Do Remember One Of Tupac’s Hardest Cautionary Tales About Life In The Streets
The year was 1993, and Tupac Shakur was tired of knocking on the door asking someone to let him in. Fresh off of his debut album, 2pacalypse Now — a socially conscious effort that revealed strong ties to the Black community with singles like “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” “If My Homie Calls” and “Trapped” — he was poised to breakout with a more commercial-friendly sophomore release two years later.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. was undoubtedly that project, as it cemented the former Digital Underground backup dancer as a commercial contender, with an unrelenting edge. While boasting he was “Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished,” Strictly… quite effectively put him on the map with chart-topping singles such as “I Get Around” (featuring D.U.’s Money B and Shock G) and “Keep Ya Head Up” (featuring Dave Hollister). The near-hostile “Holla If Ya Hear Me” fit the sense of urgency he carried at the time, as it bled through the track, directly into the ears of the listener.
While these radio-friendly classics did well and established Pac as a permanent force in the music industry, the son of a Black Panther maintained street credibility with the appropriately dubbed “Streetz R Deathrow.”
Over standout production from Live Squad member Stretch, Pac paints a picture that is all too familiar to the ‘hood, where the product of a broken family struggles to come to terms with his existence. His father left him to figure out manhood all by himself, and his mother has no idea how to handle him. Meanwhile, the block welcomes him with open arms.
“Was I somebody they despised?/ Curious look in they eyes/ As if they wonder if I’m dead or alive / And poor mama can’t control me / Quit tryin’ to save my soul, I wanna roll with my homies,” he raps with ferocity.
His preference for the streets is clear and the more time he spends in them, the more his world spins out of control. Soon, he is carrying an illegal weapon and glorifying material possessions that would otherwise be unattainable: “A tickin’ time-bomb, can’t nobody fade me / Packin’ a .380 and fiendin’ for Mercedes / Suckers scatter, but it don’t matter, I’m a cool shot / Punks drop from all the buckshots the fools got / I’m tired of being a nice guy / I’ve been poor all my life, but don’t know quite why / So they label me a lunatic / Could care less, death or success / Is what I quest, ’cause I’m fearless / Now the streets are death row.” Tupac used compound rhymes to emphasize his message.
The familiar hook stems from Ice Cube’s heralded 1991 album Death Certificate (who also contributed to “Last Wordz,” alongside Pac and Ice-T) where he hurled the more than memorable and appropriate verse on the consciously aggressive “Us.” “Us, will always sing the blues / ‘Cause all we care about is hairstyles and tennis shoes / And if you step on mine you pushed the button / ‘Cause I’ll beat you down like it ain’t nothin.’”
Beat-downs eventually escalate and when they do, tragedy strikes: “I just murdered a man, I’m even more stressed wearin’ a vest / Hopin’ that they’re aimin’ at my chest / Much too young to bite the bullet / Hand on the trigga’, I see my life before my eyes each time I pull it / I hope I live to be a man / Must be part of some big plan/ Ro keep a brotha’ in the state pen.”
The Rap narrator resorts to alcohol consumption and recreational drugs as a means of coping with the stress that figures into the life of the self-proclaimed “tickin’ timebomb“:
“I’m dangerous when drunk, I only drink beer / Gin makes me sin, unable to think clear / Hennessy makes me think my enemy is getting close / BOOM BOOM BOOM, got me shooting at a ghost / Some call me crazy, but this is what you gave me / Amongst the babies who raised up from the slavery / I sport a vest and hit the sess’ to kill the stress / Moved out west, and I invest in all the best.” The MC who was born in New York City and spent stints of his youth in New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland was autobiographical about his relocation to California. Pac’s relocation to the West inspired some of his most memorable work. Unfortunately, the streets he roamed as a real-life hustler had an impact too.
More than 25 years later, Tupac’s words prove to be timeless and still pack a mighty punch.