The year, 1995. The
album moment, Me Against the World.
Whether or not he was fully aware at the time, 2Pac signed and delivered the game a magnum opus on 1995's Me Against The World. Within its 16-song tracklist, each title played like statements ("So Many Tears," "Outlaw"), and the most poignant of them all arrived on track number nine, "Dear Mama."
"It's just one of those songs that will play forever," Outlaw member and friend of 2Pac, E.D.I. Mean explains to REVOLT. "That's when he went from just being a really good hip-hop artist to being a voice."
At nearly five minutes, Pac spoke of the life and times of his mother Afeni Shakur by highlighting the trials and tribulations that culminated into her becoming the hero she was to him. "Even though I act crazy, I got to thank the Lord that you raised me," he raps. While the song is credited as rap record, in all actuality it was 'Pac's own version of the blues — or as friend Leila Steinberg ever so perfectly describes, "his Gil Scott-Heron record."
"When he wrote 'Dear Mama,' [Ray Luv] was one of the first people he shared it with," Steinberg says. "He was really excited. I'll never forget being in the apartment and just crying because we all have really powerful mothers who were in tremendous pain around their commitment to service and we suffered that."
At the time, little was known about Afeni other than the news headlines about her affiliation with the Black Panther Party and the bits of info from 2Pac in interviews, such as one famous with Yo! MTV Raps, where he broke the news about his background story.
So by the time "Dear Mama" arrived, the world was given a proper introduction to Afeni Shakur as an embodiment of stoic grace, resilience and Black motherhood. "We suffered the generation of '60s activists who were really hurt and 'Pac was born to be political, he was born to touch the hearts of the world, and he did that," Steinberg adds.
This sense of political being stemmed from none other than Pac's mother. An activist, revolutionary, entrepreneur, scholar and, more importantly, philanthropist, the mother of two survived the societal trappings of racism, in which she faced scrutiny under the watchful eye of the law as an active member of the Black Panther party in the 1960s and 1970s, and later successfully gained her own freedom after representing herself in court while pregnant and facing a 300-year sentence. With a story like that, this famous stanza from "Dear Mama" holds so much depth: "There's no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand... You are appreciated."
As the only single off the album to snag a No. 1 spot on the charts, not to mention a RIAA certified platinum award within four months of its release, "Dear Mama" went from being a heartfelt note from 'Pac to Afeni, to ultimately coming to be the voice box for generations after. As 'Pac's childhood friend Ray Luv tells it, the song holds a timeless value that also shows the world a rare glimpse of the man behind the rhymes of poetry, power, and pistols.
"The fact that at the time, he being shot, going to jail, and you don’t get a response from him [for months], you don’t really hear what he has to say about how he feels, but then the first thing you hear is 'Dear Mama.' That moment, it was just that point for him where he had nothing else left to hide."
To Afeni and Tupac Shakur, "you are appreciated."