Document 267691

 Sample written task SL
In class we explored several texts by African Americans, analyzing their use of
English as an expression of a social identity. In particular we look looked at several
song lyrics by rappers. I was intrigued by 2Pac Shakur's lyrics. I wanted to create a
context in which I could explore the effects of his lyrics on the African American
community. Therefore, I decided to invent a column in Rolling Stone magazine called
'Lyrics Up Close', in which I interview several young African Americans on their
response to 2Pac's lyrics. The year is 1998 and 2Pac is still climbing the pop charts
even though he has been killed in a shooting. I ask how 2Pac has earned respect
among his target audience, and how they identify with him. I give several reasons,
including his personal history and his use of English to account for his success.
What's more I define the main message of the song as one that encourages troubled
youth to get off the streets, stop selling drugs and cease violent activity. I look at this
within the context of 2Pac's own violent life, which exposes his hypocrisy. All in all
the task made me think critically about language and culture.
Written task
A ‘Brotha’ Who Understands ‘Brotha’s’ From ‘Lyrics Up Close’, a column in
Rolling Stone magazine
2Pac Shakur landed in the top ten again this week with
‘Changes’, and so it appears that he is enjoying more success
posthumously than when he lived. Has his iconic status
increased because of his death, or could it be that his lyrics
have struck a chord with African-Americans across the nation.
Rolling Stone hit the streets of 2Pac’s old neighborhood in
Marin City, asking young African-Americans how the lyrics of
‘Changes’ made them feel. “Here’s a brotha’ who understands
brotha’s,” answered one high school student, who seemed to
capture the sentiments of many in the area. Where, though, in
the lyrics do young African Americans identify with 2Pac’s
At first glance, ‘Changes’ sounds quite pessimistic. It opens with the lines, “I'm tired
of bein' poor & even worse I'm black.” This defeatist attitude seems strange when
compared to 2Pac’s tough image, an image that many young gang members have
imitated. One young man we spoke to, who wore a gangster-style bandana,
explained that the opening lines are not so much pessimistic as realistic. The lyrics
explain why young African Americans deal drugs and commit crime: “First ship 'em
dope & let 'em deal the brothers / give 'em guns step back watch 'em kill each other.”
While this may sound like the tone of a victim, 2Pac is not encouraging young
African Americans to give up or lose hope.
© Brad Philpot, InThinking
1 It is important that we keep the target audience of the song in mind. It does not
intend to create sympathy among white Americans for poor African Americans.
Rather, the song targets African Americans. In fact many young black men of Marin
City feel spoken to by 2Pac’s song. He seems to call on them to change:
“But now I'm back with the facts givin' it back to you Don't let 'em jack you up, back
you up, crack you up and pimp smack you up You gotta learn to hold ya own.”
In these lines, “you” is directed to troubled black youth. When asked what “hold ya
own” means, many young African Americans explained: they must refuse to become
victims of the hardships that 2Pac so poignantly describes in his lyrics. This call to
social responsibility might just be the main theme of the song, which he suggest in
the lines, “I got love for my brother but we can never go nowhere unless we share
with each other.” He calls on African Americans to stop dealing drugs to each other
and stealing from each other.
How, though, does 2Pac deliver this message without sounding patronizing? First of
all, as the saying goes, ‘it takes one to know one.’ 2Pac’s criminal past and time in
prison have earned him respect among troubled, black youth. But what’s more, he
speaks to them in their language, a lyrical, almost sophisticated form of Ebonics or
African American Vernacular English (AAVE). The rhythm and rhyme of the lyrics is
engaging and compelling, which we see in the afore mentioned lines, “jack you up,
back you up / crack you up and pimp smack you up.” The verb, ‘to pimp smack one
up’ exemplifies the poetic style of street speech. Finally he addresses his audience
as his “brothers”, he uses the word “nigga” in a permissible context and alludes
casually to “Huey”, a.k.a. Huey P. Lewis, co-founder of the Black Panthers. These
are all ‘in-group’ markers, which help establish his credit and rapport among African
Americans in general and black gangsters specifically. It is for these reasons that he
has earned the right to speak to them about these complex issues.
In the midst of the many depressing scenarios that 2Pac sketches from children
dying of drug abuse to the constant fear of being killed by an old enemy (“I never get
to lay back / 'Cause I always got to worry 'bout the pay backs”), his spoken words
cast a ray of light and call for reasoning.
“We gotta make a change... It's time for us as a people to start makin' some
changes. Let's change the way we eat, let's change the way we live and let's change
the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to
do what we gotta do, to survive.”
The final question that remains is: ‘How are troubled, young African Americans
supposed to change the way they live?’ Unfortunately 2Pac left us with few answers
and, even worse, a poor example. He lived his life like the lyrics of ‘Changes’: a
series of violent, depressing acts interspersed with a few moments of clarity. At least
his song helps create understanding the complex issues that poor, young African
Americans face every day. From this kind of understanding and the realization that
‘it’s on us to do what we gotta do’, change can arise.
© Brad Philpot, InThinking