Tupac Shakur: A Roundtable Discussion
By Chris "Milan" Thomas
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 mention—worst of all—his 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 ‘Pac’s 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. It’s been said there were Two Pac’s (Get it? Two, 'Pacs).
In a roundtable discussion, we’ve gathered to explore both sides of Tupac’s lyrical personality. We’ve enlisted the talents of a few artists who knew him well--Pudgee The Phat Bastard, Buckshot the BDI Thug, Chino XL, Adisa Banjoko—and a couple of bona fide experts, Cormega and Makaveli Branded’s 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 you’d 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 Man’s World”] from the Makaveli album. He’s 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 I’m bigger…Still thuggin in his jail cell…Hearing Brothers screaming all night, whishing they’d 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 I’m bigger. Also, anybody that’s ever been locked down knows that if there’s 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 wasn’t afraid to take it to the streets. He’s saying, “I don’t have time for you n***as. It’s about him flossin’ to fake motherf**kas. Can you see me, am I clear to you? That’s the mindstate that I’m in too.
Cormega: “Hail Mary.” He was definitely prophetic. It’s 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 you’re not around. That’s the type of person he was.
AllHipHop.com: I want to start the discussion with a sentimental favorite, “Dear Mama.” What’s 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 mother—his Queen—no matter what ups and downs that she’s 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, you’re 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 don’t 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, “I’m 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 wasn’t 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 don’t never tell him something that you don’t wanna tell him. That’s 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 y’all 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 that’s 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 when—in fact—the 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, I’ve 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 that’s 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.” What’s 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, that’s 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, that’s real too. I can imagine ‘Pac thinking, “Yo, I’m a get out, get dipped up, go get these chains…and go down Melrose.” What he’s saying is, “I’m going to be trouble when I get free.”
AllHipHop.com: Adisa, you’re from the Bay. Any insights?
Adisa Banjoko: When ‘Pac went to jail, I didn’t 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t have before he went in jail.
AllHipHop.com: On “I Get Around,” he rapped, “If I couldn’t have it (silly rabbit) why’d you sweat me? There’s a lot of real G’s doing time cause a groupie bit the truth and told a lie.”
Adisa Banjoko: Man. Didn’t that almost end up being prophetic? Didn’t 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 you’re on the road with people you can’t control, either don’t stay on the same floor with the entourage or don’t even stay in the same hotel. You gotta think about it. Listen to that line. That’s 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 ain’t nothin’ don’t believe him. And if he can’t learn to love you, you should leave him” What’s 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 ain’t even donating money to his charity. But sure enough, they’ll pour a little liquor out after they get an award and talk about how important he was in their life. But they don’t do nothing for him, for what he believed in, or for his institutions.
Cormega: That’s what I’m saying about him being the perfect rapper. He’ll make a song like “I Get Around,” and parents will forbid their children from listening to him. But then he’ll make a song like this and all of a sudden he’s your parent’s favorite rapper. It’s 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 baby’s mother makes you put up with a whole lot for the love of your kid. It’s not really fair to say that the line only applies to women. No matter what kind of relationship you’re in, you can’t let a person take your energy. If can’t learn to love the person that you’re 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 ain’t got no friends, that’s why I f**ked your b*tch you fat motherf**ker.”
Cormega: I learned not to involve myself in other people’s 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 song’s 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 Biggie’s goat. He was trying to get him mad.
AllHipHop.com: Chino, you’re the only artist on the panel that was dissed—by name—on 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 didn’t really look at it the people have imagined I looked at it. I just realized that I threw a slick metaphor [ “By this industry, I’m trying not to get f**ked like Tupac in jail.”] and I didn’t 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 wasn’t even that serious. Fortunately, before he passed, I got a chance to tell him that I didn’t 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 didn’t know about the record when he first did it. People would just walk up to me like “Yo, ‘Pac gave you a shout out!” I’m 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 don’t know if Biggie had any animosity because of the record, but we was cool. You weren’t gonna make me choose between you and my brother.
AllHipHop.com: Any last thoughts?
Chino XL: ‘Pac’s approach to lyrics was “I’m gonna make you feel me.” Even if it don’t rhyme, I’m gonna make sure that when you walk away from this song, you’re blood is gonna pump the exact same gasoline that mine is pumping when I’m saying it to you. He had one of the greatest formulas of all time.
Buckshot: I’ll tell you one thing: ‘Pac sold 73 million copies. 73 million records! Ain’t no artist on this globe that sold damn near that many records in his lifetime on some rap s**t. Nobody, ever.
Cormega: I don’t care what anybody says, Makaveli is the real Black Album. That album got no promotion, no reviews—if I’m not mistaken The Source didn’t give it a review at the time—and 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, “What’s up Bishop!” I was like, “What’s up, [and kept running].” A few minutes later, Money-B’s dad comes up to me and said, “Dude, what did you say to ‘Pac? He saw you coming through the door and you didn’t 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. [You’ll 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 you’d 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 ain’t trying to die,” so we ran like everybody else. That was probably the extent of our stupidity. [Laughs]
Additional Reporting by Erik Gilroy.