Tupac Shakur – arguably one of the most famous musical artists of all time who was no stranger to controversy – personified a mentality he dubbed ‘Thug Life.’ According to Tupac, to the outsider – namely white Americans – ‘Thug Life’ could never be understood. In the 1990s and even today, white America views African-Americans as criminals, deviants and thugs. In an interview, Tupac explains the meaning behind ‘Thug Life’ in that it has nothing to do with “the dictionary’s definition” of a thug – depicting a savage or lawless person. Rather, ‘Thug Life’ was a philosophy that African-Americans, especially young African-American men, could all identify with. Tupac explained, “When I say thug, I mean, not like the criminal, the person that beats you over the head. I mean, like, the underdog.” As a result, the African-American community – and even members of other racial communities – collectively identified and rallied behind the idea the they are constantly viewed negatively by white society, but need to keep their chins high and keep pushing forward.
Today, the meaning of ‘Thug Life’ has posthumously changed. After years of tension between East and West coast rap groups and Tupac Shakur being gunned down on the streets of Las Vegas, he became a martyr. Since that day in 1996, he has been the face of the “gangsta rap” and “thug life” persona, which peddles the narrative of being “hard” and more of the dictionary’s definition of a “thug.” This shift has reverberated through rap culture and society as we see it today, despite the seemingly opposite intended meaning proposed by Tupac in the beginning.
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