Analysis Of The Controversy Of Tupac Shakur’s Song Through Sociological Concepts

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Tupac Shakur is an inspiring figure to many underprivileged individuals. Tupac Shakur through his political perspective, music, and poetry inspired young disadvantage people to realize that they can achieve a better life for themselves outside of drugs, poverty, crime and the ghetto. Tupac, is perhaps best remembered for his controversial lyrics in his music that spoke of real societal issues that many people during that time were too afraid to talk about. These issues include racism, drug addiction, poverty, single parenting, teenage pregnancies, and a wide variety of different issues that individuals living in the ghetto are dealing with on a daily basis. In November of 1991 when Tupac was just twenty years old he released his first album of his career titled ‘’2Pacalypse Now’’. The focus of this paper will be dealing with the tenth song from that album called ‘’Brenda’s Got a Baby’’ which became Tupac’s first hit single. During that time (1991), no leading male rapper had ever before portrayed the issues young women were dealing with in poverty affected neighbourhoods, which all the while makes this song such a ground-breaking form of political expression/activism. This song was inspired by a dreadful news article published by the New York Times in which a twelve year old girl gave birth and later on died as a result from suffering in drug/alcohol abusive homes and living in a poverty stricken community where not many legitimate employment options are available. This paper examines the controversy surrounding the 1991 Tupac Shakur song Brenda’s Got a Baby that depicts the tragedies and cycles that are a regular issue found within impoverished communities. Brenda is a representation of a wide variety of problems that exists inside each urban community around the world, a problem/issue that can no longer be overlooked, but instead be recognized and dealt with. The purpose of this paper is to argue that Tupac’s song was controversial for its time. Brenda’s Got a Baby is not controversial for its plot points, it’s controversial because Tupac is able to put the listener in the shoes of someone who at the time existed within the public consciousness, and in the press, whose life, health and safety had been badly damaged. In the case of the Tupac song it reveals society’s response to this type of cultural object that uses the social construct of ‘poverty’ to differentiate the position of people. This paper will use the following sociological concepts to illustrate its argument: double-ghetto, closed system, agents of socialization (family) and blaming the system (poverty).

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The first sociological concept that is associated with the controversy surrounding the Tupac song Brenda’s Got a Baby is the term created by Canadian Sociologists Pat and Hugh Armstrong called ‘’the double-ghetto.’’ The double-ghetto is the ‘’situation in which women who have full-time jobs outside the home often work another ’shift’ when they get home’’. The connection between the song and the concept of double-ghetto is clear, while Brenda was raising her child on her own within her own home, she was also constantly working outside the home as a way to financially support her child. However after many unsuccessful attempts at finding legitimate employment she resorted to selling drugs which although is not an ethical source of employment, it is in Brenda’s viewpoint the only way for her to feed her child. This is seen in the song as Tupac states ‘’Now Brenda’s gotta make her own way, can’t go to her family they won’t let her stay. No money no babysitter she couldn’t keep a job. She tried to sell crack but end up getting robbed’’. This concept is extremely controversial to put in a song because it shows how men at that time (and still today) control a better social position over the women in their lives since men, as a group, possess the majority of the social and economic wealth. This reality puts numerous women in a subordinate position both in the world of work and within their own homes.

Additionally another sociological concept found within this controversial song is the notion of a ‘’closed system’’. Closed systems are those ‘’based on ascribed status- that is, the status associated with attributes that people are born with, such as race and sex. These systems are ’closed’ because innate attributes cannot be changed, and thus allow for very little social mobility’’. In a close system, there is hardly any social mobility and in a way you are ‘’stuck’’ within your economic/social class that you are born in. Some negative impacts of this system include not being able to obtain certain jobs or own some properties that are reserved for other classes and even at times not being able to marry people from other classes. This is perhaps the main sociological concept that Tupac tried to outline through the use of song/poetry. Because although Brenda was living in the United States, a country that is considered a land of ‘’equal opportunity’’ for everyone, this is however not the case especially for a young African-American girl like Brenda. Brenda was denied help from her local community because of her race, socio-economic status and was left to survive on her own after giving birth which ultimately led her to selling drugs and try prostitution. The controversy of having this concept in Brenda’s Got a Baby is that it causes ‘’class consciousness’’. Class consciousness is when the minority group of a society realizes they are dominated and oppressed by the majority and commit to bringing change which can ultimately lead to societal tensions from one group to another, which Tupac was trying to do as he represented the minority group and this song was his way of bringing change/awareness.

