Tupac Shakur once said that his big mouth had the tendency to get him into a lot of trouble. The man responsible for violent songs like Hit Em Up and Bomb First made his detractors confirm their beliefs when he got into trouble. And he sure did get in trouble a lot. He allegedly shot two off-duty police officers. He led the East Coast-West Coast feud that split the Hip-Hop nation. Not to mentionworst of allhis conviction of three counts of sexual abuse in 1994. It came as no surprise, then, that on Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z, Pac parodied the media by hiring a dorky sounding White guy to ask the following question: Mr. Shakur, can you please explain the meaning behind your violent lyrics?
But the violent part of Pacs lyrics merely scratched the surface of one of the most complex personalities in popular music history. For every I Get Around, with its tales of misogyny and promiscuity, there was a Keep Ya Head Up to empower young women, encouraging them to be strong in spite of that very same misogyny. Its been said there were Two Pacs (Get it? Two, ‘Pacs).
In a roundtable discussion, weve gathered to explore both sides of Tupacs lyrical personality. Weve enlisted the talents of a few artists who knew him well–Pudgee The Phat Bastard, Buckshot the BDI Thug, Chino XL, Adisa Banjokoand a couple of bona fide experts, Cormega and Makaveli Brandeds DJ Fatal to give us an insiders look at some of his most hard-hitting lyrics.
AllHipHop.com: Before we get started, do you guys have a favorite Tuac song that youd like to talk about?
DJ Fatal: “Life Goes On” has always been my song because I felt the lyrics and where Pac was coming from. It’s tough when you lose someone and this record helps you mourn and continue on… you just gotta hold onto your faith. I just think about the good times I’ve shared with anyone I’ve lost when I hear this song. It’s good to have memories and just sit back to reminisce to sometimes. It gives yourself a reality check. Tupac once said “You can run the red lights, but read the street signs.” He’s saying, take chances, but be cautious. That’s what “Life Goes On” tells me; that not everything in life is sugar coated and to keep it rolling.
Chino XL: [White Mans World] from the Makaveli album. Hes like, Where my daddy at Why they keep on calling me n***er? Get my weight up with my hate and pay them back when Im bigger Still thuggin in his jail cell Hearing Brothers screaming all night, whishing theyd stop. Being of mixed heritage, I got called on s**t from either side, and I kind of got my weight up with my hate. I paid motherf**ers back now that Im bigger. Also, anybody thats ever been locked down knows that if theres one n***a screaming, you be like, Shut the f**k up, yo!
Buckshot: Picture Me Rollin [From All Eyez on Me]. Picture me Rollin in my 500 Benz. Pac found so many ways to get back at people without making it corny. He was so poetic with his lyrics, but he wasnt afraid to take it to the streets. Hes saying, I dont have time for you n***as. Its about him flossin to fake motherf**kas. Can you see me, am I clear to you? Thats the mindstate that Im in too.
Cormega: Hail Mary. He was definitely prophetic. Its really crazy how deep he was. How many rappers to this day have tattoos on their chest? He was the perfect rapper. There is no rapper with more movie appeal. There is no rapper with more sex appeal. There is no rapper with more street appeal. I would compare him to Bob Marley as far as him being a true icon. There is no one in rap that is on his level.
Pudgee: Never Had A Friend Like Me is very special to me. If you knew him, you felt that he really wrote that song for you. A friend is a person that will smack the s**t out of somebody who talks bad about you when youre not around. Thats the type of person he was.
AllHipHop.com: I want to start the discussion with a sentimental favorite, Dear Mama. Whats your reaction to Even As a crack fiend, mama, you always was a Black Queen, mama
Buckshot: It gave the world the ultimate respect for Pac. He opened himself up to the world while not being afraid of the vulnerability of the truth. He went through the same thing that a lot of kids in the ghetto go through. He was giving ultimate respect to his motherhis Queenno matter what ups and downs that shes been through. That message was so thick to every mother and every kid who heard that.
Chino XL: When you get older, you notice some inconsistencies about your mom that you may not have seen when you were growing up. You start to realize that some of the things that she did might not have been great. But no matter what you do, youre still The Queen of me. No can listen to this song and not wish that they can pick up the phone and call their mama. I dont give a f**k who you are, it touches you.
AllHipHop.com: It seemed that for every Dear Mama, there was an Against All Odds. Where he said, Im a Bad Boy killa, Jay-Z die too, looking out for Mobb Deep, n***a, when I find you. This was a very, very powerful line. Your thoughts?
Cormega: A lot of people think that it was about Biggie on the East Coast and Pac on the West Coast. It wasnt like that. Big ran New York. Pac ran America I was in a club with Mobb Deep in North Carolina and n***as in the crowd were shouting Makaveli! This is on the East Coast! That shows you how powerful his influence was.
