Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
^So, if someone should use the word God with a curse following it, that qualifies it for debate on religious topics. Totally specious reasoning. But then again, I should hardly be surprised from someone's obvious lack of musical taste.
Excuse me but did you actually read some of the lyrics I quoted or is that just your usual crass attitude? You have plenty of right to criticize musical styles and content, but I think it isn't fair of you to disregard the sincerity of Tupac's faith as expressed in his music, I am sorry, that is just plain rude.
By the way, you don't have to make it personal about me
because I likee Tupac, that is also rude. Now if you'd like to discuss something with substance rather than attitude problem I'd love to dive into a musical discussion, but if you just insist on running the "insult habte selassie" record on rewind that is your decision Mr. Selectah, but it is neither Christian nor decent.
Just for fun, I will give an example of a detailed analytical discussion of the lyrics, and if folks have criticism perhaps they can chose to express these criticisms in this way rather then through crass and demeaning scoffing.
"Get on yo knees to pray, Oh Lord, Help me change my ways, and show a lil mercy on judgment day, it ain't me I was raised this way.."
Hell 4 a Hustla
This is the chorus of this song, it repeats several times, but the "get on yo knees to pray" is the intro, and for Tupac a call to prayer is actually a common intro for many of his songs. This is a repentant prayer, one which Tupac is asking ALL folks from a criminal persuasion to take to heart. It is mercy Tupac is asking for, not because he deserves it, but much like the sinner praying with the Pharisee in Luke 18. Y'all may not realize this, but even with all his idiosyncrasies , Tupac was still a rather religious man at his core and he struggled very much with the long-term spiritual consequences of his actions. He is no Robin Hood, that is for sure, and as has been expressed above, he lived by the sword and died by it the same, but he owned up to this, something a lot of self-proclaimed Christians in America fail to do
. While Repentance and Confession may be central and pivotal to the Orthodox/Catholic experience, the experience of many American Christians is quite the opposite, do deny, hide, and neglect Sin in their lives. At the least, Tupac is being honest in his confession
, something rare amongst the hyped up "alpha male gangsta image" typical to rappers. Tupac's expressions of repentance offer fans of his music a rare glimpse into the same sense of vulnerability, and I have seen first hand with my own eyes fairly "hard" gangsters who live unrepentant lives be moved almost to tears by some of Pac's confessions, it pushes them to confession the same way reading the Confessions of Saint Basil move me.
"Is there a ghetto in heaven or do I go to hell?"
Here Tupac is expressing the heavy weight of the American experience of poverty and racism, which has become so systemic in our society that to some black folks heaven itself seems unobtainable because of the circumstances.
Black people are made the villain, and villains go to hell, when Tupac asks about a "ghetto in heaven" he is addressing poetically the concept of "is there a place for black people in heaven?" Now to many of us this may seem like an absurd question, but many WASP evangelicals in their hearts are vitriolically racist, and I wonder sometimes myself having grown up with Appalachian Baptists and other Ozark folks if they would even be comfortable with the idea of black people being in heaven? This is what Tupac is addressing here, this is his message, does WASP Christianity leave a place for black folks in our contemporary American religious landscape?
"Picture a world where black babies can survive past five, but we must keep hope, quotin the reverend from the pulpit.."
Everything You Own
Clearly this is a call for community awareness and solidarity, this is the "hope" which Tupac references several times in his music, interviews, and negotiations. Tupac is an advocate for black awareness, and in in his time much like our own black infants have a disproportionately higher mortality rate, which reflects certain inequalities in our American society. Tupac is speaking on this issue, and the hope of particularly black Christianity in the context of the American experience is to be able to transcend the limitations of our systematically divided society.
Faith is how folks deal with the struggles of our day to day realities, and Tupac is drawing on this imagery here. It is Black Christianity and Black Churches which carried black folks through 250 years of slavery, through another 100 years of Jim Crow, and then through the past 50 years of readjustment, and Tupac is carefully pointing to this fact when he mentions "hope" as quoted by "the reverend from the pulpit."
"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 is smokin' crack tonight
and only time we chill is when we kill each other
it takes skill to be real, time to heal each other
And although it seems heaven sent"
Changes is one of Tupac's more mainstream "conscious" tracks that got a lot of airplay on the TV/Radio, where as a lot of the tunes I quoted very well me foreign even to many Tupac fans because they are from the underground posthumous releases called the Makaveli Bootlegs that are realistically a local Los Angeles thing until the internet made things a bit more available, these were LA swap-meet staples. Its fairly straightforward, "misplaced hate makes disgrace for races" and "take the evil out the people they'll be acting right" and "it takes skill to be real, time to heal each other" are pretty obvious, and if folks disagree with these sentiments perhaps they need to re-read them sans the chip on the shoulder
"Cry later but for now let's enjoy the laughter
God bless the dead"
God Bless the Dead
Death is a constant motif and image in Tupac's life, he struggled with this daily. It is perhaps the only theme more discussed in his lyrics than crime, God, or women. Here he is acknowledging the pain and sheer mystery of death, and yet expressing the Christian sentiment of joy mixed with grief at the repose of our brothers and sisters, because there is plenty of time to cry and mourn later, but for Tupac it is important that we learn to enjoy the good times in all regards because they are a rare gift from God. When Tupac commends the dead to God, he is encouraging us to reflect on the good in life, and let God deal with the rest. We can cry to Him later, for now lets find the reasons to laugh because that is what truly makes us human, to be able to cope and survive and not come apart at the seems at every tragedy. Like my sistren Lowly Lisa's poetry says, "When times are good rejoice, and when times are hard, reflect, because even these shall pass."
