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Existentialism Case - Tupac Shakur: Existentialist Hip Hop Artist

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This paper discusses the existentialist tendencies in the music of hip hop artist Tupac Shakur. A brief biography of Tupac is included here, as well as a discussion on the meaning of existentialism. Several of Tupac's songs are examined for traces of existentialist thought.

Tupac Shakur: Existentialist Hip Hop Artist

Tupac Shakur is one of the most compelling figures in hip hop and rap music today. Hailed while he was alive as a genius for his intelligent, poignant music about the "thug" life, since his 1997 shooting death he has been revered as a legend. His explicit, brutally honest lyrics touched the hearts of countless legions of fans who felt he was speaking directly to them. The variety of topics he wrote about always hit close to home, as they were about issues that many of the young men and women in his fan base dealt with on a daily basis. Tupac's intensely personal lyrics have sometimes been described as existentialist. This paper will discuss the meaning of existentialism, and examine Tupac's work to determine if he was, indeed, a modern existentialist philosopher.

Tupac is sometimes referred to as the "black Elvis." Not only has he endeared himself to an entire generation of fans, his death, like Elvis's, is the subject of much speculation; due to the large volume of new albums of his music that have been released since his death (not to mention several movies he has appeared in posthumously), it is widely rumored among those who love him that he never died at all. Born June 16, 1971 in Manhattan, New York to Alice Williams and William Garland, Tupac knew adversity right from the start. His mother claims he was almost born in jail, as she was incarcerated for helping the Black Panthers, and only got released a month before Tupac was born. His father was not part of the family, and his step-father was in jail. He, his mother, and his sister had to move around a lot, and Tupac never felt like he fit in anywhere. His family's poverty made life even more difficult for him, and by the age of fifteen, he was hanging out with a bad crowd (About Pac). It wasn't long before he was fully immersed in the gang lifestyle, and was arrested many times, even serving eight months in prison for sexual abuse. Determined not to let his hard circumstances in life hold him down, however, Tupac joined an award-winning rap group as a dancer, and soon released his own solo album (About Pac). His career skyrocketed from there. His talent with words and his use of them to tell the stories of his life and reveal his inner feelings pushed Tupac to the heights of success as a hip hop artist.

Was Tupac an existentialist philosopher? To answer that question, it is first necessary to understand what existentialism is; only then can Tupac's work be analyzed for existentialist tendencies. Existentialism is a philosophical movement started in the nineteenth century emphasizing individual existence, freedom, and choice (Existentialism). Right and wrong are subjective to the individual, according to existentialism; in other words, there are no moral absolutes, and the individual must decide for him or herself what is right and wrong for them personally. In fact, existentialism states that it is essential for an individual to act according to his or her own personal convictions in order to arrive at the truth of their existence. Choice is another important aspect of existentialism. To the existentialist, our ability to make choices is what separates humans from other forms of life, and to make choices is to assume the responsibility of the actions associated with our choices (Existentialism). It is impossible to find any justification for the choices we make, other than that those choices come from our own convictions, and total freedom of choice confronts us at every moment of our lives (something that can often be overwhelming).

Based on this definition, then, Tupac Shakur's music can be seen to have definite existentialist tendencies. One need only to listen to a few of his songs, or read the lyrics, to realize that this man was all about dealing with the choices he made every day and the consequences of his actions. Tupac clearly expresses in his music his sense of being overwhelmed by his choices, and his sense of responsibility for what he as an individual did every day.

His debut album, 2pacalypse Now, paints his life as a young black male in completely existentialist terms (McDonnell). He talks about the choices that put him on the gangster path, the consequences of those choices, and choices he faced as a result of earlier decisions. On his song,



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