Tupac Shakur earned his stripes as a roadie and dancer for Digitial Underground. He got his first big break as a rapper with the group on the single, “Same Song.” While this was all happening, Shakur was working behind the scenes to get a solo deal and eventually secured an agreement with Jive Records. His debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, was released November 12, 1991.
Only 20 years old when the album was released, Shakur’s skills were raw and still in development. But while his style was not polished, the voice was certainly present. 2Pacalypse Now is compelling, honest, and heavy with social insights and ominous predictions.
Even at his young age, Tupac was a great storyteller. While “Soulja’s Story” and “Part Time Mutha” are powerful stories, “Brenda’s Got A Baby” has to be one of the most chilling songs in the 2Pac catalog. Shakur tells a story of child sexual abuse and incest leading to a baby born in a bathroom stall to a teenage mother by the name of Brenda. Having no family support, no life experience, and no positive outlook on life, Brenda eventually turns to prostitution to provide for her child. Shakur makes us experience the pain of her downfall and we can’t help but feel responsible when her life is tragically cut short and given only a vague newspaper headline: “Prostitute Found Slain.”
Littered with dark lines of impending revolution, this is Tupac at his most militant. “Trapped,” “I Don’t Give a Fuck,” and “Violent” all embody the frustrations felt by many living in ghettos all across America. “Violent” even presents us with an altercation between Shakur and a police officer. Little did we know these lyrics would become real events in Shakur’s life just two years later.
Looking beyond police brutality and right to the core of the nation, “Words of Wisdom” gives us these words: “And yet they say this is the Home of the Free but if you ask me, it’s all about hypocrisy. The Constitution, yo, it don’t apply to me and Lady Liberty still the bitch lied to me.” Shakur isn’t going only after the police department. He questions government and even the education system when he asks, “No Malcolm X in my history text, why is that? Cause he tried to educate and liberate all blacks. Why is Martin Luther King in my book each week? He told blacks if they get smacked, turn the other cheek.”
But it’s perhaps the end of “Words of Wisdom” that struck the most fear in those that stood against his message, “You should be scared. You should be running. You should be trying to silence me. But you cannot escape fate. It is my turn to come. Just as you rose you shall fall—by my hands.”
The city of Los Angeles erupted in violence the year after the release of 2Pacalypse Now and many politicians saw Shakur’s lyrics as the match that set fire to the city. They refused to see the riots had been brewing for years. Shakur was channeling the people’s frustrations, not fueling them.
2Pacalypse Now stands as an example of how a single voice can speak to millions and project the plight of a generation. On its own, it does not present Tupac as one who will be revered for decades to come. It does, however, introduce one of the most disruptive voices in music and one that will not be easily silenced or ignored. You need only listen to the album once to understand Shakur was indeed, “America’s Nightmare.”