Photo by: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

This week we celebrated the late Tupac Shakur’s 51st birthday. The icon would have celebrated this milestone birthday on June 16. 

He was more than a rapper, actor, model, or businessman; Tupac Amaru Shakur was a paradigm-shifting figure in street culture, poetry, and music.

He was among the first rappers to demonstrate a sense of direction, a heart, and the emotional foresight to understand that it wouldn’t last forever.

Tupac may have become the symbol of a generation after his untimely death in 1996, promoting sociological theories as swiftly as he spits gun rhymes. However, he was, above all, a phenomenal musician.

Photo by: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

We decided to take on the challenge of selecting the rapper’s most essential songs from his vast and impressive back catalog as we approached a significant milestone. With songs from before and after his passing, it’s evident that this legend will live on in music history.

The tracks below all capture this duality, the fallibility, and humanity of an artist who left us far too soon. Tupac was able to be both vulnerable and armored, to punch while also displaying his scars, unlike any other rapper.

Happy heavenly birthday, Tupac!

1.  Keep Ya Head Up 

This song is unquestionably the anthem for women’s rights.

Written long before Death Row Records and all the controversy and squabbling that most certainly contributed to his demise.

‘Ooh Child’ by The Five Stairsteps and ‘Be Alright’ by Zapp are two timeless songs that Tupac effectively borrows on this track.

He was among the first rappers to honor his mother and the women in his life. A moving and crucial song by the late rapper “Keep Ya Head Up” is still one of our favorites.

2. Changes

One of Tupac’s tracks that gets many citations is “Changes.”

The biting lyrics fire well-placed jabs at the police and the government while also calling attention to Huey P. Newton’s death and narrating what it’s like to be a black teenager from a disadvantaged background in a Ghetto in America.

Photo by: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The community’s lack of assistance and adjustments have left the prolific rapper enraged and disappointed. The last few bars uncannily foreshadow his brutal death: “And as long as I stay black / I gotta stay strapped / And I never get to lay back / ‘Cause I always got to worry ’bout the payback / Some buck that I roughed up way back / Coming back after all these years /”Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!” / That’s the way it is.”

3. Dear Mama

Tupac pays homage to his mother, Afeni Shakur, a Black Panther activist and former drug addict, in the album Me Against the World’s first and most famous hit.

While using a sample from “In All My Wildest Dreams” to croon over the track with harsh and honest despair, the single is well-balanced with an emotional delicacy that few rappers have tried before this time.

This is a top-notch choice if you want to introduce anyone to 2Pac’s music.

4. Letter 2 My Unborn

Shakur was not just a rapper; he was also a poet, an actor, and an activist. It is far too simple to categorize Shakur as a gangsta rapper, though he did so admirably for a brief period of his life.

Only a few rappers ventured to display a sympathetic, compassionate side as he did. “Letter to My Unborn” is Pac’s autobiographically heartbreaking and heartfelt homage to his unborn kid, and it uses a sample from Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” as its backing track.

In addition to talking bluntly about mortality and reflecting on his difficult life, he warns his unborn child about the possible descendants of the perils that lie ahead.

The 2001 song, released after the artist’s passing, is still among the best.

5. Do For Love

On this cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love,” Tupac’s flow is almost flawless.

This demonstrates how talented a performer 2Pac is. He would frequently embody a song rather than just body it, giving the music a strong physical presence.

This aspect was largely absent from later publications after his death.

6. Same Song

A star emerges!

As Tupac began his career as a rapper, he began his career as a part of the hip-hop funk group Digital Underground.

Despite being a new character in the game, Pac already exudes the charisma that would make him a formidable opponent. Even so, Tupac’s debut appearance on record did not foreshadow the uproar that would come.

7. Brenda’s Got a Baby

In addition to telling the story of a missing black girl, this song also became well-known for its music video.

Pac gives a heartbreaking account of a frequent tragedy over cloyingly sweet R&B from the 1980s. After his breakthrough appearance in the movie Juice, ladies were starting to pay more attention to him, so he took the opportunity to speak with them about the stress and terror that come with raising a child in the ghetto.

He learned an important lesson from the success of this record, which would later result in a streak of chart-topping singles: music that appeals to female listeners In fact, they buy music.

8. California Love

In order to secure his bail money, he signed a three-page handwritten contract while being held behind bars.

The recently freed Shakur was going to show Suge Knight, the CEO of Death Row Records, what he was missing.

Featuring Dr. Dre, who also created the hip-hop hit “Can’t C Me,” as a partner. It was amazing when Shakur made his popular comeback.

California Love, in all of its variations, still has the same potency as it did in 1995. California, shake- it!

9. To Live and Die in L.A.

Photo by: Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage

“California Love Part 2” is what you should call this.

One of the few bright spots on the otherwise gloomy and melancholy Killuminati album is Pac’s love letter to the city he calls home.

Pac’s genuine passion for the routines of the Los Angeles lifestyle is evident in this poignantly uplifting song.

His poetry is rich with memories of his own life and family affection. Actually, the album has an angel city-like sound. Without the violent obsessions and madman-isms that characterized the Makaveli era, this would be one of our final glimpses of the cool, perceptive, and friendly Pac.

10. I Ain’t Mad At Cha

The way Pac describes the feelings associated with a changing friendship supported the notion that Pac was just an artist playing the gangster.

Tracks like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Dear Mama” seem to portray Pac as sensitive and loving, the exact opposite of his Makaveli character.

Photo by: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Since his iconic portrayal of Bishop in Juice, he has frequently been accused of living up to the part in real life. He was so dedicated to his art that it affected every aspect of his life, which is a better way to put it.

Or that despite his intense hatred, he was equally capable of intense love. All these years after his passing, his influence is still felt around the globe thanks to his talent for narrating moving stories that touched people’s hearts.

Happy birthday, Tupac!

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