Mo Ismailzai Prof. Nicole Kilburn Assignment _2 – Lyrical Anaylsis

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					Mo Ismailzai                                                                                   Prof. Nicole Kilburn
Assignment #2 – Lyrical Anaylsis                                      ANTH 104 – 004 Introduction to Anthropology


         Poll a room of rap aficionados for greatest rapper of all time and the name Tupac Shakur will come up.
2Pac, his stage name, serves as a perfect microcosm of rap music. In a genre saturated in hypermasculinity, 2Pac
recorded songs like “Brenda’s Got A Baby” (which dealt with abuse and poverty in the ghetto), “Dear Mama”
(which was an ode to his mother and the challenges single mothers face), and “Baby Don’t Cry” (which tackled
domestic abuse). However, 2Pac was also responsible for some of the most vitriolic lyrics. His song “Hit Em Up” is
often blamed for sparking the East Coast / West Coast rap war. This rivalry divided many of the major American
rappers, was characterized by extreme violence, and ended with the murder of 2Pac and rival rapper The Notorious
B.I.G.

         Rap music initially emerged as the voice of institutionalized poverty and provided an expressive outlet for
the most marginalized elements of American society. While the 20th century may forever be remembered as the
century of civil liberties, its critical to note that structural racism can’t simply be legislated out of existence. Black
Americans faced decades of poverty, limited social mobility, and life in crime-infested ghettos. It is their voice, their
struggle, which gave birth to rap. The lyrical roots and simple beats of rap reflect the limited means of early rappers.
Throw together some words and improvise a beat and you’ve got music. It is natural then, that early rap tended to be
antiestablishment, angry, and reflected the raw realities of ghetto life. Rap music more than any other genre is driven
by lyrics. While lyrics are an important element of almost every genre, the music of rap arguably evolved as a
backdrop, an afterthought, to the lyrics. Furthermore, because the tempo of rap is almost always faster than other
lyric-centric genres, there will always be a larger lyrical pool to take issue with. Modern rap is a combination of the
genres’ raw roots and capitalism. It is fueled by sex, drugs, and image – but so are modern rock, pop, electronic and
even country music. That these elements manifest themselves so crisply in rap is due to a perfect storm of the lyrical
basis, the raw and brazen roots, and the fact that rap has become the voice of a generation and thus an outlet for
rebellion. Just as rock once shocked the previous generation through “obscene” lyrics, so now does rap.

         The song I will analyze is “Keep Ya Head Up” released in 1993 by Tupac Shakur. I believe this song
demonstrates the socially conscious and deeply compassionate side of rap music – and demonstrates that rap can be
used to combat hypermasculinity and gender inequality. Importantly, this song was not penned by an obscure artist
but by one of the most recognizable figures in the industry.

         The song begins with a recycled beat and sampled backup-vocals (recycling a beat means reusing music
that another rapper has previously used and sampling vocals is a similar process but involving vocals, usually for a
chorus – the roots of this practice lie in the shoestring budgets which even well-known rappers faced). The song
begins with an immediate rejection of racist standards of beauty. “Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the
juice / I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots.” The notion of white beauty has so saturated the black
American consciousness that many black people themselves discriminate against darker skinned women; 2Pac
begins by strongly rejecting this. He continues by offering emotional support to young and marginalized black
women with lines like “I give a holler to my sisters on welfare / 2Pac cares, if don’t nobody else care,” and “please
don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up.” 2Pac urges “when he tells you you ain’t nuttin don’t believe him / And if he


                                                                                                                1|P a g e
Mo Ismailzai                                                                                 Prof. Nicole Kilburn
Assignment #2 – Lyrical Anaylsis                                    ANTH 104 – 004 Introduction to Anthropology


can’t learn to love you you should leave him.” 2Pac’s message is empowering: “sista you don’t need him.” He
observes that women are the source of life, are nurturers and teachers, so “why we rape our women, do we hate our
women?” He claims if men don’t change their attitudes towards women then “we’ll have a race of babies / That will
hate the ladies.” 2Pac defends a woman’s reproductive sovereignty, “since a man can’t make one / He has no right to
tell a woman when and where to create one.” He ends the first verse by asking the “real men” to get up. In doing so,
he is rejecting the hypermasculinity he takes issue with throughout the song as not truly masculine.

