31 Best Tupac Songs

Best Tupac Songs

Tupac Shakur is one of the greatest rappers ever. His socially conscious rhymes dealt with gangsta life and race like few before had.

His tragic death left the world in mourning but his influence on hip hop remains to this day. Read on for our list of the best Tupac songs ever.

1. “California Love” ft. Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman

Song year: 1995

One of Tupac's best-known songs, “California Love” has become a de facto anthem for the Golden State. With production from Dr. Dre, another seminal California artist, the song is the culmination of early '90s G-funk and the burgeoning gangsta rap genre.

The single was released after Tupac's release from prison and served as a flag for the West Coast planted firmly in the soil of the ongoing rap rivalry between the coasts. Rolling Stone named the track one of its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

2. “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” ft. Snoop Dogg

Song year: 1996

Tupac joined forces with West Coast hip hop icon Snoop Dogg for the promotional single, “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” leading up to the release of his classic double album, All Eyez on Me.

Tupac was fresh out of prison while Snoop had just been acquitted of murder charges before this song was recorded. The two rap about their freedom over a reworking of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's hip hop classic “The Message.”

3. “So Many Tears”

Song year: 1995

Tupac's contradictions are front and center on his single “So Many Tears.” The rapper claims that the gangsta life gave him a purpose and identity that he struggled to find during his youth. However, that lifestyle now has him trapped in a game where the stakes are often life or death.

Tupac felt his mortality breathing down his neck, he had already survived one shooting, and it's clear on tracks like “So Many Tears” that is weighed on him heavily.

4. “Pour Out a Little Liquor” w/ Thug Life

Song year: 1994

In 1993, Tupac formed the hip hop group Thug Life and contributed their song “Pour Out a Little Liquor” to the Above the Rim soundtrack. He was also an actor in the movie.

The song references well-established rules within the gangsta community, namely pouring liquor on the ground for friends that have died. While gun violence is a common theme during this era of hip hop, Thug Life allows itself to talk about the issue in a uniquely vulnerable way.

5. “Brenda’s Got a Baby”

Song year: 1991

Teen pregnancy and cycles of poverty and inequality are all tackled on Tupac's classic single, “Brenda's Got a Baby.” Ripping the story straight from the headlines, the rapper wrote the track after ready the tragic story of a 12 year old impregnated by her cousin.

Through the twists and turns of the song, Tupac lays out Brenda's plight. After being failed by every institution, the rapper shows how quickly the underprivileged lives can devolve into drugs and death.

6. “How Long Will They Mourn Me?” w/ Thug Life ft. Nate Dogg

Song year: 1994

After the death of fellow rapper Big Kato, Tupac and Thug Life wrote their introspective tribute “How Long Will They Mourn Me?” The song is a stark examination of gang violence and the difficulty of young black men in a society that demonizes them from birth.

“How Long Will They Mourn Me?” also serves as a morbid foreshadowing for the death of Tupac just two years later.

7. “Changes” ft. Talent

Song year: 1998

Tupac's “Changes” was released posthumously in 1998, a slight reworking of a shelved studio effort he recorded in 1992. The song serves as a masterful summation of the thematic elements of Tupacs career: racism, poverty, violence, drugs, and hope.

The song was nominated for a Grammy Award and is a refreshing return to the artist's earlier brand of socially conscious hip hop. It also signaled the importance and influence Tupac would have on culture even after his death.

8. “Trapped”

Song year: 1991

Tupac tackled the issue of police brutality on his debut single, “Trapped.” Ironically, the Oakland Police Department assaulted the rapper shortly after its release.

The theme of Black culture's struggle in the face of institutional racism would be a key component of Tupac's work and legacy. It's telling that his first single would take aim at these hot button issues right out of the gate. This outspoken and intellectual approach would define his career.

9. “Unchained” w/ James Brown

Song year: 2012

For the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained, James Brown's “The Payback” is combined with Tupac's “Untouchable.” The result is like the film itself: a gritty and highly stylized revisionist's history that's immensely entertaining.

G-funk and gangsta rap heavily sampled from funk music, but this track is all James Brown, which is to say it's very funky. To hear Tupac's lyrics over the staccato horns of Brown's backing band is a treat.

10. “I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto”

Song year: 1997

“I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto” finds Tupac contemplating the plight of Black communities in American ghettos. The rapper highlights the difficulty of surviving poor and Black, and how the process of surviving poverty can perpetuate cycles of violence, imprisonment, and financial hardship.

While ironically asking whether there might be ghettos in heaven, the rapper forces the listener to rectify the Christian ideals of western society with its treatment of minorities.