"Dear Lord..How can I survive? Got me askin white Jesus
will a brotha live or die, cause the Lord can't see us
in the deep dark clouds of the projects, ain't no sunshine
No sunny days and we only play sometimes"
Still I Rise
This is like the WASP issue, Tupac is expressing his frustration with the fact the black folks find it hard to find their identity in the typical American Christian experience.
He is expressing the frustrations of living "in the projects" and the "deep dark clouds" are not literal, it is a symbol for the struggles of a life of poverty, conflict, and racism endemic to our society.
The lack of sunshine is not literal, it is metaphorical of the gloomy reality a lot of black people face, and Tupac is their advocate
. The only thing literal in this lyric is the line, "Lord how can I survive?" By the way, the Catholic Church here in Los Angeles agrees completely with this sentiment, which is common to Latinos as much as black folks. White people in America take for granted that their place in American religion is always legitimated, and yet other folks find themselves victimized, trivialized, or even villainized as the perpetual "other"
even when America really is made up as an entire composition of "otherness" which is more superficial, because to outsiders we are all mutually and uniquely Americans irregardless of the color-lines.
"I'd love to see the block in peace
With no more dealers and crooked cops, the only way to stop the beast
And only we can change
It's up to us to clean up the streets, it ain't the same
Too many murders, too many funerals and too many tears
Just seen another brother buried plus I knew him for years
Passed by his family, but what could I say?
Keep yo' head up and try to keep the faith
And pray for better days"
"Keep yo head up and try to keep faith and pray for better days" is another self-evident lyric, used in the context of consolation of grief over loss. Again, death is a constant image in Tupac's music and in his life, and he uses his faith in God to make sense of this, just as we do. Death isn't really any easier for us in Orthodox either then it was for Tupac, and we have hymns which express the same sentiments.
"In times of war we need somebody raw, rally the troops
like a Saint that we can trust to help to carry us through
Black Jesus, hahahahaha
He's like a Saint that we can trust to help to carry us through
Searchin for Black Jesus
It's hard, it's hard
We need help out here
So we searchins for Black Jesus
It's like a Saint, that we pray to in the ghetto, to get us through
Somebody that understand our pain
You know maybe not too perfect, you know
Somebody that hurt like we hurt"
Black Jezus is another track where Tupac openly expresses his frustrations with the black religious experience in America. The Black Christ, as He represents across the black world from the Rastafari Black Christ to the Christo Negro of Veracruz in Mexico, a blackening of Jesus is a way for black folks to relate their experience.
Jesus Christ is perfectly human, and further the Fathers have often written how He relates more to the poor, to the sick, to the mistreated of the world rather then those who luxuriate in palaces. Black people most definitely fit into this category, and as an advocate for black awareness Tupac is using the motif of the Black Christ to point out how not just black people, but young black people and indeed many criminals can't relate to Jesus. Saint Moses the Ethiopian or the Thief on the Right are Orthodox saints for Repentant Criminals, essentially Tupac is drawing on this same theme, and had he known about Saint Moses the Ethiopian he probably would have wrote a song about him too!
"I see mothers in black crying
Brothers in packs dying
Plus everybody's high
Too doped up to ask why
Watching our on downfall, witness the end
It's like we don't believe in God cause we living in sin
I asked my homie on the block why he strapped
Pointed his pistol as the cop car passed and blast
It's just another murder
Nobody mourns no more
My teardrops getting bigger
But can't figure what I'm crying for
Is it the miniature caskets?
Victims of a stray, from drug dealers gone crazy
Maybe its just the drugs
Visions of how the block was
Crack came and it was strange how it rocked us
Perhaps the underlying facts they hide
It's when we ride on our own kind
What is it we all fear?
Reflections in the mirror
We can't escape fate
The end is getting nearer
Who do you believe in?
I put my faith in God
Blessed and still breathing
And even though it's hard
That's who I believe in
Before I'm leaving
I'm asking the grieving
Who do you believe in?"
Who Do You Believe In
This track is Tupac's confessional opus of sorts. He combines all his images, criminality, Death, women, and God into one potent song. In this tune he laments about the current situations, the struggles he sees himself and his community facing, the violence, the poverty, the death, the crime, and instead of scapegoating he puts the blame squarely on ourselves. He doesn't blame society, or the government, or even the Devil, instead he says quite clearly, "what is it we all fear, reflections in the mirror?" However, like in all his lamentations, Tupac turns to God with the chorus, trusting in faith that God can make sense of the world which he himself can't.
Tupac looks at the world as it is, and comments on it using his own style and language, and while it may be "street" street people are people too, and their opinions, insights, and reflections are equally valid to UCLA alumni and gossipy crowds in line at Starbucks. Life is real, and what Tupac did is to "speak the real."
Now, again, if folks would like to be polite and discuss the music that is fine, but please, try not to insult me directly because our tastes in music may be different, and if you have any critiques of a dead man's legacy, at the least keep it substantive rather then sensational.