There is no question that Tupac Shakur’s legacy will endure for years and years to come. The rapper was more than just a groundbreaking lyricist or a phenomenal performer; he was the people’s champion, the shining light in his field, and, like many legends before his time, he is recalled as an icon.
Of course, 2Pac’s tragic death contributes to his icon status. Pac was gunned down at the peak of his stardom, amongst a flurry of bright lights and media drama. Though his assailant is still at large, Pac is to this day a rapper who will never be forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Tupac’s death for his iconic status, and it definitely played a role. The real reason Tupac Shakur is as respected and credible as he’s ever been is that the performer was genuine in every meaning of the word.
He wasn’t reluctant to raise his middle finger if he felt himself getting dragged into a situation he didn’t think was worthy. Similarly, Pac was so confident in his musical ability that he was willing to murder any beat, any time, anywhere.
Sure, Shakur was gifted with an innate rhythm and would be more than able to adapt to any situation on the fly. But the true reason his tracks are so highly regarded is that he dedicated himself to them. Pac is present in every song and every album.
Tupac Shakur’s legend lives on in the realm of hip hop 25 years after his death. His impact is as strong as ever, and his songs can still be heard on the radio whenever possible.
We’ve selected his 26 greatest tracks as part of a phenomenal playlist demonstrating why Tupac is an eternal icon, but first, let’s take a look at the rapper’s eclectic history.
Who Was Tupac Shakur?
Tupac was an African American rap artist who came to encapsulate the 1990s gangsta-rap elegance and was an icon of noble struggle after his death. To date, he has managed to sell 75 million records, which means he is among the best-selling musicians throughout history.
Tupac was assassinated near a hotel in Las Vegas in September 1996 and died a week later. The murder remains unsolved.
Tupac started out his rap life as a rebellion against society, expressing the hardships and injustices that many people of African American ethnicity faced. His ability to do so made him a communicator not only for his generation but also for future generations who would undoubtedly come across the same fight for equality.
His greatest battle in life was often with himself. As fate led him to the cynicism of gangsta rap and then towards the hotly debated Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight, the lines between Shakur’s craftsmanship and his life had become increasingly muddled — with tragic results.
Tupac Shakur was born in Harlem, New York, on June 16, 1971. His mother, Afeni, struggled financially while raising two kids on her own. The family relocated frequently, occasionally staying in shelters. Tupac moved to Baltimore and decided to enroll at the renowned Baltimore School of Art, where he felt the freest he had ever felt.
In 1990, Atron Gregory, a music manager, landed him a job as a roadie for the hip hop band Digital Underground. He soon took to the microphone, making his debut in 1991.
Then Gregory managed to land Tupac a contract with Interscope Records, and 2Pacalypse Now, his debut album as a recording artist, was released.
Tupac was shot several times in the reception area of a Manhattan music studio, Quad, before releasing his third album in November 1994. Tupac suspected his rap adversary Biggie Smalls had been behind the shooting, but he was never charged.
Tupac decided to release a diss song, Hit ‘Em Up, in June 1996, directed at Biggie Smalls as well as Sean Combs, the brand manager at Bad Boy Records, ramping up the intensity among West and East Coast rap. Their feud was quickly becoming the rap genre’s most renowned — and nastiest — feud. Tupac was assassinated three months later.
The Death Of Tupac Shakur
While incarcerated on rape charges, Shakur encountered Death Row Records founding partner Suge Knight. Shakur was subsequently released but decided to sign with Knight’s label in exchange for paying the rapper’s $1.3 million bail.
This union would indeed cause Shakur future problems, as Knight was associated with the Bloods, a rival gang to the Crips. Though he had the tattoo for years, Shakur’s “Thug Life” era started after his official launch in October 1995.
His songs were more arrogant and confrontational than before, and he freely offended performers with gang affiliations like Mobb Deep.
