Trapped – Tupac

They got me trapped, can barely walk the city street

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 telling you one day these suckers gotta fall

Cuffed up throw me on the concrete

Tupac is a hip hop artist who was strong, head-hard, and passionate, especially towards his opinions about racial tensions and police brutality. This is especially true in one of his songs titled Trapped, which was part of his first released album in 1991, titled 2Pacalypse Now. Below the Youtube link are part of the lyrics that depict this well.

In fact, rappers like Tupac wrote songs like this in order to bring to light within the community about issues that people can stand against together, and by doing so become more powerful. According to the article titled “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential in Hip Hop,” author Gwendolyn D. Pough describes hip hop as a “state of mind; a way of living and being that expands further then what kind of music one listens to” (Pough, 284). Pough also later describes hip-hop as having an effect on youth for social change (284).

I mostly agree with Pough’s stance on hip hop having an effect on youth for social change, though I see that more recently that some hip hop and rap songs seem to have different connotations, songs that are not about empowerment and bringing issues to light, but rather about sex, drugs, and money. For example, Bartier Cardi – Cardi B, which is a song that contains the topics aforementioned. Of course this is not always the case with all current rap, and one also has to consider that we do not have much control over what becomes “popular” rap music. That being said, there may be more songs out there that still have powerful messages, though they are just not “mainstream”.


Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”


HACK #5: Hip Hop, Black Power, and Rap


As we discussed earlier in class today, rap music is generally perceived negatively in American society because it confronts many of the undesirable realities of many individuals, mainly experienced by African American communities. One of my favorite artists, due to his prolific lyrics and constructive approach to social issues, is Tupac Shakur. I chose to examine his song “Words of Wisdom” because in it, he discusses very directly the inherently oppressive structure of American society. Tupac is an incredibly unique individual, especially in rap culture – both of his parents were involved in the Black Panther Party, so he grew up surrounded by political activism. Additionally, he attended the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts, which contributed to his distinctly eloquent lyrics and poetry.

“Lady Liberty still the bitch lied to me
Steady strong nobody’s gonna like what I bumpin’
But its wrong to keeping someone from learning something
So get up, its time to start nation building
I’m fed up, we gotta start teaching children
That they can be all that they want to to be
There’s much more to life than just poverty
This is definitely ah words of wisdom
America, America, America
I charge you with the crime of rape, murder, and assault
For suppressing and punishing my people
I charge you with robbery for robbing me of my history
I charge you with false imprisonment for keeping me
Trapped in the projects
And the jury finds you guilty on all accounts
And you are to serve the consequences of your evil schemes
Prosecutor do you have any more evidence”

It is clear that Tupac does not identify with American patriotism. According to Karin Stanford, author of the article “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur,” Tupac rejects the deep-rooted capitalist nature of American society. He was a member of the Youth Communist League at the Baltimore School of Arts, as well as a handful of other political activism groups throughout his educational career (10). Tupac wanted to create a more fairly structured society; one that did not exclude people of color and the impoverished.

“Words of Wisdom
They shine upon the strength of an nation
Conquer the enemy on with education
Protect thy self, reach with what you want to do
Know thy self, teach what we been through
On with the knowledge of the place, then
No one will ever oppress this race again”
These lyrics express Tupac’s anger at White American culture for its oppression of black Americans. He uses his background in the Black Power movement to advocate for the civil rights of his people and to challenge the oppressive structures of the white, patriarchal, capitalist American society. He calls out America’s history of the violent oppression of blacks, which is an attempt to hold policy makers accountable for their actions. “Words of Wisdom” is the expression of frustration with the many social injustices Tupac had experienced, as well as a call for education so that the cycle of black oppression can finally be broken.

