As one of hip-hop’s greatest lyricists and all round personalities, Tupac Amaru Shakur will forever be remembered for his intense energy and unbridled intellect. He was an icon and symbol of hope for so many people on the west coast, bringing their unique sound and culture to the world stage. Although he sometimes wore a rugged exterior, Tupac was also known for his delicate heart and ability to touch his listeners emotionally in a way that hip hop superstars did not often do at the time.
“Dear Mama” is one such track that not only has lasted the test of time, but continuously seems to garner new fans around the world. Many of which are often surprised to hear the soft and emotional side to an artist who has consistently been painted in a negative light.
When it initially dropped in February 1995, it landed at the top of Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles list where it would stay for 5 consecutive weeks. It would peak at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well, and be certified platinum just 5 months later. It was also the third rap song ever entered into the Library of Congress, which claimed it was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States… a moving and eloquent homage to both the murdered rapper’s own mother and all mothers struggling to maintain a family in the face of addiction, poverty and societal indifference.”
“Dear Mama” Was an Exploration of Tupac’s Early Life
Shakur was born in 1971, in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan to two Black Panther Party revolutionaries and activists. Just days before his birth, his mother was acquitted of over 150 charges in the Panther 21 Trial. At the age of 13, Tupac moved to Baltimore with his mother as she struggled to find work and began to have issues with drug addiction.
It was here that he would meet one of the greatest friends of his life and fellow artist, Jada Pinkett Smith. Things continued to become more difficult for Shakur and his family. At the age of 17, his mother kicked him out of the house.
“When I was young, me and my mama had beef seventeen years old, kicked out on the streets. Though back at the time I never thought I’d see her face. Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place”
Although Shakur admittedly had many disagreements with his mother, and early in his career they had no relationship at all. Pac still always knew the importance she played in his life. He especially was aware of the importance black women in general played in his community and the difficulties they faced as mothers and leaders in modern society.
“I reminisce on the stress I caused, it was hell, huggin’ on my mama from a jail cell. And who’d think in elementary, hey I’d see the penitentiary one day? And runnin’ from the police, that’s right. Mama catch me, put a whoopin’ to my backside. And even as a crack fiend, Mama, you always was a black queen, Mama.”
Tupac was known for his unbelievable level of self-awareness and ability to reflect. One of the most powerful lines from the track is the comparison he makes to himself, the similarities between his life and his mothers. One day he would also end up finding trouble with the law and doing time in jail for his crimes. Yet through it all he continued to remember his mother as the black queen she was and all that she’d given to him, despite her shortcomings.
“For a woman it ain’t easy tryin’ to raise a man.You always was committed. A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it. There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand: you are appreciated.”
Above all, Shakur appreciated the difficulty of raising a young black son as a woman in the inner cities of Manhattan and Baltimore. To be struggling with drug addiction on top of that just goes to show how strong Afeni Shakur really was. It’s no surprise she raised a revolutionary with a soft heart and understanding of the world around him, someone with the gift of touching the hearts of everyone he met.
Tupac Shakur’s Unconditional Love For His Mother Afeni
Afeni Shakur lived an immensely difficult life. Through revolution, activism and eventually an extremely tough battle with drug addiction, she faced things many people will never have to face. Her toughness and perseverance are undoubtedly reasons to admire her.
She would go on to rehabilitate her drug issues later in life, and reconnect with her son who at this time, was an already famous and acclaimed artist.
The fact that they were able to reconcile before Tupac’s death is evidence of his immense maturity and the love in both of their hearts. It’s not easy to look at those we love, who’ve often let us down and find forgiveness to offer. Yet, Dear Mama is a testament to why that is so important for our communities. Our family, especially our parents are the first people to watch us breathe life into this world, and despite their many shortcomings, they are simply humans doing their utmost best to achieve inner peace for themselves while providing you with a framework to make it on your own.
“Look around you in this studio right now. I have women working on my music. They understand where I’m coming from. So does my mama,” Tupac explained in 1995, “I always play my music for her before it comes out. Why do you think I wrote ‘Dear Mama’? I wrote it for my mama because I love her and I felt I owed her something deep,”
Tupac demonstrated his literary genius with that heartfelt letter to his mother on Dear Mama. He reminds us we may all find ourselves in positions we never imagined, alone with our decisions. It’s in those moments we need to rely on each other the most, and help each other find peace.