Classic music has the power to live past the era it was created in, and classic artists speak not only to the times they live but the times to come. Tupac is the definition of a classic artist.
In a recently unearthed MTV video from 1992 that’s simultaneously inspiring in its message and depressing considering how little progress we’ve made, a deeply passionate Tupac speaks about race, class and the kind of greed that drives some to own jets while others starve. I’ve pulled select quotes below, but really the entire video demands to be watched. There are entire albums that aren’t as powerful as the five minutes you’re about to watch.
“This world is gimme, gimme, gimme. You’re taught that in school, big business, everywhere. If you want to be successful, you want to be like Trump? Gimme, gimme, gimme. Push, push, push. Step, step, step. Crush, crush, crush.
There’s too much money here. No one should be hitting the lotto for $36 million and we got people starving in the streets. That’s not idealistic, that’s just real. There’s no way Michael Jackson, or whoever, should have $100 million dollars and there are people starving, there’s no way. There’s no way these people own planes and there are people who don’t own houses, apartments, shacks, drawers.
If you earned it that’s good, you still deserve it, but even if you earned it you still owe. Look at me, I don’t have that mega money, but I feel guilty walking by somebody. If I’ve got $3,000 in my pocket, I feel like it’s wrong to give that person a quarter. Or a dollar. It’s wrong. Can you imagine having $32 million and this person has nothing? And you can sleep? You can still go to the movies?
And I think there’s a way to pay these people. I think there is a way. It just takes being revolutionary. Look, I know you’re rich, I know you got $40 billion, but can you keep it to one house? You’ve got two kids? Can you keep it to two rooms? Why have 56 rooms and you know there’s somebody with no rooms? It just don’t make sense to me.”
We now live in a time when Drake and Kanye publicly fight over who has the larger pool, when a lottery winning could net someone $1.5 billion, not a mere $36 million, and when tech moguls run companies valued at $16 billion despite never making a single penny of profit.
The greed that Tupac spoke of more than two decades ago has only grown, evolved, made the rich even wealthier and the poor even more destitute. We see that lust for materialism reflected in hip-hop, but it’s much more than a hip-hop problem. It’s an American problem, perhaps America’s most core problem.
It’s going to take far more than one artist to change that, but looking at how extraordinary Tupac’s impact was, especially considering the relatively short time he was on this Earth, gives me hope. It makes me look for more like him, famous or not, who will be willing to stand up and force us to ask ourselves how much a dollar really costs.