Hack #5: Ghetto Bird by Ice-Cube

ice sube

[VERSE 1] Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin
Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause every time that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher
“So fly like an eagle.”
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

“Ghetto Bird” (1993) – Ice Cube

The song Ghetto Bird (1993) by Ice Cube is about racial tension and discrimination between the police and ghetto neighborhoods. Ice Cube makes it apparent that cops play on black stereotypes, and how these ideas affect the treatment of minorities or how these minorities view police under these circumstances. More importantly, Ice Cube offers the perspective of someone who is discriminated by the police while narrating a police chase, illustrating the aggression that both sides—law enforcement and constituents of LA ghettos—have toward each other, building awareness for the roots of anger that occur from constant surveillance due to race.

la's most annoying icon

To begin, Dr. Gwendolyn mentions author Arthur J. Gladley’s connection of Hip-Hop to the youth culture, acknowledging that the content early rappers offered were “artistic and designed to cope with urban frustrations and conditions” (Gwendolyn). Often times, various Black Panther parties set the precedence for this type of expression against law enforcement, creating bold and passionate lyrics that would eventually inspire groups like NWA to create songs like Fuck the Police (1988) (Gwendolyn). The beauty of Hip Hop and inspirations like the actions of Black Panther parties with rap created the foundation by which rap groups found it acceptable to begin voicing out against established institutions. In this case, the aggressions begin with ghetto stereotypes, and are quickly followed by discriminatory actions by the police; Ice Cube begins with blatantly calling out the police for thinking that there is nothing in the hood except for crime and sexual delinquents.

“Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin”

In response to a fault that Cube acknowledges for its existence in the hood—partially denouncing the fact that this is not a good representation as to what good the hood has to offer—he accuses the police for their foolish arrogance.

Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

He essentially tells the police, directly, that entering a ghetto neighborhood does not give police the right to think that they are above-all, since they look equally as ridiculous in the sky, searching for trouble that may or may not exist (searching for/expecting trouble instead of responding accordingly to it). The police, through these unnecessary actions, are discriminating against entire communities of people, creating the racial tensions and aggressions that the Black Power Movement began to express.

Tupac Shakur’s cultural-political activism causes this song by Ice-Cube to be a direct reflection of the reality of police relations in the ghetto; at the same time as showing the discriminatory actions of the police, Ice-Cube presents the perspective of urban youth and explains where the aggression comes from. Tupac utilized Hip Hop music as both a rallying source as well as a nuanced way of calling attention to the way old social interactions are affecting the urban youth of America (Stanford).

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause everytime that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher”

Cube’s song is not meant to be a rallying source but answers the complaint that white-America tends to have in dealing with the growing attitude of urban youth. The Black Power Era was notorious for using terms like “pigs” toward law enforcement and incurred militant actions from people who already stood above them from a racial standpoint; as a result, groups like the one that involved Tupac Shakur’s mom found the bravery to act militantly as well (Stanford). Ice-Cube uses the word “Nazi” to emphasize the depth of police brutality—police seemed to target only a certain race of people (African Americans) and white-privilege kept them concentrated in areas in which they were to be constantly monitored and harassed (in ghettos). He says “flying Nazi” to explain the watchful discrimination that the police impose upon ghetto communities from a noisy helicopter.

Like Tupac, Ice-Cube brazenly states:

“‘So fly like an eagle.’
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

Ice-Cube expresses the request of the ghetto youth toward the police: Stop following (us) like we’re always doing something wrong. Coupled with a later set of lyrics, Ice Cube further emphasizes the frustration he has with police monitoring him as if he’s a criminal due to the color of his skin and his location.

“Now, my homey’s here to lick on a trick for a Rolex
And let me try the fo’ next
Now the fo’ I was driving was hotter than July
Looked up and didn’t see a ribbon in the sky
Saw a chopper with numbers on the bottom
‘Calling all cars, I think we’ve got em.’”

