This article originally ran in 2017, but we’re dusting it off for Tupac’s birthday on June 16th.
Top Songs is a feature in which we definitively handpick the very best songs in an artist or band’s catalog. Sounds simple, right? Oh, if only.
For the truly great artists, their art implies a thorough philosophy, and to experience their work is to see the world through their eyes. Tupac Shakur is like that, and yet at first glance he seems full of contradictions. How to reconcile a conscious rapper who is also a gangster rapper? An intellectual with a street brawler?
He led a troubled life, and although I wish to make the case that Shakur was a great thinker, I don’t agree with many of his conclusions and decisions. He had a violent temper, and his brief career was constantly interrupted by legal troubles. Most troubling of all was his conviction for sexual assault, an episode that marked a turning point in his music.
And yet for all that, he brought an emotionality to hip-hop that the genre hadn’t seen before, and his ideas about how the world works are always interesting even when they’re uncomfortable. His ideas can also bring joy and wonder; people don’t come in just two flavors, good or evil, and the 20 songs chosen here contain both in great quantities.
Any list like this must be incomplete — personally, I think it’s about 12 songs too short — but I hope it captures something of his evolution, and I hope, too, that our readers will fill the comments with all the great songs that I was unable to fit. Perhaps, in this way, we’ll have a better understanding of a man who contained multitudes.
— Wren Graves