Buckshot: You got one time to speak. Speak now or forever hold your peace. So, if you wanna tell a n***a Suck my di*k, you tell that n***a that s**t. If you wanna tell him, Peace brother, have a nice day, tell him. But you dont never tell him something that you dont wanna tell him. Thats what I learned from Pac.
AllHipHop.com: Similarly, he had choice words for old rappers as Makaveli on Against All Odds. He said, N***as looking like Larry Holmes, flabby and sick, trying to playa hate on my s**t (Look at De La Soul), you eat a fat d*ck. What do yall think about that line?
Chino XL: I guess he was mad at De La Soul for whatever reason.
Adisa Banjoko: That is, possibly, the single funniest line ever in Hip-Hop. That is a line that showed that silly side of Pac. Even when he was mad, he could still clown. One of the things thats interesting about that is, nobody remembers the song Old School
AllHipHop.com: Exactly! That leads me to my next song, Old School, where he raps Went out to steal, remember Raw, with Daddy Kane, when De La Soul was putting potholes in the game.
Chino XL: What is this, the De La Soul part of the interview?
Adisa Banjoko: Nobody remembers this song. No one ever, ever, quotes this song. He talks in depth about, not just the MCs, but the culture of Hip-Hop on the East Coast. No one ever gives him love for that. They forget that him and Naughty By Nature were hella tight. People make it seem like he hated the East Coast whenin factthe East Coast nurtured him as much as the West.
Cormega: He even rapped about Italian Icees on this song. It shows you how much he knew and respected the culture. I came to know Fatal Hussein from The Outlawz and as we got to know each other we became close friends. Through him, Ive learned a lot about Pac. He always loved New York. No matter what the media said, New York always loved Pac. He got shot, so of course he was paranoid, but thats gonna happen to anybody no matter where you get shot.
AllHipHop.com: On California Love, he rapped, Out on bail, fresh outta jail, California Dreamin. Whats your reaction to that one Chino?
Chino XL: California really is everything you can imagine it is. If you imagine California as the beach on the weekend with a bunch of rich kids with bad bodies, thats what it is. If you imagine going to Crenshaw on a Friday night, n***a, that s**t is real. If you imagine wearing the wrong color in the wrong spot and getting laid the f**k up, thats real too. I can imagine Pac thinking, Yo, Im a get out, get dipped up, go get these chains and go down Melrose. What hes saying is, Im going to be trouble when I get free.
AllHipHop.com: Adisa, youre from the Bay. Any insights?
Adisa Banjoko: When Pac went to jail, I didnt know what to make of him. I remember my wife and I were driving through San Jose and the song came on the radio. I was like, Oh my God, this fool is coming bigger and harder and stronger than anybody ever expected. He came out supercharged. I regretted that I hadnt written him before [he got out of jail]. Just based on the energy of this song, I knew that there was a lot of new factors in his life that he didnt have before he went in jail.
AllHipHop.com: On I Get Around, he rapped, If I couldnt have it (silly rabbit) whyd you sweat me? Theres a lot of real Gs doing time cause a groupie bit the truth and told a lie.
Adisa Banjoko: Man. Didnt that almost end up being prophetic? Didnt he come up with this one right before he went to jail? How crazy is that?
Chino XL: The best advice I ever got was from Eric B. He told me to never let [groupies] in your hotel room, never give them your phone number, and never to touch them. If youre on the road with people you cant control, either dont stay on the same floor with the entourage or dont even stay in the same hotel. You gotta think about it. Listen to that line. Thats your whole life, Pac.
AllHipHop.com: I Get Around is on the same album as the next song I want to talk about, Keep Ya Head Up. Pac seemingly contradicts himself by pleading the following line: When he tells you, You aint nothin dont believe him. And if he cant learn to love you, you should leave him Whats up with that?
Adisa Banjoko: Pac made songs about the Black woman. He did songs about the importance of rebuilding the black family, even though he himself was struggling in pursuit of those things. [He] always went head-up against the actual structure of America. Now you have people who try to act like Pac. but nobody will pick up the torch to attack the infrastructure and redeem the Black woman. These cats aint even donating money to his charity. But sure enough, theyll pour a little liquor out after they get an award and talk about how important he was in their life. But they dont do nothing for him, for what he believed in, or for his institutions.
Cormega: Thats what Im saying about him being the perfect rapper. Hell make a song like I Get Around, and parents will forbid their children from listening to him. But then hell make a song like this and all of a sudden hes your parents favorite rapper. Its hard to believe that this was the same rapper.