         In the second verse, 2Pac expresses the frustration of those living in the ghetto: limited means, limited
opportunities, and the familial stress that is caused by such a toxic environment. He points out “You know it’s funny
when it rains it pours / They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.” The frustration in the last section of this
verse is representative of an entire generation of young black people “We ain’t meant to survive, cause it’s a setup /
And even though you’re fed up / Huh, ya got to keep your head up.”

         In the final verse, 2Pac focuses on single mothers (he was raised by one). He starts by recognizing the
challenges single moms face and highlights maternal compassion. “Daddy’s long gone and he left you by ya
lonesome / Thank the Lord for my kids, even if nobody else want em.” He comments on the strength mothers can
portray “there’s too many things for you to deal with / Dying inside, but outside you’re looking fearless.” 2Pac
concludes the song by further documenting the struggles of single parenthood and of life in the ghetto.

         2Pac deals with many complex social issues, including domestic abuse, absentee-fathers, notions of beauty,
systemic poverty, and racism. Perhaps most importantly, 2Pac provides his open compassion as an alternate model
of masculinity for other men in his community.




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Mo Ismailzai                                                                                Prof. Nicole Kilburn
Assignment #2 – Lyrical Anaylsis                                   ANTH 104 – 004 Introduction to Anthropology


                           K EEP Y A H EAD U P – T UPAC S HAKUR
                                                “Little somethin for my godson Elijah and a little girl named Kerim”


[Verse One:]
Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice              It's hard to be legit and still pay tha rent
I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots               And in the end it seems I'm headin for tha pen
I give a holler to my sisters on welfare                           I try and find my friends, but they're blowin in the wind
Tupac cares, if don't nobody else care                             Last night my buddy lost his whole family
And uhh, I know they like to beat ya down a lot                    It's gonna take the man in me to conquer this insanity
When you come around the block brothas clown a lot                 It seems tha rain'll never let up
But please don't cry, dry your eyes, never let up                  I try to keep my head up, and still keep from gettin wet up
Forgive but don't forget, girl keep your head up                   You know it's funny when it rains it pours
And when he tells you you ain't nuttin don't believe him           They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor
And if he can't learn to love you you should leave him             Say there ain't no hope for the youth and the truth is
Cause sista you don't need him                                     it ain't no hope for tha future
And I ain't tryin to gas ya up, I just call em how I see em        And then they wonder why we crazy
You know it makes me unhappy (what's that)                         I blame my mother, for turning my brother into a crack
When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappy   baby
And since we all came from a woman                                 We ain't meant to survive, cause it's a setup
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman                And even though you're fed up
I wonder why we take from our women                                Huh, ya got to keep your head up
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?                       [Chorus]
I think it's time to kill for our women                            [Verse Three:]
Time to heal our women, be real to our women                       And uhh
And if we don't we'll have a race of babies                        To all the ladies havin babies on they own
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies                    I know it's kinda rough and you're feelin all alone
And since a man can't make one                                     Daddy's long gone and he left you by ya lonesome
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one       Thank the Lord for my kids, even if nobody else want em
So will the real men get up                                        Cause I think we can make it, in fact, I'm sure
I know you're fed up ladies, but keep your head up                 And if you fall, stand tall and comeback for more
[Chorus]                                                           Cause ain't nuttin worse than when your son
Keep ya head up, oooo child things are gonna get easier            wants to kno why his daddy don't love him no mo'
ooooo child things'll get brighter [2x]                            You can't complain you was dealt this
[Verse Two:]                                                       hell of a hand without a man, feelin helpless
Aiyyo, I remember Marvin Gaye, used to sing ta me                  Because there's too many things for you to deal with
He had me feelin like black was tha thing to be                    Dying inside, but outside you're looking fearless
And suddenly tha ghetto didn't seem so tough                       While da tears, is rollin down your cheeks
And though we had it rough, we always had enough                   Ya steady hopin things don't fall down this week
I huffed and puffed about my curfew and broke the rules            Cause if it did, you couldn't take it, and don't blame me
Ran with the local crew, and had a smoke or two                    I was given this world I didn't make it
And I realize momma really paid the price                          And now my son's getten older and older and cold
She nearly gave her life, to raise me right                        From havin the world on his shoulders
And all I had ta give her was my pipe dream                        While the rich kids is drivin Benz
Of how I'd rock the mic, and make it to tha bright screen          I'm still tryin to hold on to my survivin friends
I'm tryin to make a dollar out of fifteen cents                    And it's crazy, it seems it'll never let up, but
                                                                   please... you got to keep your head up




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