11. “S*** Don’t Stop” w/ Thug Life ft. Y.N.V

Song year: 1994

Tupac and his group Thug Life lay out the reality of a gangsta life on their funky track “S*** Don't Stop.” The song's theme of constantly looking over your shoulder is common in Tupac's later work.

The more explicitly gangsta rap sound of Thug Life helped usher in the hardcore sound Tupac would employ in the final years of his life.

12. “Baby Don’t Cry” w/ The Outlawz

Song year: 1999

“Baby Don't Cry” is the sequel to Tupac's 1993 hit single “Keep Ya Head Up.” The song was unfinished upon Tupac's death, but this posthumous version was remixed and finished with additional verses added from The Outlawz.

As with “Keep Ya Head Up,” Tupac speaks directly to Black women from a caring and empathetic perspective. The rapper admits that society has stacked the deck against them, but they have to keep pushing to make the best life for themselves.

13. “Until the End of Time” w/ R.L. Hugger

Song year: 2001

Over a sample of Mr. Mister's soaring hit single “Broken Wings,” Tupac sings about the fallout from thug life in “Until the End of Time.” Tupac saw the gangsta way of life as one of the few viable options for members of underprivileged Black communities to improve their lot.

The irony in this option is often at the center of his work, as the street life could change a person and take their life from them.

14. “Ghetto Gospel”

Song year: 2005

Eminem flexes his production muscles by combining an Elton John sample and a hard-hitting beat to bolster Tupac's posthumous single, “Ghetto Gospel.”

In the track, Tupac examines his imperfections in a religious context while juxtaposing those perceived hypocrisies with the importance of his message of equality. Tupac's lyricism is clever enough to answer his critics' questions before they could even ask them.

15. “Thugz Mansion” ft. Nas and J. Phoenix

Song year: 2002

Tupac imagines an afterlife for gangsta's in his single “Thugz Mansion.” Through the course of the song, he namedrops many famous artists from Black culture, all of them hanging around in his vision of heaven.

The beauty in Tupac's imagery is just how simple the sentiment is. This song isn't some overblown hip-hop posturing with angel wings. Instead, Tupac's “Thugz Mansion” is a vision of peace after a lifetime of turmoil and chaos in the inner city.

16. “Cradle To The Grave” w/ Thug Life

Song year: 1994

With Thug Life in tow, Tupac lays out the dangerous trajectory of a child born into the violence and poverty of the ghetto in “Cradle to the Grave.”

With a G-funk synthesizer melody floating above the track, the song was one of the only singles from Thug Life Vol. 1 to make the Billboard charts. Its subject matter is in the line of socially conscious fare from the rapper.

17. “Letter 2 My Unborn”

Song year: 2001

Over a sample of Michael Jackson's “Liberian Girl,” Tupac writes an autobiographical tale of his struggles coming up in poverty and violence in “Letter 2 My Unborn.”

Using the form of a letter to a future child as a device for summing up his career, Tupac is free to inject vulnerability and practical lessons into his hard-earned experience. It's a clever way to present the struggle of life in the ghetto and another example of the genius of Tupac's rhymes.

18. “Holler If Ya Hear Me”

“Holler If Ya Hear Me”

Song year: 1993

Fueled by crime, police brutality, and then-Vice President Dan Quayle, Tupac comes out swinging in “Holler if Ya Hear Me.” The aforementioned Quayle had blamed Tupac for an officer's murder at the hands of a Tupac fan who was listening to “Soulja's Story” during a traffic stop.

The absurdity to blame Tupac for the death was par for the course in the late '80s and early '90s, a time that saw deeply conservative thought embed itself into the public discourse.

19. “If My Homie Calls”

Song year: 1991

Tupac's “If My Homie Calls” has more in common with underground hip hop than the eventual gangsta rap sound that would catapult him to fame.  The song's central theme is that of friendship.

Tupac raps about his success performing with hip hop group the Digital Underground but that even if he's a star and his friends are still in the ghetto, he will always be there for them.

20. “Dear Mama”

Song year: 1995

“Dear Mama” is Tupac's tribute to his mother and all the effort it took for her to raise him. The song was the first single from his album, Me Against the World, and was his most autobiographical work to date.

This song was recorded before Tupac's jail sentence and first shooting. It shows Tupac's introspective side while also showing respect and reverence for the art form of hip hop. After this period, Tupac would fully embrace the gangsta rap sound.

21. “To Live and Die in L.A.”

Song year: 1996

Under the alias Makaveli, Tupac released his spiritual sequel to “California Love,” the laidback blast of sunshine “To Live and Die in L.A.”

The song finds Tupac basking in the glow of his favorite hustle while calling out all the various hustles of people trying to strike it rich. Of course, Tupac also uses the opportunity to call for unity between rival gangs and the Hispanic and Black communities of the city.

