Kendrick Lamar as the Modern Day Tupac Shakur
By: Sadia Sleweon

Research Methodology

My research methodology took a while to complete. I spent days contemplating on who I would do my research on. The thought hit me when I was listening to “We gon be Alright” by Kendrick Lamar. Like many of his songs the lyrics to this one reminded me of the messages behind may of Tupac Shakur’s songs. Thus, there are many arguments surfacing about that suggest that Kendrick Lamar is the modern-day Tupac Shakur in the midst of the younger generation. To validate my assertion, I will be using credible web sources and thoughts from experts in the music industry.


In a society of racial discrimination in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Tupac Shakur rapped about the racial profiling that he, and many of his friends had to endure. The racial profiling was more towards the police and how they were trying to discriminate against the African American race. The argument of most of Tupac’s songs were violence related. Through his messages, many people overcame various adversities. Unfortunately, in regards to racial discrimination and police violence not much has changed since the era of Tupac Shakur. However, the message behind many of the music we hear today ignores the social issues that occur on a daily basis. Very few celebrities use their platform to bring about change or awareness to societal issues. The truth of the matter is that we are living in a society that lacks positive leaders and role models such as Tupac Shakur. However, hope is found in Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Lamar uses his platform as one of the best rappers in America, to bring attention to current social upheavals. Just as the late Tupac Shakur brought awareness to racism and political injustices, modern day Kendrick Lamar takes suite. Kendrick Lamar is the Tupac Shakur for the youths of today because in his music he focuses on the injustices of racism and the importance of peace and love.


Tupac Shakur, was born in Harlem, New York on June 16th 1971. His mother Alice Faye Williams, was the daughter of a North Carolina maid and a high-school dropout. She became pregnant with Shakur in 1970 while on bail after being charged with conspiring to set off a race war. As single mother of two children, Tupac’s mother Afeni struggled for money. The family moved homes often, and sometimes stayed in shelters. After they moved to Baltimore, Tupac enrolled at the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts. Due to the fact that their neighborhood, was riven by crime, the family moved to Marin City, California. Marin City was considered to be the ghetto part of California. In Marin City Afeni succumbed to crack addiction. Tupac, would sell on the same streets where his mother bought her supply. Nevertheless, Tupac’s love for hip hop steered him away from a life of crime.                                                                                       

 In 1989, at the age of seventeen, he met an older white woman, Leila Steinberg, in a park. By the time they met, Tupac was obsessively writing poetry and convinced Steinberg, who had no music-industry experience, to become his manager. Steinberg was able to get Tupac in front of music manager Atron Gregory, who secured a gig for him in 1990 as a roadie and dancer for the hip hop group Digital Underground. He soon stepped up to the mic, making his recording debut in 1991 on Same Song, which soundtracked the Dan Aykroyd comedy Nothing but Trouble. Tupac also appeared on Digital Underground’s album Sons of the P in October that year. After the band’s manager, Gregory, took over from Steinberg. He landed Tupac a deal with Interscope Records. A month after Sons of the P hit the stores came 2Pacalypse Now, Tupac’s debut album as a solo artist. Tupac often complained that he was misunderstood. “Everything in life is not all beautiful,” he told journalist Chuck Phillips. “There is lots of killing and drugs. To me a perfect album talks about the hard stuff and the fun and caring stuff . . . The thing that bothers me is that it seems like a lot of the sensitive stuff I write just goes unnoticed.”                                 

