Tupac Shakur’s Keep Ya Head Up was released in 1993 as part of his Strictly for my N***** album. The song was dedicated to Latasha Harlins, a 15 year old Black girl who was killed by a Korean store clerk in 1992. It is important to note that Harlin’s death, along with the videotaped beating of Rodney King (and acquittal of the cops who committed the crime) helped spark the infamous Los Angeles Riots. During this time, years of  tensions between the LAPD and the Black community came to a boiling point within Los Angeles. Shakur’s song was created in the aftermath of five days of this rioting, which resulted in $1 billion worth of destroyed property, 60 people killed, and thousands arrested. Latasha Harlins death also revealed rampant anti-blackness  within other minority communities. Soon Da Ju, an employee of Empire Liquor Market shot Harlins in the back of the head after believing that she stole a bottle of orange juice. The store clerk only received five years of probation and 400 hours of community service. This case, along with countless others, was proof that justice and equality were far from being achieved and there was much work to be done.

Hip Hop, the genre that Keep Ya Head Up belongs to, was relatively new at the time of the song’s release. Hip Hop/Rap, which was created in 1973, a mere 20 years earlier by DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx, was not always a billion dollar industry. The elements associated with Hip Hop/rap is inspired by Black inner city communities, poverty, gang culture and systemic oppression. Essentially, Hip Hop was created by Black people, for Black people. As the genre evolved, rappers like Tupac Shakur would address issues in the Black Community head on with their lyrics. Before we had rap visionaries like J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar, Shakur often used Rap to address contemporary issues plaguing our community and acted as a “voice of the streets”.

Keep Ya Head Up was written by Tupac Shakur, DJ Daryl, Stan Vincent, and Roger Troutman. Throughout the song, the  norm that they are criticizing and challenging is anti-blackness and misogynoir. The first lyrics of the song are “some say the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice” and in this line , the songwriters are referencing a well-known saying that means black is (physically beautiful). This phrase Black is Beautiful was a phrase popularized in the Civil Rights era to encourage Black people to love the skin that they are in. However, in the next line “I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots”, the songwriters are critiquing the well known phrase by explaining that Black people are beautiful because of our history and heritage and are much more than a physical description. In the song, the writers want Black people (mainly black women) to know their true worth and we see this theme throughout the song. For example, in lyrics “I give a holla to my sisters on welfare, 2Pac cares if don’t nobody else care”, the writers are pointing out the fact that sistas (Black women) on welfare are forgotten, and despite this, they care.