Here, Ice-Cube shows the scenario in which his friend in a richer neighborhood allowed him to borrow his car for fun, in which police saw him and attempt to arrest him for driving something so nice. With such heavy prejudice and discrimination, it is obvious that Ice-Cube was aiming to provide realistic scenarios in ghetto communities that illustrated the reasons for African-American irritation/attitude toward police. Unlike NWA, he does not just create an “us versus them” argument, but rather an explanation for the rage and anger that minorities have in similar situations.

Lastly, what I found the most interesting about Ice-Cube’s choice to illustrate the life of urban communities, is that this specific song almost mimics that of Tupac’s incident with shooting cops in Atlanta, GA. The helicopter that constantly ruins people’s nights in Ice-Cube’s neighborhood exists because the cops are expecting trouble and are outright searching for it to happen. The drunk cops created that type of trouble, and they chose to take it out on a ghetto neighborhood and on a minority, most likely due to the premonition that the person and location were quite insignificant in comparison to the power they held. Ghetto Bird provides a concise explanation for the anger and annoyance that minority groups have in regard to police activity; it artfully and effectively shows the way police abuse their rank and power, using it to outright oppress and harass ghetto communities and play on the stereotypes of the people who live there.

tupac yuh


Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”

Stanford, Karin L. “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22., doi:10.1177/0021934709355122.

HACK #5 Brenda’s Got a Baby

As stated by Gwendolyn D. Pough, “there are Hip-Hop activists, Raptivists and about change” (Pough 284).  In her article, she differentiates between rap music and Hip-Hop culture characterizing Hip-Hop as a “state of mind”, a “movement” about change and social justice where artists can use their platform and their music to call focus to major issues in their society (Pough 284).

One example of this is Tupac Shakur’s song “Brenda’s Got a Baby” in which he chronicles the true story of Brenda, a young girl who gives birth to a baby at 12 years old and how she attempts to provide for her daughter through illegal means.  Through this song, Tupac attempts to expose the injustices happening in their communities and motivate his viewers to make a change.

In this particular song, the lyrics are especially brutal.  Impregnated by her boyfriend, a cousin, she was “in love with her molester, who’s sexing her like crazy”.  She “dreams of a world with the two of them together” but “he left her and she had the baby solo”.  She “can’t go to her family, they won’t let her stay”.  She is too young for a job, to provide for her child “she tried to sell crack, but end up getting robbed”, “so she sees sex as a way of leaving hell / It’s paying the rent, so she really can’t complain”, but then “Prostitute, found slain, and Brenda’s her name”.

The story and the complementing music video is graphic.  As it depicts the crime scene where her body was found Tupac holds a child, assumingly Brenda’s.  It is hard to hear and even harder to watch her story unfold.  It is more than just a song it is a statement, it is a call to action.  Tupac uses his platform to get his message across–something desperately needs to change in their communities.


Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”

Shakur, Tupac. “Brenda’s got a Baby”

