Feminist Anthem by Tupac

Written in 1992 after the death of Latasha Harlin, a black-american 15 year old girl who was unlawfully shot and killed by a 51 years old Korean shop owner...

Written in 1992 after the death of Latasha Harlin, a black-american 15 year old girl who was unlawfully shot and killed by a 51 years old Korean shop owner who thought she was stealing, ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ touches the topic of the treatment of black women in America. The killer faced no prison time for the crime committed, but was simply sentenced to probation and fined.  The death of Harlin came 13 days after the beating of Rodney King was videotaped, and is rumoured to have started the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Whilst rap songs are usually associated with sexist phrases and objectification of the woman, Tupac here goes completely against the current. Using no curse words, the song is an acknowledgement of the sufferings that black women had to face (racial stigma, violence from men, rape) and offers them support and hope that this will one day change. It was very unusual for a well-known rapper to send an empowering message to women and men about gender-equality, considering how women were usually portrayed in rap videos at the time (half naked and completely objectified).

“Why we rape our women, do we hate our women
I think its time we kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women”

It is no doubt that Tupac’s gender-sensitive side came from being raised by his mother Afeni Shakur. She was a single mother, who was part of the Black Panthers and one of the highest ranked woman leader for the New York chapter. She spent most of her pregnancy in jail awaiting trial for a case that could send her to jail for the rest of her life. Just a month before Tupac was born, Afeni, who was defending herself in court, was found not guilty of her charges.

“And I realise Mama really paid the price, 
She nearly have her life to raise me right”

In his late teens, Tupac had to deal with the poverty of his family (mother and sister) and his mother’s addiction to crack. From just this small part of Tupac’s life the influence that women have had in his life becomes obvious, and we can understand more the juxtaposition of a rap song that defends and acknowledges women’s rights.

This is an empowering song where Tupac asks men to stop mistreating women and start treating them with respect and as equal. He encourages them to leave a man that cannot treat them in the way they should be treated, and to be sure that they can easily take care of themselves alone. This is what a woman would usually hear her best friend say, and coming from such an influential figure at the time, this song carried a lot of power and weight.

Although concentrated and dedicated to women, the song covers a series of issues that are still be very relevant today. He discusses diasporic roots, racism and disregard based on poverty, racial stigmatisation, mysogyny and white supremacy. Tupac was always considered one of the most ‘sensitive’ rappers, a man who had a strong social consciousness and was not afraid to speak his mind. In the past year, we have seen blatant examples of racial differentiation in America and the world.

The unlawful killings of men by the hands of the police and the stigmatisation that black people get (African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites) are examples of this inequality in America. Technology has fortunately brought the world’s attention to this issue, with videos of killings surfacing too often. Tupac was and still is the voice of black people around the world, his sensitive and well-thought of lyrics still touch the heart of many people, who feel understood in their struggle. This and many other songs by Tupac that explore the issue of race are still relevant to this day.

[Verse 1:]
Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots
I give a holler to my sisters on welfare
Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care
And uhh, I know they like to beat ya down a lot
When you come around the block brothas clown a lot
But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up
Forgive but don’t forget, girl keep your head up
And when he tells you you ain’t nothin’ don’t believe him
And if he can’t learn to love you you should leave him
Cause sista you don’t need him
And I ain’t tryin to gash up, I just call em how I see em
You know it makes me unhappy
When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappy
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?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but you gotta keep your head up

Keep ya head up, oooo child things are gonna get easier
Ooooo child things are gonna get brighter [2x]

[Verse 2:]
Aiyyo, I remember Marvin Gaye, used to sing ta me
He had me feelin like black was tha thing to be
And suddenly tha ghetto didn’t seem so tough
And though we had it rough, we always had enough
I huffed and puffed about my curfew and broke the rules
Ran with the local crew, and had a smoke or two
And I realize momma really paid the price
She nearly gave her life, to raise me right
And all I had ta give her was my pipe dream
Of how I’d rock the mic, and make it to tha bright screen
I’m tryin to make a dollar out of fifteen cents
It’s hard to be legit and still pay tha rent
And in the end it seems I’m headin for tha pen
I try and find my friends, but they’re blowin in the wind
Last night my buddy lost his whole family
It’s gonna take the man in me to conquer this insanity
It seems tha rain’ll never let up
I try to keep my head up, and still keep from gettin wet up
You know it’s funny when it rains it pours
They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor
Say there ain’t no hope for the youth and the truth is
It ain’t no hope for tha future
And then they wonder why we crazy
I blame my mother, for turning my brother into a crack baby
We ain’t meant to survive, cause it’s a setup
And even if you’re fed up
Huh, ya got to keep your head up


[Verse 3:]
And uhh
To all the ladies havin babies on they own
I know it’s kinda rough and you’re feelin all alone
Daddy’s long gone and he left you by ya lonesome
Thank the Lord for my kids, even if nobody else want em
Cause I think we can make it, in fact, I’m sure
And if you fall, stand tall and comeback for more
Cause ain’t nuttin worse than when your son
Wants to kno why his daddy don’t love him no mo’
You can’t complain you was dealt this
Hell of a hand without a man, feelin helpless
Because there’s too many things for you to deal with
Dying inside, but outside you’re looking fearless
While tears, is rollin down your cheeks
Ya steady hopin things don’t all down this week
Cause if it did, you couldn’t take it, and don’t blame me
I was given this world I didn’t make it
And now my son’s getten older and older and cold
From havin the world on his shoulders
While the rich kids is drivin Benz
I’m still tryin to hold on to survivin friends
And it’s crazy, it seems it’ll never let up, but
Please… you got to keep your head up

Sounds from the Bucket
Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a freelance journalist and editor based in Barcelona, consults for Oxfam in Spain and the Netherlands, and she is the Chief Editor of WIB. She is a passionate advocate of human rights and freedom of speech. And a meme enthusiast. She has worked in the development sector in Malawi and Kenya and Somalia before returning to Europe, where she gained experience in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Spain. To see her work, look at her website here: http://virginiavigliar.com/
3 Comments on this post.
  • Roger Hawcroft
    19 September 2015 at 2:13 am
    Leave a Reply

    I can’t say that I’m a great fan of rap, but I’m certainly a fan of this. More strength to him.

    • WiB Team
      WiB Team
      20 September 2015 at 1:08 pm
      Leave a Reply

      Thankyou Roger!

  • Chinweizu Joseph
    30 May 2018 at 8:32 am
    Leave a Reply

    Wow. Tupac is an inspiration to me. The world really missed out on a great man when they took him so young. I love you pac.

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