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Poetic Analysis of Tupac Shakur

Published on January 1st, 2017 at 02:06 am

By Andrew Arnopole

    Tupac Amaru Shakur was an African-American rapper, poet, and record producer during the 1990’s. In his adolescent years, he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts where he took acting and dance classes, like ballet. He was taught radical politics by his mother, which helped him develop ideas about topics he would later use in his many works. At an early age, Tupac had seen the injustices of the real world. His mother was a former Black Panther activist who turned to substance abuse during Tupac’s childhood. Aside from that, he and his mother also moved many times while they lived together in New York City. While Tupac was in Baltimore, he discovered rap; not long after, he and his mother moved to the West Coast where he joined the rap group Digital Underground. In 1991, Tupac parted from the group to go as a solo performance with his debut album 2Pacalypse Now. From that point on, he became a successful artist. During his lifetime, he wrote hundreds of poetic works that revolve around world injustices and how unprivileged African-Americans in poverty are desperate for a change in the world. He pushed toward the idea of unity for all instead of dissension.

    In his poetry, Tupac uses strong visual imagery and symbols to show how young African-Americans in poverty are living, and the desperation that ensues. In his song “Changes” this idea is expressed thoroughly throughout. Tupac is telling how it goes when you are desperate and are unprivileged when he states “I’m tired of being poor and even worse I’m black. My stomach hurts, so I’m looking for a purse to snatch” (Changes 4-5). What he is trying to convey is that in desperate times of famine, people will do anything to feed their families, even resort to stealing. It also shows that unprivileged people are desperate for a change in lifestyle. Tupac’s ideals are based on what he learned from his mom in radical politics and seeing the world around him. Since his mother was a Black Panther activist, she sometimes had activist friends over who helped shape his ideals as well. Later in the song, Tupac states, “It's time to fight back", that's what Huey said. 2 shots in the dark now Huey's dead”(Changes 10-11). There is allusion in this excerpt because who he is referring to as “Huey” is actually Huey Newton, social activist and one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party. Also, Tupac uses Huey as a symbol for pushing back oppression. When he was killed, the plan to fight back, died, but the dream grew larger than ever. The only way to create unity is by conflicting ideas clashing and then resolving to peace. Tupac also uses onomatopoeia when he says “Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat” (Changes 65). The “Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat” is the sound of gunfire, resembling an arduous, violent life he was basically born into. If the world was unified, then people may not be subjected to violent lifestyles. Tupac is stating how all people need to change their way of living and treatment towards one another when he says “And still I see no changes. Can't a brother get a little peace?

    There's war on the streets and the war in the Middle East” (Changes 52). Tupac uses allusion here to point out that he wants peace for all, not just for the unprivileged black individuals. Tupac expressed his views of unity even further when he says “I got love for my brother, but we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin' changes. Learn to see me as a brother 'stead of 2 distant strangers” (Changes 12-14). The unity is shown when Shakur says “we” as in, it’s going to take more than one person to start this change and it starts with the community.

    Next, Tupac’s view of himself towards other people acts as a cornerstone for change. Shakur’s strong belief that he made something out of himself from nothing, and the audience can as well, is evident throughout all of his many poetic works. In the poem, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”, Shakur explains that one must pursue their dreams and aspirations in order to live a long, healthy life. The “concrete” mentioned in the poem is a symbol for the ghettos that Shakur used to live in. Also, Shakur is stating where the rose grew, when he says “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete” (The Rose That Grew From Concrete 1-2)? Alliteration is used when it is said that there is a “crack in the concrete” and it’s used to show that one can rise above from improbable situations, like poverty. The “rose” is a metaphor for how Tupac made it out of the ghetto. Tupac is then explaining the phenomena of the rose when he states “Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet” (The Rose That Grew From Concrete 3-4). Shakur uses personification when the rose is given the ability to walk. What Shakur means by that is he found certain ways to succeed in life that would only work for him. Shakur deeply wishes that others would take the same opportunity that he made for himself and let it be a model for all that pursuing one’s dreams is key to living a long life. Tupac then explains that the rose also learned to breathe on its own when he conveys “Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared” (The Rose That Grew From Concrete 7-8). Shakur uses alliteration when he says “long live” in reference to the rose. Shakur is saying long live because he was one of the few that actually made it out of the ghettos and made something of himself, which deserves respect.

    Lastly, Tupac’s poems are written in a way to make the reader feel the same emotion that the author is feeling at the current moment in the text. In the poem, “And 2Morrow” Tupac is discussing the topic of the life of gang members and how there is always another path out out of that one. Tupac is saying how the world is fueled by hatred when he then states “...afraid of common fate” (And 2Morrow 4). The “common fate” is said by Shakur in order to symbolize it to be the path of the gang member. Shakur was afraid that he was going to be like everyone else who had no opportunities to succeed in life and chose the wrong path, a lowly gang member. Tupac then speaks about how all people think about is violence sometimes when he then transmits “...children bred with ruthlessness/ because no one at home cares” (And 2Morrow 11-12). Tupac is alluding to the fact that the actions of a gang member are rooted back to problems one has at home, whether it be lack of love or one traumatic experience, there is always a root to issues like these. The unification of all persons would hopefully lessen the chance of this occurring. Tupac is then talking about how much pressure he feels on himself, even when resting, when he states “Tonight I lay my head down/ but the pressure never stops/ knawing at my sanity” (And 2Morrow 13-15). Tupac uses imagery in this stanza to show that his sanity is getting eaten away, like a rat with cheese. Shakur’s sanity is being tested by the world at it’s many harsh realities. Tupac is stating how tomorrow is a day for change when he states “...and tomorrow I wake with second wind” (And 2Morrow 22). The “second wind” is a metaphor for Tupac’s life saying how instead of choosing the route of the gangbanger, he instead chose a different, positive route of doing things. Shakur wants to get as many people out of poverty and the gang life, and into doing something they love to do. In a way, this would unify all people because individuals would have the same, positive, one-track mind.

    Tupac Shakur wrote hundreds of poems dedicated to the topics of world injustices and the unification of all people, specifically, the poor black communities. The issues that Tupac was pushing in 1995, are the issues Black Lives Matter activists are protesting on now. In losing Tupac, the world lost a decent role model with an inspiring success story, but successively, the world gained new knowledge on issues that need to be pushed in today’s society more often than not.

Works Cited

Biography.com Editors. "Tupac Shakur." Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 16 May 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
The Community. "Tupac Shakur." Poetry & Biography of the Famous Poet - All Poetry. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
Edwards, Walter. "From Poetry to Rap: The Lyrics of Tupac Shakur." "From Poetry to Rap: The Lyrics of Tupac Shakur" by Edwards, Walter - The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26, Issue 2, Summer 2002 | Online Research Library: Questia. Western Journal of Black Studies, 2002. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
Strauss, Neil. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Hip-Hop Requiem; Tupac Shakur Is Mourned, His Legacy Mined." The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2001. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.