Shakur died merely a few months after releasing “Hit ‘Em Up,” the most renowned hip-hop diss song ever recorded, clearly aimed at Notorious BIG and Bad Boy Records. His music’s escalating tensions horrifically began to reflect real-life violence.
Tupac Shakur was shot dead in Las Vegas shortly after 11:00 pm on September 7, 1996. Suge Knight was traveling to Club 662 with the rap artist riding shotgun after seeing Mike Tyson’s brawl at the MGM Hotel.
The gunshots were fired by a white Cadillac that rode up next to them at the red light and then sped away, never to be seen again. Shakur was struck four times in the arm, thigh, and chest.
Shakur ended up spending the next week fighting for his life in a hospital in Southern Nevada after uttering his famous last words. On September 13, 1996, he died in the hospital from internal bleeding after being placed on life-sustaining treatment and placed in an induced coma.
Former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Greg Kading directed a special task force that investigated Tupac Shakur’s death. His three-year investigation allegedly found proof that Sean Combs recruited Crips member Duane Davis to assassinate Tupac for $1 million.
While Combs has categorically denied the allegations, Davis actually admitted in 2018 how he and nephew Orlando Anderson were in the notorious Cadillac that night in Las Vegas. The past between Shakur Tupac and Anderson only bolstered this claim.
Shakur was seen jumping Anderson in security footage from the MGM Hotel on the evening of the attack. Anderson allegedly stole Death Row jewelry from a label member weeks before, prompting Shakur’s response to beat him up.
Davis asserted that Anderson and himself were informed of Shakur’s plans to visit Club 662 that night, but nearly gave up when he failed to appear. But Tupac had only just left the hotel once Davis and Anderson noticed him as they drove away.
Davis denied being the triggerman, but he did reveal the following: Brown and Anderson were hiding in the back, one of whom was the shooter. He refused to provide any additional information for the street code. Anderson was assassinated two years after Tupac.
Tupac Death Controversies
Numerous fans believe Tupac is still alive, whereas others believe the state murdered him. This theory is based largely on his family’s connections to a group called the Black Panthers and his role in uniting poverty-stricken African Americans against authorities. In addition, he had shot two cops in the past.
Subsequent inquiries into LAPD Rampart controversies revealed widespread corruption within the force, with certain officers collaborating with gangs like the Bloods. Some presume the answers can be found there.
Suge Knight’s son recently claimed Tupac was alive in a peculiar series of Instagram posts. However, photos of people who look like the rapper have been popping up all over the world for years, fueling the enduring theory that he staged his own death.
A man who claimed to be a member of the rapper’s security team even claimed to have assisted in his smuggling into Cuba.
These speculations are likely to be appealing because they allow the young talented musician to live in peace in the public imagination. Unfortunately, the more straightforward explanation that he had been killed in Las Vegas is much more convincing. One only needs to look at the devastated faces of his family and friends to reconsider.
Now we have learned about the life and death of this esteemed rapper, let’s take a look at some of Tupac Shakur’s most influential and timeless tracks:
26 Of Tupac’s Greatest Tracks
1. Keep Ya Head Up
Keep Ya Head Up is the ideal display of the man’s sensitive side, and is possibly his best individual effort ever. Pac conveys the message about keeping on top of the fight and having respect for everyone, irrespective of gender, atop DJ Daryl’s depiction of Zapp & Roger’s song “Be Alright.”
2. Dear Mama
2Pac’s homage to his mother, Afeni Shakur, “Dear Mama,” has become the Mother’s Day hip-hop theme song. On this meticulously crafted masterpiece, Shakur thanks Mama for working tirelessly during the day to put food on the table and trying to free him from the dangers of street life at night.
3. Brenda’s Got A Baby
‘Pac tells a story of a 12-year-old girl who unintentionally conceives and is unable to raise her child on his debut from 1991’s 2Pacalypse Now. Numerous rappers have kept the debate going seventeen years later by releasing their own styles of the song: Runaway Love and Lil Girl Gone, and yet Brenda’s Got a Baby to this day comes out on top.