Chino XL: We tend to look at relationships as women being oppressed by men, but it goes both ways. Being a father and having a babys mother makes you put up with a whole lot for the love of your kid. Its not really fair to say that the line only applies to women. No matter what kind of relationship youre in, you cant let a person take your energy. If cant learn to love the person that youre with, you should leave them to maintain your own spirit. If you give that away, you have nothing.
AllHipHop.com: Finally, Hit Em Up was the song that split allegiances coast to coast. It began with a very powerful opening line that I want to hear your thoughts on. I aint got no friends, thats why I f**ked your b*tch you fat motherf**ker.
Cormega: I learned not to involve myself in other peoples beefs because of songs like this. To this day, the only people who really responded were [Lil] Kim and Mobb Deep.
DJ Fatal: I remember a story that Johnny J [the songs producer] told me a few years ago. The record wasn’t meant to be. The lyrics speak for itself; it’s a very intense track. [But] from what I heard, the tape on the reel rattled and rolled off to the ground. The engineers had to piece the reel back together after it was recorded. Johnny J said that if you pay attention near the end of the track, you could hear the flaw. [Still] to this day nobody has ever recorded a greater beef record!
Chino XL: I guess he was trying to get Biggies goat. He was trying to get him mad.
AllHipHop.com: Chino, youre the only artist on the panel that was dissedby nameon that record. How did you feel the first time you heard it, or, in general what was your reaction?
Chino XL: I was a f**kin teenager, dog. I didnt really look at it the people have imagined I looked at it. I just realized that I threw a slick metaphor [ By this industry, Im trying not to get f**ked like Tupac in jail.] and I didnt mean that much by it. I was a little f**kin kid just rhyming about whatever. He was really mad at that s**t and it wasnt even that serious. Fortunately, before he passed, I got a chance to tell him that I didnt mean nothing by it and that it was just a f**kin little lyric. He had so many bigger fish to fry at the time; it was the perfect moment to get it done right before he passed.
AllHipHop.com: Pudgee, you actually got a shout out at the end of the clean version of the song. Being that you were cool with both Big and Pac, you were in a unique situation. What was that like? Was it ever weird being around Big?
Pudgee: Pac was like my brother at that point. I actually didnt know about the record when he first did it. People would just walk up to me like Yo, Pac gave you a shout out! Im from New York. I did joints with Big. It was a lil crazy. Pac and me actually had a conversation about him not wanting me to choose sides between him and Big. My friendships with both of them were more than just music. I dont know if Biggie had any animosity because of the record, but we was cool. You werent gonna make me choose between you and my brother.
AllHipHop.com: Any last thoughts?
Chino XL: Pacs approach to lyrics was Im gonna make you feel me. Even if it dont rhyme, Im gonna make sure that when you walk away from this song, youre blood is gonna pump the exact same gasoline that mine is pumping when Im saying it to you. He had one of the greatest formulas of all time.
Buckshot: Ill tell you one thing: Pac sold 73 million copies. 73 million records! Aint no artist on this globe that sold damn near that many records in his lifetime on some rap s**t. Nobody, ever.
Cormega: I dont care what anybody says, Makaveli is the real Black Album. That album got no promotion, no reviewsif Im not mistaken The Source didnt give it a review at the timeand it still made a huge impact in New York, where it got absolutely no radio play.
Adisa Banjoko: I walked into Club Townsend, which was a popular club in San Francisco at the time, and Run-DMC was performing with Brand Nubian. I just ran through the door with my friend. Pac was on the phone and was like, Whats up Bishop! I was like, Whats up, [and kept running]. A few minutes later, Money-Bs dad comes up to me and said, Dude, what did you say to Pac? He saw you coming through the door and you didnt say nothing to him. I found him and apologized for what went down. He let it go and was like, Alright. You should come with me right now. I told him I was gonna wait for Run-DMC instead. He was like, Okay. [Youll be sorry]. Tupac hits the stage with MC Serch and they have a f**kin freestyle session that I will never forget. The crowd went berserk. I remember Pac looking at me, and he nodded like I told you! You should have came on the stage with me, but you were too cool! [Laughs] He was more offensive then he liked to admit, but he was also more forgiving than people understood.
AllHipHop.com: Pudgee, any more stories youd like to share?
Pudgee: Another funny thing that me and him went through was at the Jack The Rapper convention in Atlanta. It was the year Suge and Dre had beef with Luke. It was crazy; they was throwing chairs off of the balconies for like 45 minutes. Everybody was running to avoid getting hit. Luke Campbell came with, like, a whole football team from Miami. Everybody was punching everybody in the face Rage hit a cop Latifah was wildin it was a big deal. Pac was like, Yo, you think if we stand in the middle and get hit, we could sue some of them? I was like, I aint trying to die, so we ran like everybody else. That was probably the extent of our stupidity. [Laughs]
Additional Reporting by Erik Gilroy.