Sydney Rose : Before we had rap visionaries like J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Tupac Shakur was seen as the “voice of the streets, often addressing contemporary issues in his highly popular songs.As we know, Shakur went on to become one of the top selling artists of all time. Born June 16th, 1971 to Afeni Shaku, Tupac was destined to make noise. Named after Peruvian revolutionary Túpac Amaru II, Shakur’s life was a story of rags to riches and it was marked with both hardship and triumph. 


Sydney Rose: In a 2011 interview with his mother, Afeni she remembers her son , years after he was gunned down in Las Vegas. 




Sydney Rose: After moving to Marin City, CA, Tupac began the gangsta lifestyle he famously nicknamed Thug Life, selling drugs and committing other crimes at a very young age.It was in California, that Shakur experienced many of the issues he spoke about in his songs. In 1995, Tupac Shakur MTV News correspondent Tabitha Soren interviewed Tupac about Growing Up Poor, His Rise to Fame & His Future.



Sydney Rose: Although Shakur has a plethora of songs speaking to the issues plaguing the black community, Tupac Shakur’s,  Keep Ya Head Up was unique at the time of release. 



Sydney Rose : Written by Tupac Shakur, DJ Daryl, Stan Vincent, and Roger Troutman, and addresses how  black people are often forgotten and mistreated by the institutions that rule our society, and in turn the challenges this poses for a young black kid growing up in America.  Throughout the song, Shakur draws  on his own experiences,detailing the grim reality that many young black kids who are living in poverty face. This reality, as Tupac explains, often ends with jail, violence or death.


In Putting in Work: Black: Male Youth Joblessness, Violence, Crime, and the Code of the Street, Joseph Richardson and Christopher St. Vil , expand upon the circumstances that Shakur details in Keep Ya Head Up when they write,  “The structural violence and inequalities that perpetuate institutional racism, endemic joblessness, mass incarceration, and felony disenfranchisement among young Black males may contribute to direct violence. For youth adjudicated in adult criminal court, they may be burdened for their entire lives with what Alexander (2010) defines as the “prison label,” a label that reduces them to invisible second-class citizens, bound in a racial under-caste system that may permanently bar them from employment opportunities, public housing, voting rights, and federal student loans.” (Richardson and St. Vil 2015). This Prison Label that the authors refer to is a concept that Tupac believes stems from the many odds black people have stacked against them from birth- odds that are extremely hard to overcome. 


Sydney Rose: The song was also unique because it addressed misogynoir, or the hatred of black women, an issue that is still running rampant in our society today. At the time, rap as a genre received a lot of criticism for the way that women were spoken about, However, in Keep Ya Head Up, Tupac becomes a pioneer for changing this, speaking directly to black women.Most notably, the song was dedicated to Latasha Harlins, a 15 year old black girl who fell victim to misogynoir and was murdered over a bottle of orange juice and inspired by the infamous Los Angeles Riots. These events deeply moved Shakur. 



Sydney Rose: In 1992, years of  tensions between the LAPD and the Black community came to a boiling point within Los Angeles. After the release of the videotaped beating of Rodney King, acquittal of the cops who committed the crime, and the murder of Latasha Harlins, the city was on fire. Narrator: What ensued was nearly five days of rioting, $1 billion worth of destroyed property, 60 people killed, and thousands arrested. But the causes that sparked the LA RIOTS were not new. Civil unrest within the black community can be compared to a volcano that might lay dormant for a period of time, but will erupt. 


In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, this volcano erupted in a similar manner to the LA Riots. Martin Luther King III reflects on the period of social unrest. 





Sydney Rose – As we know, this problem is far from being over and tensions are far from being eased. In 2020, after the death of George Floyd, (and really the buildup of frustrations after countless murders of black people, the country was again, on fire. 



Black Lives Matter is the name of the movement that encompasses the fight to stop racial violence against the black community. It seems like a simple phrase, a common demand  that civil rights protesters in 1968 had , La protesters in 1992 had and BLM protesters today have- stop killing us. The reality that we live in – one marked with police brutality against black people and the blind eye that the justice system and our white society often has to it, existed in 1968, 1992, 2020, and will continue to exist if these murders are treated like isolated incidents having nothing to do with racism.  



Sydney Rose: So how does the black community come together in times of civil unrest? How do we come together when we witness our brothers and sisters being murdered in the street?  We come together in song. In One Hundred Years of Black Protest Music, Edna M. Edet, a Professor of Music at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, describes the birth of black protest music. It is important to note that this piece was written in 1976, and uses male centered language when discussing black protest music, even though Black women were an integral part of its creation. In the piece Edet writes, “Deprived of the right to protest with impunity, the American black man sublimated his anger in song and story. Every confrontation with adversity was accompanied by songs reflecting and depicting his struggle. Words of protest have infiltrated and permeated his music just as the inimical conditions in which he has been compelled to live, have constricted his life and threatened his existence” (Edet 1976). Despite the measures our oppressors take to silence us, and to keep us restrained, Black people continue to prevail, to have pride in heritage, and to keep telling the stories of those who came before us. In Keep Ya Head Up, Tupac is hopeful as he speaks to the child in all of us. Although these issues may never go away, they will get easier.