4. To Live and Die In L.A
Tupac loved Los Angeles, all the way from Venice Beach to San Gabriel Valley or anywhere in between, and the city definitely loved him back. Of course, California Love was a fun party song about the Golden State, however, To Live and Die in L.A. was a genuine tribute to his genuine adoptive home. The fact that it had become one of his many swan songs further immortalized his name and unending connection to the city, still to this day.
5. Only God Can Judge Me
On the one hand, 2Pac and Rappin’ 4-Tay exchange bars about imperfection, while on the other, they ponder the afterlife. This song is among the best on All Eyez on Me, the highly acclaimed double album.
6. So Many Tears
So Many Tears reveals Tupac making a plea with God, recognizing past sins, and his thoughts full of demons over the somber puffs of Stevie Wonder’s That Girl’s harmonica solo. Pac reflects on the sadness he’s experienced over the lives he’s witnessed taken by violence. One of his most profound and personal moments.
7. Hail Mary
On this truly outstanding track from 1996’s Makaveli, 2Pac serves up a dose of vitriol over a hazy cosmic soundtrack. Eminem, 50 Cent, as well as Busta Rhymes notably, summoned ‘Pac’s spirit in 2003 when they reimagined Hail Mary” as a diss towards Ja Rule and Irv Gotti.
8. Me Against The World
This title track from 2Pac’s 1995 masterwork, Me Against the World, epitomizes the rapper’s eff-the-world, melodramatic attitude.
9. My Block
While saying prayers for better days, ‘Pac shouts out to his ‘hood.
10. Old School
With all of the name-dropping and ode that occurs in Pac’s name today, it’s easy to overlook that he was once a rising star. Shakur thanks everybody from MC Lyte and Big Daddy Kane to Rakim and Slick Rick for laying the groundwork for ambitious hip-hop artists on “Old School.”
Tupac’s voice becomes more pressing with each bar as he continues to criticize the so-called system of justice and the prison complex.
12. California Love
Though it is sometimes overshadowed by Tupac’s more emotional To Live and Die in LA, the track California Love is among his most well-known works. Dr. Dre’s piano-laden creation serves as the foundation for a joyous ode to California, whereas Roger Troutman’s chorus adds some spice to the mix.
13. Ambitionz As A Ridah
The ferocious opening track for Pac’s most successful and popular album, All Eyez On Me, sets the stage instantly; fearsome, brusque, and unyielding, this song supports a macabre foreshadowing of the conflict and paranoia which would plague Tupac’s career for the rest of his life.
14. I Wonder If Heaven’s Got A Ghetto
Going back to his position as a social agitator and outspoken messiah, 2Pac questions the material world’s failed institutions and starts to wonder if the divine is much more tolerant and understanding. Pac, vulnerable yet assured, offers no apologies in this earnest song, only hope.
15. Life Goes On
This All Eyez On Me gem finds 2Pac pushing himself forward after the loss of some loved ones. Life Goes On serves as a deeply moving reminder of ‘Pac’s ability to show strength and determination throughout the hardship.
16. When Thugz Cry
Self-pity is typically reserved for adolescent girls, but 2Pac transforms it into a track about the oppression that leads to Black-on-Black violence within the African American community.
17. Picture Me Rolling
With inventive production and guests, Tupac gets enough ammunition from Syke and CPO to turn an otherwise mundane roll across the city into an atmospheric portrait of life on the streets. Pac responds to his critics and naysayers with his trademark energy and lyricism, providing a victorious assertion of individuality in the face of difficulties.
18. Lord Knows
A frustrated and angry Shakur strives to maintain optimism in this track – Me Against the World, a sincere lamentation of ills within the Black society. This song is introspective and spiritual, and it represents Pac at his most truthful: conflicted, disenchanted, and clinging desperately to the hope of redemption.
