chill is when we kill each other
It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other.”
One of Pac’s most famous songs 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.
‘Holla If Ya Hear Me’
“Pump ya fists if ya feel me, holla if ya hear me
Learn to survive in the nine-tre’
I make rhyme pay, others make crime pay
Whatever it takes to live and stand
Cause nobody else’ll give a damn
So we live like caged beasts
Waitin for the day to let the rage free
Still me, till they kill me
I love it when they fear me.”
Black poverty and racial injustice permeate all of Pac’s finer works and on ‘Holla If Ya Hear Me’, the rapper lets go of some serious rage in the most perfect way possible. Throughout the song, he makes a note of the inbalances Black people must navigate in life, calling on his audience to join his movement of resistance.
The video is a haunting reminder of how far we have to go in our society as it sees Pac training a young boy (who reveals themselves as a girl at the end of the video) to become a militant member of the crew.
‘To Live & Die in L.A.’
“It wouldn’t be L.A. without Mexicans
Black love, brown pride, and the sets again
Pete Wilson tryin’ to see us all broke
I’m on some bullshit out for everything they owe.”
He may well be considered the West Coast king, but Tupac Shakur was actually an East Coast native. However, his adopted home of Los Angeles quickly became a perfect vehicle for his rhymes, and on ‘To Live & Die in L.A.’, the rapper shines.
The entire song rolls out like a homage to the city, but his most pertinent moment comes when he speaks of Brown pride as well as sharing his love for the multitude of races that make America great.
‘White Man’z World’
“Only thing they ever did wrong was bein’ born black in this white man’s world.”
Most of the additions on this list are full verses or four-bar set-ups but for ‘White Man’z World’, Pac only needs one line to make his point. Throughout the song, Pac paints a picture of a desperately slanted society.
One real problem that many Black people face in their daily lives is the condemnation that comes with being proud of your race. Pac proclaims that Black people should be proud of their race and refuse to change for the white man.
“If I could recollect before my hood days
I sit and reminisce, thinking of bliss and the good days
I stop and stare at the younger
My heart goes to ’em, they tested with stress that they under
And nowadays things change
Everyone’s ashamed of the youth
‘cause the truth look strange.”
Whether or not Elton John and 2Pac would have been friends had Pac survived his shooting, is not really our concern. As it happened, Elton’s connection to the material only works to shed more light on Pac’s verses.
One of the cleanest comes when he shares reflections of his past as a way of illuminating the path forward for the youth. It’s another reminder of Pac’s direction and why he would have been such a vital ally today.
“I shed tears with my baby sister, over the years
We was poorer than the other little kids
And even though we had different daddies, the same drama
When things went wrong we’d blame Mama
I reminisce on the stress I caused, it was hell
Huggin’ on my mama from a jail cell.”
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.
“You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion
Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion
Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught
Shot up or shot down with the bullet that he bought
Nine millimeter kickin’ thinkin’ about what the streets do to me
Cause they never talk peace in the black community.”
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.
‘Keep Ya Head Up’
“And since we all came from a woman,
got our name from a woman and our game from a woman,
I wonder why we take from our women,
why we rape our women, do we hate our women?”
We can’t exactly call 2Pac a feminist. The rapper partook in more than his fair share of misogynistic lyric writing but ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ sees Pac shine a light on issues of choice, rape culture and the overarching theme of gender equality.
Instead of trying to embolden women, Pac instead aims at men and asks them to hold a mirror up to their actions. He asks them to give thanks for being raised by women and ensure that their own sons are just as respectful. Pac was probably best placed to share the message, and while there’s a long way to go, steps are being made.
‘I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto’
“Here on Earth, tell me what’s a black life worth
A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts
And even when you take the shit
Move counties, get a lawyer, you can shake the shit
Ask Rodney, LaTasha, and many more
It’s been goin’ on for years, there’s plenty more
When they ask me, when will the violence cease?
When your troops stop shootin’ n*ggas down in the street.”
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.