Tupac’s Shakur’s (2Pac) most famous track, ‘Changes’, was part of a Greatest Hits collection released by Interscope Records in 1999, three years following his death in 1996. The track voices the lack of systemic changes to enhance the living condition of black individuals in America. A lack of change has significantly impacted black communities through poverty, the drug crisis, and mass incarceration.

The song begins with Tupac sharing his dark thoughts of the black reality.

I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth livin’? Should I blast myself?

I’m tired of bein’ poor and, even worse, I’m black
My stomach hurts so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch’.

Tupac voices his suicidal thoughts that result from his condition of poverty. Seeking death as a more manageable escape from life illustrates the dire nature of black ghetto. With the lack of job opportunities and adequate education in many ghettos across the US, crime is seen as one of the only viable options to ensure that one can support themselves and their families. Desperate families that are in dire need, earning far below subsistence incomes, children were often given drugs to sell. Tupac mentions that even though it is morally wrong for children to engage in such an activity, it provides some escape from the degraded American welfare system.

‘Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares?
One less hungry mouth on the welfare’

Tupac illustrates the role of the US institutions in fuelling the drug crisis in black communities throughout the US. Drawing upon the CIA involvement of cocaine trafficking during the 1980s, Tupac mentions;

First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal to brothers
Give ’em guns, step back, watch ’em kill each other

An investigation in 1986 revealed that the CIA was involved in the smuggling of Cocaine into the United States in order to back the right-wing rebel group in Nicaragua, named the Contras. This rebel group conflicted with the party in power, the socialist Sandinista Junta. In cooperation with the CIA, the operation was spearheaded by a prominent drug ring in San Francisco that sought to remove ‘communists out of [their] country (of Nicaragua)’. In 1996, San Jose Mercury News published a series, revealing that alongside funding a CIA-backed Latin American guerrilla force, the San Francisco drug ring dealt drugs to the Bloods and Crips gangs in Los Angeles.

Here, the drug crisis, in addition to presence of gang operations, stunts the opportunity for social, political and economic growth within American ghettos. Tupac illustrates that in order to overcome the products of systemic racism and institutionalisation, we must unite to make ‘changes’.

I got love for my brother
But we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other
We gotta start makin’ changes
Learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers

Tupac illustrates how the US carefully structures operations to achieve certain objectives.

Instead of war on poverty
They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me

In justification for sustaining the condition of black Americans, the war on drugs saw a dramatic rise in arrests for drug possession, as black individuals are ‘four times as likely to be arrested for Marijuana charges’ than white individuals. Black individuals are also ‘six times more likely to be incarcerated for drug-related offences’ in comparison to white individuals. Perpetuating the war on drugs sustains police engagement in the black community, that in turn works to suppress the potential for any sustainable ‘changes’ to be made.

Tupac’s ‘Changes’ is a critical examination of the black condition in America. As one of the most influential rap songs of all time, the record embodies the black protest through the spoken word. Speaking through music, many of the track’s deeper references are overlooked. ‘Changes’ is a critical example of a black social movement through music, echoing the same narrative of oppression and subjogation that exists today.

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