Tupac reminds us to “Keep Ya Head Up” years later

By Chris Shores

Courtesy Wikipedia

Click here for the other side of Point-Counterpoint: “Throw your hands in the air, if you think you’re a player – or if B.I.G owns hip-hop.”

Click here to see what side students took on this week’s Campus Perspectives.

Contrary to what Collegian Arts and Living Editor Justin Gagnon may tell students in our journalism class, I am not an expert on “gangsta” rap. I know full well that I don’t fall in the target demographic. I enjoy rap, but my iPod also includes Steely Dan, Keane and Lady Gaga.

But I also know that in a head-to-head contest between Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., it isn’t even close: 2Pac wins hands down.

Let’s start with a simple fact: Tupac’s career and music production vastly surpasses Biggie’s.

Biggie’s first solo studio album, “Ready to Die,” was released on Sept. 13, 1994. It was the only album that was released during his lifetime. His second studio album, “Life After Death,” was released two weeks after his death in March 1997. Two posthumous albums were released, along with two other compilations and a collaboration album with Junior M.A.F.I.A.

Tupac, on the other hand, recorded six studio albums, the last of which was released two months after his death. In 2006, his eighth posthumous album (including compilations) was released, and the recently revived Death Row Records report there are more albums on the way.

Many artists today aren’t able to record six studio albums. The biggest rap stars today have surpassed the mark, but their careers have been significantly longer. Eminem’s “Recovery” was his seventh. Nas has released nine, Snoop Dogg 10 and Jay-Z 11.

But recording enough demos during a lifetime of studio recording, concert tours and a stint in jail to have content for eight posthumous albums? That’s a mark that will be a lot harder to top.

In DailyCollegian.com’s Campus Perspectives video segment this past week, students weighed in on their thoughts about the Tupac/Biggie debate. Many cited support of the Notorious B.I.G. only because he was the representative of the East Coast during the hip-hop battles of the 1990s.

The loyalty is all fine and good but it doesn’t serve as a legitimate comparison over who the better rapper was. Would the opinions of these students been flip-flopped if Tupac had lived in New York and Biggie in California?

Another point often brought up in the interviews was a comparison of the lyrical and musical composition in the two artists’ work. I am not a music critic, so I am not going to delve into the nuances of the rhythm and particular style of their songs.

But what I can say about Tupac’s lyrics is that they are surprisingly poetic and inspiring, even for someone like me who was not in his intended audience. Take for instance the song “Keep Ya Head Up,” in which Tupac tells listeners to never give up despite how tough circumstances may become.

In one verse, Tupac calls for the end of violence against women.

“Since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman and our game from a woman, I wonder why we take from our women. Why we rape our women? Do we hate our women?  I think it’s time to kill for our women. Time to heal our women, be real to our women.”

Other songs, such as “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and the popular song “Changes” (which was released two years after his death) are critiques on urban poverty and racism.

In one verse of “Changes,” Tupac says, “And still I see no changes, can’t a brother get a little peace? It’s war on the streets and war in the Middle East. Instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.”

Now the police have never bothered me because of drug use, but these lyrics still hold relevance in my life and yours. Last time I checked there is still poverty in America and still war in the Middle East. Maybe the changes haven’t come as fast as Tupac would have liked.

Of course, it would be remiss not to mention the thug life aspect of Tupac’s career and life. He served time in prison for sexual assault. Many of his songs contain lyrics about drugs and violence. His infamous song “Hit ‘Em Up” is a vicious diss song about Biggie and the east coast rappers, which begins with Tupac saying that he had sex with Biggie’s wife.

By no means was Tupac perfect. But neither was Biggie. This discussion isn’t about their characters, but of the product of their music.

The Notorious B.I.G. released some solid hits. But in terms of the number of songs and albums, Tupac surpassed him long ago and continues to produce music from the grave. And while “Big Poppa” is a fun song to listen to, Tupac’s observations about the world and people continue to be relevant and important today.

I have the utmost respect for Biggie and his music, but this Massachusetts college student is going “West Coast” in this debate.

Chris Shores is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]