Legacy of a Ridah: Essential 2pac Tracks
2pac’s catalog is as bloated as any musician with a messy posthumous track record and five albums completed during his brief career. After his death, Pac’s unfinished tracks were completed, released without completion, and even stolen (shouts out to Daz Dillinger). With all of this music available to consumers, it can be hard to know where exactly to start. Look at these songs as a bare minimum introduction.
This is one of Pac’s earliest joints. From the jump, you can see the politically conscious lyrics that would make him so revered as an artist. Speaking on the conditions of the black community, prison, and police brutality Pac gives listeners a lot to think about in this one.
Brenda’s Got a Baby
Again Pac’s social and political consciousness are on full display here as he tells the now well-known tale of Brenda, a girl who found herself dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. The story isn’t Brenda’s alone however as Pac narrates how the people around her are affected too. “It’s sad cause I bet Brenda doesn’t know, just because you’re in the ghetto doesn’t mean you can’t grow.” This cautionary tale is equally iconic and tragic.
Holler If Ya Hear Me
“Much love to my brothers in the pen, see ya when they free ya if not when they shut me in.” This standout from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. is damn near a call to action for everybody listening. From the drums in the beat to Pac’s declaration to “Pump your fist if you’re pissed” You can clearly see the Black Panther roots that shaped Pac as a child impacting his mindset as an adult.
Keep Ya Head Up
You can’t have an essential 2pac list without this track right here. What more needs to be said? If you don’t know at least the chorus of this one slap your Mama, slap your Daddy, and slap yourself. We also get a Jada Pinkett cameo in the video but you already knew that.
I Get Around
Another essential Pac song (duh). This one saw Pac link up with his friends Shock G and Money B of Digital Underground. Pac got his start rapping with the Oakland group so it was dope to see them link back up once he experienced solo success. This song is perfect. Play it at a party. Play it at a cookout. Play it with your lady. Play it with your Grandma. Play it in the middle of your Women’s Studies Class. I’m kidding…don’t play it with your lady.
So Many Tears
We go from one of Pac’s most upbeat singles to one of his most pessimistic. Me Against the World as an album does a great job of pointing out the perils and pitfalls of life in the streets as well as those of being famous, this song is a great example. You can feel the pain in every bar as Pac seemingly suffers from a combination of a nihilistic worldview and survivor’s guilt. “I’ve been really wanting babies so I can see a part of me that wasn’t always shady” he raps defeatedly.
Another single from Me Against the World, “Temptations” sees Pac questioning how to proceed when it comes to the opposite sex. Constantly drawn between staying faithful to his lady or capitalizing on his celeb status the song is a peak into Pac’s psyche at the time. The video was filmed while Pac was in jail so it features a body double and a gang of cameos to keep you entertained.
This is arguably Pac’s most beloved song. The death of his mother Afeni Shakur in 2016 makes the song even more meaningful as a tribute. Everyone has a piece of the song that they can relate to whether it be having a mother that struggled with addiction, coming from a single parent household, or just recognizing the sacrifices that your mom made for you to succeed; Pac has it all covered. Rest in power Queen Afeni.
How Do U Want It
Believe it or not, Jodeci played a key role in All Eyez on Me. K-Ci and Jo-Jo laid their signature vocals on this track while band mate DeVante Swing has both a writing and production credit on “No More Pain”. Dalvin was probably somewhere close doing whatever he did. What exactly did Dalvin do?
Ambitionz Az a Ridah
On his first track fresh out of jail, Pac sounded like a beast let out a cage. Flowing over a beat produced by Daz, Pac was in rare form on this one letting the world know that he was back for revenge on anyone that thought his comeback would be a losing effort.
2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted
This song was historic when ir dropped so let me set the scene for you. You had Death Row’s two biggest artists at the time on a track together. There was 2pac who wasn’t too far removed from being shot up and sent to jail. Then you had Snoop (Doggy Dogg) who had just beaten a murder charge hence the song’s title. Snoop and Pac both went in on this leaving fans everywhere to wishing we got more collabs from the pair.
Another what if in Pac’s career pertains to Dr. Dre. Dre left Death Row in March of 1996 while 2pac was murdered in September of that same year. Dre produced the above track as well as “Can C Me” on All Eyez on Me, both of which are absolute bangers. If Dre never fell out with Death Row what other classics would these two make together?
I Ain’t Mad at Cha
This video here raised a lot of speculation that Pac was alluding to faking his death. The fact that he was gunned down at the beginning of the video lead to people over analyzing the shit out of this video after his real life death. Was 2pac leaving the world with some sort of riddles about his whereabouts? The third verse of this song is almost a prayer as Pac asks for God to watch over him and those that come after him in this cruel world.
Here we have another song and video where fans looked for symbols that Pac was still alive. Pac’s presence as a vengeful ghost in this video raised questions about whether the portrayal was an allusion to other things that may have been going on.
Hit Em Up
Arguably the greatest diss track of all time, Mr. Makaveli was charged up on this one. By taking aim at all of his enemies on the other coast Pac and the Outlawz let everyone know that the beef between East and West was real. Claims of Junior Mafia swagger jacking and an affair with Biggie’s estranged wife at the time only added fuel to the fire.
Toss It Up
Pac is reunited with K-Ci and JoJo on this single from The Don Killuminati. Lisaraye also stars in the video. This song sees Pac take shots at the departed Dr. Dre in between spitting game.
To Live and Die in L.A.
The unofficial California Love part two sees Pac showing love to the good and bad parts of Los Angeles. Greatest postcard ever. I swear listening to this will make you wish you were from L.A.
Me and My Girlfriend
Before Jay-Z and Beyonce did it Pac was rapping about his “girlfriend”, the only difference is Pac was rapping about his gun. Often imitated but never duplicated this song is one of Pac’s finest.
We’ll close with “Changes”. Again when you talk about Pac`s socially conscious lyrics this song always comes up in conversation. With references to war, Huey Newton, and police brutality we get maybe the most politically charged song of Pac’s discography. This one has stood the test of time as a symbol of positivity.