Since its creation music has been one of our most influential and efficient methods of communication. Humans have used music to keep records or express emotions. In the past few decades, there has been an increasing trend among musicians to promote a particular societal message. Many artists, rappers in particular, write songs that describe their current circumstances in society. Perhaps the most iconic rapper that used his talents to express his discontent with society was Tupac Shakur. The above artifact is a music video directed by Chris Hafner for Tupac’s song “Changes.” Although Tupac recorded the song in 1992, the studio remix was not released until October 1998. The music video was originally released in December of 1998, and we are currently viewing this visual artifact in 2017 as a MPEG-4 or MP4 File on youtube. The 2011 upload of this video has upwards of 67 million views.
Before analyzing the lyrics too deeply, it is important to look at the historical context of when the song and music video were produced and released. The social climate for African Americans in the late 80s and early 90’s was characterized by institutionalized racism, unresolved poverty, and drugs and gang violence. Given the worsening environment, it seemed as though the American government was intentionally neglecting areas that were densely populated with African Americans (Elijah Grote – History 110 Blog). Taking a look at the current events of the time, this song was produced in the same year of the Los Angeles riots where Rodney King was beaten to death by four police officers, all of whom were eventually acquitted for the incident. This is also right around the same time that the CIA was being investigated for facilitating the trafficking of Nicaraguan cocaine into the US, which was disproportionately funneled into African American communities.
(Left: Public Enemy performing “Fight The Power” Right: Chuck D. (Public Enemy) and Tupac)
“Thug Life,” or life in the ghetto/streets as Tupac describes it can be characterized as a heterotopia when looking at Foucault’s principles. The second principle of a heterotopia is that they have a precise and determined function within society. Tupac would argue that the ghetto’s function in society is to maintain the oppression on African American communities. The fifth principle of a heterotopia is that they are not freely accessible like a public place and entry is compulsory. In practice, anyone can freely wonder into the ghetto, but in theory, nobody willingly enters and remains in the ghetto. Furthermore, those that voluntarily enter areas considered the ghetto are not receiving the true experience, but rather an illusion. (Foucault).
“Cops give a damn bout a negro, Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.”
The above lyric illustrates a shockingly familiar issue that is still very relevant in our society today. Although the line was written in 1992 and the original incident Tupac was referring is over two decades old, the message continues to strike a sensitive chord in society today. In just the past few years, we have seen riots in Ferguson in 2104, Baltimore in 2015, and earlier this year Charlottesville. All of which were fueled by the resentment of police brutality and institutionalized racism. This conflict continues today and as we can see it most recently through President Trump’s twitter battles with athletes regarding their protest of the national anthem. In his second verse on the track, Tupac mentions that although a black president may seem like a gift from God, he felt as though the United States was not ready for a black president, nor did we deserve it. I find it interesting how the first president we elect after Obama, our first black president, is widely considered to be a racist, sexist, and bigot. Perhaps Tupac was right in 1992 and perhaps he is still right today.
I believe that if Tupac were born and raised in my generation, he probably would have been able to recreate “Changes” almost identically, given the fact that the current events and political climate of the United States today contains striking parallels when the song was originally recorded. Even though we live in a time that is becoming increasingly progressive, I think this claim says something frightening about our present future reality. If this song was written about 25 years ago, and we are still facing racism to the degree shown today, then how long can we truthfully expect until racism is fully expelled from our society? As the chorus of the song suggests, all we can do is be hopefully that things will change. For the chorus, Tupac samples a 1986 Bruce Hornsby song “The Way it is.” Paying close attention though, Tupac changes the lyric from “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change.” to “That’s just the way it is, things’ll never be the same.” This subtle change in wording suggests that Tupac believes it is possible for change to occur, it just is not happening because it takes a collective effort from everybody.
Foucault, Michel, and Jay Miskowiec. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics, vol. 16, no. 1, 1986, p. 22., doi:10.2307/464648.
Grote, E. (2015, May 12). MACRO ESSAY. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from https://hackintohistory.org/2015/05/11/macro-essay-2/
Hafner, C. (1998, December). 2Pac – Changes ft. Talent. Retrieved September 28, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXvBjCO19QY