Tupac’s Keep Ya Head Up

tumblr_m8w7ypNdHr1r67ci9o1_500One can learn quite a bit about societal perceptions of gender roles through listening to music. What happens when you switch “he” and “she” pronouns in a song (this is called the Willis test)? Does it still send the same message? Usually it doesn’t due to gender differences that result from sexism and misogyny. For example, if we were to take David Guetta’s “Sexy Chick” (at least that’s the name of the edited version). After changing the gender pronouns, the song seems humorous and unrealistic.

I was drawn towards choosing a rap song for this week’s ethical analysis. Rap music provides many critiques of our world, especially as they relate to race, money, gender, and forms of criminal activity.  I chose Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up” because delivers a positive message to one of the most oppressed groups in the US: poor, black women. The song is dedicated to Latasha Harlins, a fifteen-year-old woman shot and killed by a shop owner in LA. Her death is cited as one of the causes of the LA riots in 1992.

In the first verse, Tupac raps:
“You know it makes me unhappy (what’s that)
When brothers 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?”
In this verse, Tupac addresses the contradictory perceptions of women in culture. After presenting this contradiction, he specifically calls on men of color to treat their women and children with respect. He also asks women and children to “keep ya head up” though our society makes it difficult to survive in a one parent family.
Part of the second verse:

“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 the future
And then they wonder why we crazy”

In this verse, Tupac addresses the government’s role in perpetuating poverty among people of color. He makes a connection between negative perceptions of the youth and the larger societal forces that create inequality.

Part of the third verse:

“To all the ladies having 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 nothing worse than when your son
wants to know why his daddy don’t love him no more
You can’t complain you was dealt this
hell of a hand without a man, feeling helpless
Because there’s too many things for you to deal with
Dying inside, but outside you’re looking fearless”
Here, Tupac promotes a two parent family. In the absence of one, he calls on mothers to stay strong, even when they are struggling, because eventually things will change. He also mentions the harm to children that can occur without strong male role models.

Other songs about ethics of gender:

“I’m just a girl”- No Doubt: Limits placed on women by our cultural norms in the US.

“Run the World”- Beyonce: A feminist song about women’s ability to influence a misogynist world.


9 comments on “Tupac’s Keep Ya Head Up

  1. I’ve always been a fa of Tupac because of the messages in his songs. Now no one is perfect and he has a few songs that are contradictory but what artist hasn’t done this. To get a real scoop on how adamant he we was about social change, his interviews are a good source to watch and hear the topics and issues he talks about.

    • He truly was a transcendent voice during the 90’s musical revolution. Even after all this time following his untimely death people are still listening to his words that relate to everyday life.

  2. I have never heard of the Willis test and it is quite comical to think of it in terms of “Sexy Chick.” I am in a film class and we have learned about the Bechdel test which deals with the absence of women in films. The Bechdel test is whether at least two women talk to each other in the film about something other than men. This test proves that there is an intense gender bias in films and many films do not pass the Bechdel test. Tupac’s song is a great example of the media sending a positive message about and to women.

  3. I think it’s interesting that there is sometimes a disconnect between the message that a particular song portrays and the actions that the artist does outside of their music writing. Though he is a great musical artist, Tupac does’t exactly have a great criminal history. I actually found that he has been arrested on several occasions for sexual assault and abuse, contradicting the overarching message of his song.

    • Agreed! He mentions the contradictory treatment of women family members vs. significant others… His behavior is an example of this conundrum. This song is often used as an example of his softer side… but other songs/his behavior discount the meaning of this one. I’ve been listening to the new eminem album a bit, and couldn’t help thinking that his overprotective lyrics about his daughters contradict the other messages he has about women…

    • I too was thinking the same exact thing after reading this post. A great artist for sure, but Tupac is not the gleaming role model that he portrays himself to be here.

  4. I thought the 1992 riots were mostly about the not guilty verdict in the trial of police accused of excessive force in the arrest of Rodney King…. Didn’t know about Latasha Harlins.

    LIke I ranted on Bridget’s post, still seems he is mostly, or entirely, talking about women as baby-makers.

    Why not sing about how men, Black men especially, are leaving their women? Yes yes. I know about the injustices of the justice system. But that is not the only reason there are so many single mothers.

    “I’m sorry for all my OTHER raps” might have been a stronger message of change coming from Tupac.

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