19. Hit Em Up
Tupac’s vitriolic, mean-spirited, and outright provocative diss record directed at Notorious B.I.G. raised what was a bitter rivalry between old friends to outright warfare. Pac, accompanied by the Outlawz’s marginally skilled ranks, exposed personal matters—including an affair with Biggie’s partner, Faith Evans—for all to see, offering hip-hop perhaps among the most noteworthy and venomous tracks.
Changes, perhaps Tupac’s most recognizable song, grasped the unique duality of being a best seller and a vehicle of social upliftment. The hit track Changes is timeless even today.
21. Until The End Of Time
This Broken Wings Richard Page remix, an iconic remix track, mirrored Tupac’s personality quite well. The heavy bass, snares, and church bells grip the listener as ‘Pac pours his soul over it with grit and honesty.
22. 2 Of Americaz Most Wanted
This is the track that blew the epic Biggie-Tupac rivalry off the hinges. Anointed as the new left coast prince, ‘Pac revealed a new aspect of himself: a smart, young comrade of the mid-’90s gangsta rap movement, alongside Tha Doggfather. Atop a silky-smooth party track, the dynamic duo spits brutal daggers towards East Coast adversaries.
Eminem combined two productions by the pals to create a sentimental track that reminded us all of what we’d missed since their deaths. Big and Pac came to symbolize all the phenomenal talent lost to violence, and the madness of tribalism after being killed within 6 months of each other. They became inextricably linked forever and ever.
24. 16 On Death Row
Pac, who is still figuring out his style, tries out several methods here that he will use frequently in the future. The Geto Boys’ impact can be felt in both rhythm and subject matter, particularly in his intense representations of a world through paranoid eyes.
In this song, as in the majority of his career, he depicts our world as a dark, inequitable place full of negativity and racists out to imprison him. To tell his tales more clearly, he slows his rhymes. He also began to favor blues and funk, both lyrically and musically.
25. Military Minds
Pac’s final rallying cry. Pac emerged from prison with a greater emphasis on military strategy. The art of war became a constant motif in his songs and the basis for his movements. In the months and weeks leading up to his death, he made specific alliances to counter his image as a strictly West Coast artist.
26. Ghetto Gospel
Early Tupac and Elton John appear to be an unlikely pairing – but this heartfelt rendition worked so well that it became one of Tupac’s most influential and famous songs even to this day.
Tupac Highest-Charting Songs – US Rap
- #1 “Dear Mama”, 1995
- #1 “California Love” featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman, 1996
- #1 “How Do U Want It” featuring K-Ci & JoJo, 1996
- #1 “Changes” featuring Talent, 1998
- #2 “Keep Ya Head Up”, 1993
- #2 “Do for Love” featuring Eric Williams, 1998
- #2 “Smile” Scarface featuring 2Pac and Johnny P, 1997
- #3 “Brenda’s Got a Baby”, 1991
- #3 “If My Homie Calls”, 1992
- #4 “Hail Mary” featuring The Outlawz and Prince Ital Joe, 1997
- #4 “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto”, 1997
- #4 “Thugz Mansion” featuring Nas and J. Phoenix, 2002
- #5 “Toss It Up” featuring Danny Boy, K-Ci & JoJo, and Aaron Hall, 1996
- #5 “Runnin’ (Dying to Live)” featuring The Notorious B.I.G., 2003
This article has provided an exceptional playlist of Tupac’s 26 greatest songs throughout history, as well as a brief history of his unique life, career, and untimely death.
Tupac Shakur’s death is difficult to bear because he provided a necessary spokesmanship to black America throughout the 1990s rap era — and his middle finger to an oppressive system that keeps trying to persecute people of color like him.
Ultimately, the greatness of his songwriting was in its endurance, with allusions to living on even after dying, seeing his own death, and returning for vengeance striking a chord that has yet to fade.