From the confines of Tupac Shakur’s vast discography, 2Pacalypse Now is his most politically fueled and educational album. It may not be his standout or most polished record as far as production, but what 2Pacalypse Now lacks in musical cohesiveness, it more than makes up for with textbook lessons and history in the form of hip-hop. As a member growing up in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Tupac not only held idealistic theories, he bled them. He was a community member that centered himself with strict Black nationalism roots, and 2Pacaplypse Now throws all of his thoughts at the listener in one swift take.
On the g-funk/Caribbean driven “Violent”, Tupac takes the first verse to detail exactly why his community needs to rebel against oppression:
“They claim that I’m violent, just cause I refuse to be silent/ These hypocrites are havin fits cause I’m not buyin it/ Defyin it, envious because I will rebel against/ Any oppressor, and this is known as self defense”
Later on in the song, he quite literally preaches truth:
“I told em fight back, attack on society/ If this is violence, then violent’s what I gotta be/ If you investigate you’ll find out where it’s comin from/ Look through our history, America’s the violent one”
Spread throughout this album are Tupac’s socially critical messages for Black pride and resistance, but also messages that are so obvious they’re unnoticeable until they’re thrown into your face. Covering America’s history, Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and oppression on the lower class, “Words of Wisdom” is the textbook America doesn’t want you to read:
“Pledge allegiance to a flag that neglects us/ Honor a man that refuses to respect us/ Emancipation Proclamation? Please!/ Lincoln just said that to save the nation/ These are lies that we all accepted/ Say no to drugs but the governments’ kept it/ Running through our community, killing the unity/ The war on drugs is a war on you and me/ And yet, they say this is the Home of The Free/ But if you ask me, it’s all about hypocrisy”
On the album’s debut single “Brenda’s Got a Baby”, Tupac sheds light on the problems families, and in particular, females, have in America’s ghettos. It also opens our eyes to the effects of poverty, and how entire communities are affected. Standing as one of Tupac’s saddest and disturbingly depressing songs, “Brenda’s Got a Baby” is a look into darkness and a call for community action.
“Now Brenda’s belly is getting bigger/ But no one seems to notice any change in her figure/ She’s twelve years old and she’s having a baby/ In love with a molester, who’s sexing her crazy/ And yet she thinks that he’ll be with her forever/ And dreams of a world where the two of them are together, whatever/ He left her and she had the baby solo/ She had it on the bathroom floor and didn’t know so/ She didn’t know, what to throw away and what to keep/ She wrapped the baby up and threw him in a trash heap/ I guess she thought she’d get away, wouldn’t hear the cries/ She didn’t realize how much the the little baby had her eyes”
These are just a few examples of the content behind Tupac’s debut album. Dressed as a textbook of history, lessons, education and ideals, 2Pacalypse Now can be written from start to finish on paper and enlighten even the most educated. Although not the most refined, 2Pacalypse Now is bigger than that, and it’s bigger than hip-hop.
The death of Tupac Shakur will always loom large when looking back on hip-hop in the mid to late 1990’s. Similar to Christopher Wallace, often times we link Tupac with the beef Death Row Records and Bad Boy Entertainment had. This is easy to do as many conspiracy theories and accusations about this time in history linger. However, while his death will, and should be remembered, it is also important to look back on what Tupac Shakur stood for and spoke about in his music. In 1991, his debut album 2Pacaplypse Now was released. On this record he reveals himself as a poet, storyteller and revolutionary grounded in the ideology of the Black Panther Party, Black nationalism and community action. 2Pacalypse Now is a cold-cut classic as Pac candidly sheds light on the experience of being a young black male in the United States in early 90’s. While it may not be a production masterpiece, 2Pacalypse Now isn’t necessarily about that. Instead, this record is an example of the innate power of words and how hip-hop can be a form of resistance, an outlet for creativity, a teaching tool and a way to process lived experiences.
In my mind, the brilliance of Tupac on his debut album is the overall picture he is able to paint. He describes life in an urban environment, the goods and bads, in an honest way that is only possible through his lyrical prowess and social consciousness. Within 2Pacalypse Now, the city is described as a cold place shaped by the presence of drugs, gangs, structural racism and the militaristic surveillance of the police. At the same time, the urban environment is a space of resistance against these very poisons. As he raps in “Words Of Wisdom”:
“The constitution, yo, it don’t apply to me/ And Lady Liberty? Stupid bitch lied to me/ This made me strong, and no one’s gonna like what I’m pumpin’/ But its wrong to keep someone from learning something/ So get up, its time to start nation building/ I’m fed up, we gotta start teaching the children/ That they can be all that they wanna to be/ There’s much more to life than just poverty”
In the early 90’s, the United States was slowly emerging from the ultra-conservative and inherently racist Ronald Reagan era. The “War on Drugs” was rearing its evil head, incarcerating black men and women at an alarming rate. As is evident within this record, the threat of serving time for a drug-related felony hung in the air like a dark storm cloud. As Tupac explains in the first track, “Young Black Male”:
“I’m packing a gat cuz guys wanna jack/ And fuck goin to jail/ Cuz I ain’t a crook, despite how I look/ I don’t sell ya-yo/ They judging a brother like covers on books”
Racial tensions bubbled beneath the surface, waiting to boil over as police continued to crack down on the black community even after the Civil Rights Movement and federal dismantling of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. At the same time, the United States was preparing to send troops into the Middle East for the first Desert Storm. Times were tough and the music reflected this. In the case of 2Pacalypse Now, Tupac is beyond insightful as he allows us a glimpse into his experience as a young black male in the early 90’s. This is the type of album that is second to none in what it contains lyrically and because it describes what life was like for the everyday person. We get a sense of what was actually going on. As we move forward and the 80’s and 90’s fade farther into history and we look to understand what was happening in this particular time period, it will be necessary to look at albums such as this for an education.