22. “Keep Ya Head Up”

Song year: 1993

One of Tupac's most enduring tracks, “Keep Ya Head Up” was the rapper's tribute to women of the Black community. It was revolutionary for its time, especially for hip hop. In a genre that often objectified and even flaunted violence against women, Tupac created an anthem for them.

Tupac's critique of misogyny and his support of a woman's right to choose in the “Keep Ya Head Up” remain just as relevant and vital today as they were three decades ago.

23. “Papa’z Song” ft. Wycked

Song year: 1994

Tupac teams up with real-life stepbrother Wycked for the single “Papa'z Song.” The duo channel their experience growing up with an incarcerated father for the song's story of an absent dad. 

The sincerity and authenticity of the track help underscore its overarching themes theme of the cyclical nature of abuse, poverty, and violence. It's another densely packed, socially conscious rap in which Tupac takes a complicated concept and expertly boils it down to three minutes of hip hop.

24. “How Do U Want It” ft. K-Ci & JoJo

Song year: 1996

In an eery bit of foreshadowing, Tupac references his death on the last single released before his fatal shooting, “How Do U Want It.” The collaboration with R&B singers K-Ci & JoJo would climb to the top of the Billboard pop charts with its slow jam groove.

The track also sees Tupac call out politicians for their continued crusade against rap, even civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker.

25. “I Ain’t Mad at Cha”

Song year: 1996

Harkening back to some of his earliest singles, Tupac raps of the unbreakable bonds of friendships on his single “I Ain't Mad At Cha.”

Tupac's story of friends from the street sees the ebb and flow of life for them both. Ultimately, they still had a love for one another because they knew the same force had taken them through life. The single was released two days after his death.

26. “Toss It Up” ft. K-Ci & JoJo, Danny Boy and Aaron Hall

Song year: 1996

Tupac's beef with Dr. Dre would live on even after Tupac's death. The lead single from his posthumous album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was the Dre diss track “Toss It Up.”

Using a beat similar to the one Dre produced for the song “No Diggity,” Tupac discusses his success with the ladies before turning his attention to Dr. Dre and his lack of loyalty to Death Row Records.

27. “Wanted Dead or Alive” ft. Snoop Dogg

Song year: 1997

“Wanted Dead or Alive” was featured in the movie Gridlock'd, which starred Tupac as a drug addict caught in a bureaucratic system. Teaming up with Snoop Dogg, the song finds the rappers in chest-puffing, posturing form.

Though it isn't the most lyrically dense of Tupac's songs, it's still notable for its help in Death Row Record's series of rivalries. In this particular instance, Tupac disses Puff Daddy's label, Bad Boy Records.

28. “Hail Mary” ft. The Outlawz

Song year: 1997

Tupac throws up a prayer with his Makaveli single “Hail Mary.” In this gangsta appeal to God, the rapper illustrates the darkness in the world and how we use darkness to overcome it. He hopes these sins are forgiven but knows that he can't stop until he finishes his business.

“Hail Mary” continues the spiritual themes of his earlier work and shows Tupac's skill at weaving tales of good and evil together.

29. “Do For Love”

Song year: 1997

“Do for Love” finds Tupac looking back at a past relationship over a funky, futuristic-sounding beat. Over a hook of swelling vocal harmonies, we find Tupac has an undying love for an ex-girlfriend even though she's now with another man.

The song is another example of how Tupac views the bonds of relationships. Even though life's complications cause people to make mistakes, it doesn't change who we are or what we mean to each other.

30. “When Thugz Cry”

Song year: 2001

“When Thugz Cry” is Tupac's rags to riches to tragedy tale of those born into poverty getting involved in gangs and drugs.

A lack of upward mobility in the Black community is a frequent theme of his lyrics. His frank assessment of race and privilege is part of what makes Tupac as relevant and celebrated today as when he was alive.

31. “Runnin’ (Dying to Live)” w/ The Notorious B.I.G.

Song year: 2003

In “Runnin' (Dying to Live),” old Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. verses were spliced together over production from Eminem. The duo appearing on the same song had a powerful effect. It was as if the world's most infamous hip-hop feud had finally ended.

While the East Coast-West Coast rivalry had all but ended at this point, it still served as a bit of closure to hear two of the best rappers ever accompany one another.

Top Tupac Songs, Final Thoughts

As the son of members of the Black Panther Party, Tupac saw the world through the lens of activism. His best work reflects the real struggle of the oppressed in all of its messiness and beauty.

Though the '90s East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry plays a role in his story, his work represents much more than that. We hope you enjoyed our list of the best Tupac songs.

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