Tupac Shakur left behind an intimidating catalog of songs before his death on September 13, 1996. Narrowing his best to just 22 songs wasn't an easy task. 2Pac managed to touch on every subject -- good and evil, war and friendship, life and death. If it was worth discussing, 'Pac rapped about it. As a tribute to one of hip-hop's greatest minds, let's reflect on 22 of 2Pac's greatest songs. (All artwork © Interscope Records)
© Death Row/Interscope
This is the song that blew the doors off the hinges of the epic Biggie-Tupac feud
. Anointed as the new prince of the left coast, 'Pac exhibited a new side of himself: a clever, young comrade of the gangsta rap movement of the mid-'90s, alongside Tha Doggfather. The dynamic duo spit murderous daggers at their East coast foes atop a smooth-as-silk party track. Homicide to bump in the ride. Only on the Westside. And 'Pac helped put 'em back on the map! JM
Perhaps the most recognizable Tupac track of them all, "Changes" possessed the rare duality of being both a commercial success and a vessel of social upliftment. As 'Pac would say, "some things will never change."
Indeed. Songs like "Changes" remain timeless to this very day. JM
An eponymous remix track, this "Broken Wings"-sampling Richard Page remix matched Tupac's identity quite well. The beat grips the listener with its heavy bass, snares and urgent church bells as 'Pac spills his soul over with grit and honesty, even from the song's first bars: "Perhaps I was addicted to the dark side/ Somewhere inside my childhood witnessed my heart die." JM
Vitriolic, spiteful, and outright inflammatory, Tupac elevated what was a bitter feud
between former friends to outright warfare in this rapid-fire diss record aimed at Notorious B.I.G. Flanked by the marginally skilled ranks of the Outlawz, Pac unleashed private matters -– including an alleged affair with Biggie's wife, Faith Evans -– for the world to see, giving hip-hop one of its most memorable and venomous tracks. IR
Funky production and guests Syke and CPO offer Tupac enough ammunition to propel an otherwise typical roll through the city block into an ambient portrait of street life. With his typical energy and lyricism, Pac provides a taunt to his critics and detractors, offering a triumphant statement of self in the face of adversity. IR
17. "Lord Knows"
A heartfelt lamentation of the ills of black society, an angry and frustrated Shakur struggles to find hope in this cut off Me Against the World. Introspective and spiritual, this song is the expression of Pac at his most honest: conflicted, disillusioned, and desperately clinging to the hope of redemption. IR
Self-pity is often reserved for teenage girls, but 2Pac turns it into a song about the persecution that induces black-on-black crime in the African-American community. HA
Though it sometimes gets overshadowed by the more emotive "To Live & Die in LA," "California Love" is one of Tupac's best known works. Dr. Dre's piano-laden production frames the soundbed for a celebratory ode to Cali, while Roger Troutman's vocoder-aided chorus adds some flavor to the mix. HA
Returning to his role as social rabble-rouser and plain-spoken prophet, 2Pac questions the failed institutions of the material world and wonders if the divine is more forgiving. Vulnerable yet assured, Pac doesn’t offer apologies, only hope in this earnest song. IR
13. "Ambitionz as a Ridah"
The fierce opening track for All Eyez On Me, Pac’s most commercially successful album, sets the tone immediately; menacing, gruff, and uncompromising, this song serves as a haunting foreshadow of the violence and paranoia that would plague the rest of Tupac's career. IR