Rappers are often considered the street poets of modern society. One of hip-hop's most prolific street poets was Tupac Shakur who painted colorful and, sometimes, dark images of urban life through hardcore wordplay that spoke to and for his generation as 2Pac. This persona was mainly established through when he released Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. on February 16, 1993.
Most remember 2Pac for his tumultuous and deadly "thug life" that ultimately lead to his murder in 1996. I recall a Tupac whose introduction to hip hop was a balance between youthful enjoyment and socio-political awareness. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. was an album that embodied his life as a 21-year-old rap star caught in the whirlwind of the industry's hedonistic rewards, while holding on to the harsh realities of his fans and his own past. Tupac's poetry resonated in the souls of young, black youth, hence the album's double-platinum status.
The first song from the album, "Holla If You Hear Me," was 2Pac's autobiographical outburst of rebellion, frustration and oppression. His flow marched forcefully through a battleground of poverty, injustice, police brutality and attacks on the black family. More importantly, this introductory rhyme fest was an open invitation to join the movement as 2Pac spoke "truth to ya youth" against a backdrop of beats reminiscent of Public Enemy's "Rebel Without a Pause."
Any true hip-hop head keeps the classic "I Get Around" single in their party playlist. Produced by Digital Underground's Shock G, this joint still goes hard with its '90s-esque beat, jazzy piano and sampled head nod to Roger Troutman aka pre-Auto-Tune. Despite the sexy vibe and guest verses from Shock G and Money B on this club banger, Pac's lyrics are the highlight as he further ascends to the heights of a braggadocio solo artist who was still "down with the underground."
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. offered another exemplary rap classic in "Keep Ya Head Up." The beat borrows from Troutman's "Be Alright" with a Dave Hollister-delivered hook paying homage to "O-o-h Child" by The Five Stairsteps. The hit single was dedicated to Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old girl who was unlawfully killed by a Los Angeles storeowner. 2Pac sought to uplift his community with lyrics of encouragement and understanding thus demonstrating his life was not fixated on debauchery. He used this hit single, which sold more than five million copies, to inspire better treatment of people of color while encouraging the less fortunate to keep their head up amidst a world that is often harsh and unforgiving.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. was more than 2Pac's breakout album that would be the foundation of his legacy. This album underscored his poetic genius, self-awareness and compassion that glistened in the shadows of his latter works (that are more angry and narcissistic). 2Pac demonstrated that he was more than a thug. His light shined brighter than being part of a party-theme rap collective. 2Pac was a poet who loved his people, his culture and his life. He was engrossed in creating poetry that resonated in the souls of his people, while the rest of the world went along for the ride. Make no mistake, the heart of Tupac Shakur's purpose and poetry was strictly for...well, you know.