25 Thought-Provoking Tupac Quotes About Life and Art

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He has released more albums and appeared in more films in death than life. In 2012, his image was resurrected as a hologram for a performance at the Coachella Music Festival. And there have been countless “sightings” of the rapper, adding to the mythology that continues to swirl around his too-brief existence. The Guardian called him the “hip hop James Dean.” Tupac Shakur left behind a lyrical legacy that revealed an insight and inner turmoil. Caught between his role as a streetwise prophet and occasionally idealistic poet, the artist is best remembered through his words.

“I am not a gangster and never have been. I’m not the thief who grabs your purse. I’m not the guy who jacks your car. I’m not down with people who steal and hurt others. I’m just a brother who fights back. I’m not some violent closet psycho. I’ve got a job. I’m an artist.”

“If I was white, I would be like John Wayne. I feel like a tragic hero in a Shakespeare play. Somebody who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, from poverty.”

“I think that we deserve a lot of respect, because you know in the ’60s, they changed a lot. And those teenagers were given respect, because they changed a lot, and they did a lot. We’re givin’ no respect and we have to do a lot, I mean the world—no secret but the world is in bad shape. So we have to do a lot of good things. So I think we deserve a little bit more respect.” —Tupac, 17 years old

“Being in Marin City was like a small town so it taught me to be more [straightforward] with my style. Instead of of being so metaphorical with the rhyme, I was encouraged to go straight at it and hit it dead on and not waste time trying to cover things…In Marin City it seemed like things were real country. Everything was straightforward. Poverty was straightforward.”

“When you’re born, usually, you’re born into a dynasty or an empire. You’re born as a junior, or following in your father’s footsteps. They always tell you, ‘Your father, he did this,’ or ‘We got this,’ or ‘The family heirlooms.’ It’s none of that in the outer city—I call it the outer city, ‘cause we’re left out. There’s no nothing. We don’t get any family heirlooms, the family crest. All that stuff that you would think is so important is meaningless ‘cause our family crest was cotton. It’s like the only thing we can really leave behind is culture and dignity and determination. That’s what we had. I feel as though I’m cheated because instead of me fulfilling my prophecy, I have to start one. Instead of me doing a good job and carrying on the empire, I have to build one. And that’s a hell of a job for a 21-year-old. That’s a hell of a job for any youngster, male or female, to have to build an empire for your family. Especially when the odds is that you know there’s somebody else who lives in the inner city, the real inner city—suburbia—who, when he’s 16 he gets a car automatically. There’s money in the bank for college. It’s Christmas, you go vacation somewhere. Our vacation was down the street, across town—Grandma’s house. That was the vacation. Or jail, to be more real. I hate to make this a sad story, but it’s real.”

“Everything in life is not all beautiful, not all fun. There is lots of killing and drugs. To me, a perfect album talks about the hard stuff and the fun and caring stuff.”

“Just because I write some songs about bad women, though, that doesn’t mean I hate women. I’ve written songs that show great love and respect for women too. Songs that talk about strong, upstanding women and their pain.”

“I live in hell. I have no friends. I never sleep. I can never close my eyes. Can you imagine what it’s like to be who I am?”

“Hip Hop when it started it was supposed to be this new thing that had no boundaries and was so different to everyday music. Now it seems like I was starting to get caught up in the mode of what made hip hop come about. As long as the music has the true to the heart soul it can be hip hop. As long it has soul to it, hip hop can live on.”

“My mother had a really bad childhood, and my father had a bad childhood, and I had a bad childhood, but I love my childhood, even though it was bad, I love it. I feel like it’s taught me so much. And I feel like nothing can faze me, you know nothing in this world, nothing can surprise me, it might set me back, but only momentarily, only to spring back.” —Tupac, 17 years old

“My mama always used to tell me, ‘If you can’t find somethin’ to live for, you best find somethin’ to die for.'”

“Everybody’s at war with different things. I’m at war with my own heart sometimes.”

“No independent person just grew up and was born independent. You worked and you learned teamwork, and you learned cooperation and unity and struggle, and then you became independent. And we have to teach that and instill that. . . I mean, if this is truly a melting pot in the country where we care about them . . . we really need to be like that. . . . You need to help black kids, Mexican kids, Korean kids, whatever. But it needs to be real and it needs to be before we all die and then you say, ‘I made a mistake. I should have gave them some money. We really should have helped these folks.’ It’s gonna be too late. And then that’s when you’ve gotta pay your own karma. And that’s what God punishes when God punishes you.”

“I’m reliving my childhood. I live life to its fullest, I make mistakes, but I do some stuff that some college kids wouldn’t do, because I live from my heart. I have fun. I don’t want to be a role model, I just want to be real. I set my goals, take control, drink out of my own bottle. I’m not a lush or crazy, but I’m responsible, I handle my own business, and I mind my own business, and I do my own thing. That’s how it is. If anyone can learn from that, they should. If anybody gets inspired by that, they should. If anyone has any advice on how I should change, they can keep it. I like that.”

“Every time I speak I want the truth to come out. Every time I speak I want a shiver. I don’t want them to be like they know what I’m gonna say because it’s polite. Im not saying I’m gonna rule the world or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world. And that’s our job, It’s to spark somebody else watching us. We might not be the one’s, but let’s not be selfish and because we not gonna change the world let’s not talk about how we should change it. I don’t know how to change it, but I know if I keep talking about how dirty it is out here, somebody’s gonna clean it up.”

“I was the total opposite of what I am now. I was quiet, withdrawn, I read a lot, I wrote poetry.” —on his childhood

“America is the biggest gang in the world.”

“I think being humble is sexy.”

“I wanna be in the future known as somebody, you know, I want people be talking about me like, you know, ‘Remember when he was real bad? Remember when Tupac was real bad?’ You know what I mean? They do that about a lot of actors now. Like John Travolta I read stories and it’s like, ‘Remember when you were wild?’ And all these other people they now are sweethearts. We all should get that chance. I just want my chance.”

“No matter what these people say about me, my music does not glorify any image, my music is spiritual if you listen to it. It’s all about emotion, it’s all about life.”

“The only thing that can kill me is death, that’s the only thing that can ever stop me, is death, and even then my music will live forever.”

“Fuck it, I feel like I shine.”

“I’ve always been an actor, the reason I’ve been successful in the rap-game I think is that I treat my albums like movies, and I treat writing it like I’m a character writing a story, you know, for each album whatever I’m going through, whatever stages I’m going through, and I do it vividly with vivid pitcures, with action and description, and a beginning and with an end, and conflict, and you know, redemption, things like that. So I feel like I always been an actor and acting is my first love.”

“I’m going to show people my true intentions, and my true heart. I’m going to show them the man that my mother raised. I’m going to make them all proud.”

“I don’t have no fear of death. My only fear is coming back reincarnated. I’m not trying to make people think I’m in here faking it, but my whole life is going to be about saving somebody. I got to represent life. If you saying you going to be real, that’s how you be real-be physically fit, be mentally fit. And I want niggas to be educated. You know, I was steering people away from school. You gotta be in school, because through school you can get a job. And if you got a job, then that’s how they can’t do us like this.”