A family is perhaps the most important social group that a person could belong to. Families are able to teach their children the importance of effort, hard work, education and above all knowledge. However, when a family is not involved in a child life, it can lead to serious negative consequences for them. The idea of families can fall under the next sociological concept of ‘’agents of socialization’’. Agents of socialization are the ‘’individuals, groups, and social institutions that together help people to become functioning members of society’’. Within the song written by Tupac it is clearly evident that Brenda’s family were not involved in her life in any way, shape, or form and that can be seen as the root cause for the unfortunate events in Brenda’s short lived life. Tupac tell’s the listener that Brenda’s parents were only using her for financial government support and that is seen when Tupac states, ‘’ she tried to hide her pregnancy from her family who didn’t really care to see or give a damn if she went out and had a church of kids, as long as when the check came they got first dibs’’. I believe if Brenda’s agents of socialization had played a proper role in her life then the misfortunes that took place would have possibly not existed. Yet putting the blame on Brenda’s family is not the message Tupac was trying to show. Tupac analyzes how Brenda is a member of a broken system inside her family , and her family are members of a broken system inside their community. He demonstrates through music how the cycle is endless because of the absence of knowledge and support that everyone possess and thus makes this song even more controversial as Tupac is now attacking/criticizing the system where people like Brenda are living in.

Tupac criticizing the system is connected with the last sociological concept of ‘’blaming the system’’. Blaming the system is a viewpoint that ‘’recognizes the systemic discrimination that exists within social systems’’. This concept is largely associated with the explanation for poverty and argues that the larger socio economic system force some limitations on some members of a society. When Tupac did blame the system for the incidents that happened to Brenda, it drew positive and negative attention. While his fellow Hip hop artists supported the revolutionary lyrics and social narriations that were found in his song, it did however create powerful critics ranging as high in the United States government. Vice President Dan Quayle who stated to the press that the creation and distribution of Brenda’s Got a Baby was ‘’an irresponsible corporate act.’’ Qualye also stated that there was ‘’absolutely no reason for a song like this to be published by a respective record company’’. Now I understand that sometimes the individuals within a society are the problem, but the key to understanding social problems is understanding the unequal distribution of power within a society. That’s where the controversy of having this concept incorporated in the song comes from and Tupac understood that. When you have activists like Tupac explaining these unfair distributions of wealth to a large population, it damages the interests of the wealthy elites. Tupac in his song tried to defend the idea of having money created from economic growth go towards people like Brenda rather than the rich.

In conclusion, the purpose of this paper was to explore the controversy surrounding the song Brenda’s Got a Baby by Tupac Shakur. Tupac’s song was controversial for its time as it was a new form of social/political activism. He is able to put the listener in the shoes of someone who at the time existed within the public consciousness, whose life, health and safety had been badly damage. This cultural object was able to provide us with four sociological concepts which were: double ghetto, closed system, agents of socialization (family) and vlaming the system (poverty). Although this cultural object is extremely controversial for its lyrics and powerful message, it impacted my life in such a positive way. It showed me the bigger picture, and the struggles that some people who are living in poverty face on a daily basis. The values that this cultural object provides is that it can show incredibly valuable methods for understanding human behaviour in numerous specific situations, including the interactions of families, individuals, groups, institutions and neighborhoods in the macro social environment. 

16 August 2021

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