Hack #5: I Ain’t Mad At Cha



In his song entitled “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” Tupac Shakur makes an argument for altering the Black Nationalist view surrounding the ‘ghetto.’ In Karin Stanford’s 2010 paper, “Keepin’ It Real in Hip-Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur” she states that, “… There is ample evidence to contend that Tupac’s activism was framed by his support for Black Nationalism.” (Stanford 2010) She bases this assertion on Maria Karenga’s definition of Black Nationalism as, “”the political belief and practice of African Americans as a distinct people with a distinct historical personality who politically should develop structures to define, defend, and develop the interests of Blacks as a people.” (Karenga 1980) Tupac makes a statement about the state of Black Nationalists recognizing the ghetto and its associated lifestyle as a way to define and develop the interests of Black people. In the first verse, he makes mention of a childhood friend abandoning many ‘ghetto traditions’ such as drinking and smoking when he converted to Islam and how that made Tupac feel his friend was turning his back on him. He says, “Oh you a Muslim now? No more dope game/ Heard you might be comin’ home, just got bail/ Wanna go to the mosque, don’t wanna chase tail/ It seems I lost my little homie, he’s a changed man now.” Here, Tupac is expressing the resentment he felt towards his friend for taking on more mainstream and conservative ideals. This is in stark contrast to lyrics in the third verse, which demonstrate how Tupac was ostracized by people in the ghetto after he became famous, much in the same way he ostracized his friend after converting to Islam. Tupac writes, “So many questions and they ask me if I’m still down/ I moved up out of the ghetto, so I ain’t real now?/ They got so much to say, but I’m just laughin’ at cha/ You niggas just don’t know, but I ain’t mad at cha.” In these verses, Tupac is expressing his understanding of what life could be like for Black people if they abandoned the ways of the ghetto. He doesn’t blame them for not knowing why it is better on the outside, as he likely understands the systems that keep them cemented in the ghetto, but at the same time advocates for a change. Tupac seems to be arguing that the ghetto is detrimental to the Black Nationalists because it keeps Black people from reaching their maximum potential. Shakur represents life in the ghetto as a cycle of behaviors that land people in and out of jail and prevent them from leaving the ghetto, whereas life on the outside leads to progress, such as artistic expression and fruitful family life.


Photo: .jpg

Works Cited:

Karenga, M. (1980). Kawaida theory: An introductory outline. Inglewood, CA: Kawaida

Stanford, Karin L. “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22., doi:10.1177/0021934709355122.

Keep Ya Head Up (1993)


On June 16, 1971, Tupac Shakur  was born in East Harlem, New York, to Afeni Shakur, member of the Black Panther Party. He was also known by his stage names 2Pac and Makaveli. He was an actor, poet, rapper, and activist. He is considered one of American’s best selling artists and many argue that 2Pac was the greatest rapper alive.

2Pac’s song “Keep Ya Head Up” is an expression of the black experience in America during the 1980s and 1990s. It touches upon the struggles black women, men, and youth go through. 2Pac wrote his activist song “Keep Ya Head Up” to promote a change in the treatment and perception of black women. Not only does the song have a feminist agenda, but it also touches upon class issues, racial issues, and Tupac’s personal struggles. “Tupac’s life and political advocacy prove that hip hop music and activism are not mutually exclusive” (Stanford).




Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots

“Keep Ya Head Up” by 2Pac

These lyrics are meant to encourage self-love and pride in black women, especially those who have darker skin. Light-skinned women have been historically glorified and glamorized over dark-skinned women. He also references the deep history that darker skin carries.

“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women — do we hate our women?”

These lines comment on the demeaning portrayal of women and the hypocrisy of disrespecting them. Women give life. Women are the ones who carry a child for 9 months. Women (typically) raise children. 2Pac is addressing the wrongdoing of abusing, raping, and degrading women.

“And I realize Mama really paid the price
She nearly gave her life to raise me right
And all I had to give her was my pipe dream
Of how I’d rock the mic and make it to the bright screen”

Here, 2Pac discusses his respect and understanding for his mother. He appreciates all mothers for their sacrifices. However, 2Pac also references his personal issues with his mother (which he goes into more depth about in his song Dear Mama). He mentions his mother’s addiction to crack cocaine when he wrote “pipe dream of how I’d rock the mic” and “I blame my mother for turnin’ my brother into a crack baby.” By addressing his mother’s addiction, 2Pac is also underlining the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s that had considerably damaged the black populations of urban cities in America.

“I’m tryin’ to make a dollar out of fifteen cents
It’s hard to be legit and still pay the rent

You know, it’s funny, when it rains it pours
They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor

While the rich kids is drivin’ Benz
I’m still tryin’ to hold on to survivin’ friends”

2Pac writes these lyrics to emphasize the divide between the rich and the poor and their contrasting realities. He asserts that survival is much more difficult and important for the poor due to their many barriers and lack of resources. Furthermore, 2Pac draws attention to America’s greed in prioritizing and funding war instead of its very own impoverished people.