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Politically Conscious Rap


Any art form is defined by its masters – and hip hop, despite its constant changes, is no exception. Perhaps the greatest rapper in the genre’s history is Tupac Shakur, who has been credited with being a major influence on many of the hip hop artists we listen to today.

What separated Tupac from the rest of the pack was that he wasn’t afraid to speak out at any costs, even putting his own life at risk, which sadly was realized when he was gunned down in a hit-and-run shooting in 1996. He was at the peak of his prime in the rap game….and he was only 26. But despite leaving the world at such a young age, 2pac had already published many songs and albums, all of which achieved substantial acclaim both commercially and critically. Each exemplifies 2pac’s canny ability to speak about politics in America and how desperate socio-economic situations had extremely adverse effects on blacks.

In his debut and lesser known album, 2Pacalyspe Now,



one its songs “Trapped” focuses on the issue of police brutality and how racial profiling from the police literally and figuratively  African Americans in urban environments.

In the first verse, he raps:

You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion
Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion
Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught
Shot up or shot down with the bullet that he bought
Nine millimeter kickin’ thinking about what the streets do to me

‘Cause they never talk peace in the black community
All we know is violence, do the job in silence
Walk the city streets like a rat pack of tyrants
Too many brothers daily heading for the big pen
Niggas commin’ out worse off then when they went in
Over the years I done a lot of growin’ up
Gettin’ drunk thrown’ up
Cuffed up
Then I said I had enough
There must be another route, way out
To money and fame, I changed my name
And played a different game
Tired of being trapped in this vicious cycle
If one more cop harassed me I just might go psycho
And when I get ’em
I’ll hit ’em with the bum rush
Only a lunatic would like to see his skull crushed
Yo, if your smart you’ll really let me go ‘G’
But keep me cooped up in this ghetto and catch the Uzi
They got me trapped

2pac, as a young black male, growing up in the 1980s was without question a traumatic experience. What is quite depressing is this is still very much true for our time in 2015 with the police brutality in Ferguson and most recently in Baltimore. Such examples raises the question whether hip hop  which was founded to be the voice of the people – particularly African Americans – and provide an artistic medium for them to express their experiences with racial oppression and political exclusion from the democratic process.  However, despite being dead for nearly two decades, 2pac remains relevant today and is credited as being one of the most successful post humorous artists, which a bit ironic since he didn’t achieve the monetary status that he has now when he was alive.  This only further proves that critical rap as a political means of communication is too has a function in American society.

Take into consideration the second verse:

They got me trapped
Can barely walk the city streets
Without a cop harassing me, searching me
Then asking my identity
Hands up, throw me up against the wall
Didn’t do a thing at all
I’m tellin’ you one day these suckers gotta fall
Cuffed up throw me on the concrete
Coppers try to kill me
But they didn’t know this was the wrong street
Bang bang, down another casualty
But it’s a cop who’s shot there’s brutality
Who do you blame?
It’s a shame because the mans slain
He got caught in the chains of his own game
How can I feel guilty after all the things they did to me
Sweated me, hunted me
Trapped in my own community
One day I’m gonna bust
Blow up on this society
Why did ya lie to me?
I couldn’t find a trace of equality
Work me like a slave while they laid back
Homie don’t play that
It’s time I lett ’em suffer the payback
I’m tryin’ to avoid physical contact
I can’t hold back, it’s time to attack jack


To be clear, his increased success led to his obtainment of materialistic wealth, which he does not shy away from in his albums. However, there are still dominant themes of social inequality and political injustice towards blacks throughout all of 2pac’s work, including albums released after his death, which is also evident in this rare interview with him:

One main criticism that hip hop has received, in part due to 2pac’s image of being a thug, or gangster rapper is the overwhelming blatant use of violent rhetoric and promotion of deadly force. While the consensus would probably be that such actions and language would be frowned upon, hip hop can offer the perspective of a group of people – poor blacks – who lack the political power, access, and ability to provide the public and fans  their perspective which they  would be unable to give otherwise. In the  last line of the second verse, 2pac advocates that the cop “suckers gotta fall,” but he justifies violence against police who abuse their powers because of their unchecked bullying and oppression.

Here is the music video:



The music video shows 2pac firing back at police officers who are harassing him and it ends with the last line of the song, “I’d rather die then be trapped in a living hell.” Similar to the Mike Brown case, 2pac provides a morally questionable but nonetheless politically sound resolution for African American males specifically: die fighting the enemy, the police, than live under the corrupt legal system’s terms which is essentially the prison cell. In that vein, 2pac was fighting for the same universal principle as our founding fathers and was willing to give his life for the cause which almost every political martyr ultimately dies for – freedom.