In October 1993, Tupac shot and wounded two white off-duty cops in Atlanta after an altercation. However, the charges were dropped after it was proven in court that the policemen had been drinking, had initiated the incident, and had threatened Tupac with a stolen gun. The case illustrated police brutality and the misrepresentation of African-American males which Tupac had been talking about in his music. What was perceived to be gangster behavior by a lawless individual turned out to be an act of self-defense by a young man in fear of his life. All the while, Tupac’s fame continued to rise. Sadly, long after the incident, in February 1995, Tupac was put behind bars because he was accused of sexually abusing a female fan.  While in prison Tupac made a diss track for rapper Biggie Smalls. Not only did he make a diss track, but shortly after he also made Me Against The World, an album that focused on the importance of trust. This album hit the top charts within weeks and it stayed at the top. Tupac became the first artist to have an album as number one on the BillBoard 200 while in prison. His album increased his fan base immensely. While Tupac was in prison he was visited by Suge Knight, the notorious label boss of Death Row records. Knight offered to bail Tupac only if Tupac agreed to sign onto Death Row. Tupac signed and was released from the high-security Dannemora facility in New York in October 1995.  At the same time as he was glorifying an outlaw lifestyle for Death Row, Tupac was financing an at-risk youth center, bankrolling South Central sports teams, setting up a telephone help line for young people with problems.  On September 13th, 1996, in the midst of his prime, Tupac was shot and killed in a drive by shooting. Nevertheless, Tupac mastered every element of rap and music.

By closely analyzing his music one can tell that Tupac was very well educated. He used a contradictory style in his music. In one song, he would talk about black on black crime, then in the next, he would talk about killing all his enemies. He would rap about being a player in one song, then in the next, he would support women and their rights. This was the first time that many people had seen or heard of a style like this, and many people loved it. Tupac’s message and influence on many alternative rappers became well known through interviews, music, and poems. Not only was Tupac an inspiration to rappers, but he also was a role model for many teenagers and young adults. He was known as a symbol of rap and it’s violence. More than anything, he was a martyr of this culture. Tupac started the rapid growth of the rap/hip-hop/pop culture. Through various albums from trust, to racial discrimination, Tupac spoke passionately about how the society helped him grow as a man. This was the legacy that made Tupac an influential character to the society we live in. Top artist of today such as Kendrick Lamar, relate back to Tupac Shakur.                                                                                                            

  Kendrick Lamar Duckworth who dropped his last name to perform as Kendrick Lamar, was born in Compton, California, on June 17, 1987. His parents moved to Compton from Chicago to escape the city’s gang culture, although Lamar’s father had been associated with the notorious Gangster Disciples gang. As the 1980s crack trade and West Coast gang presence increased, Lamar grew up around precarious street activity, but similar to Tupac he seemed more influenced than harmed by it. Also like Tupac, Lamar was a good student who enjoyed writing, first stories and poems, and then lyrics. Lamar’s family was also directly touched by the violence of the streets, yet he remained thoughtful and soft-spoken.                                                             

   At age sixteen years old, in 2003, he conducted a mix tape called Youngest Head Nigga in Charge, which drew a lot of interest in his native Southern California and beyond. The project was enough to get Lamar a record deal with Top Dawg Entertainment, a respected California independent label and feeder to major labels. He went on to release two other acclaimed mix tapes, Training Day and C4 . In October 2012, Lamar’s highly anticipated major-label debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released to wide acclaim. Hit singles like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Poetic Justice,” and the rapper’s emergence as a talent to watch, cleared the way for him to make major American television appearances while promoting the album. For example, Lamar made appearances on Saturday Night LiveLate Night With David Letterman and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. This solidified his fan base, not only amongst hip-hop fans, but also amongst college students and fans of alternative rock. Lamar’s appeal to the masses didn’t stop there. The thought-provoking lyrics on his debut album caught the attention of hip-hop critics as well, with MTV naming him the “Hottest MC” of 2012, putting him in the company of top rappers who have earned the title, such as Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and Kanye West. Lamar brought about a vibe that was reminiscent of the classic hip-hop era, drawing appreciation from critics, rappers and fans alike. Lamar also performed music that exposed social issues and politics. His songs “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” fuse spoken word, live jazz, traditional African dance and reference police brutality and racial discrimination.                                        

  Lamar remains popular for his sharp observations of street culture, often examining the psychology of the victims of crimes. “That’s the most interesting story to me,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian. “At first, I was scared to show fear because you can never be sure how people will perceive you. But I dared myself to do that, to stand out.” In 2015, Lamar released his next album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Butterfly was another highly acclaimed album, known for its mastery of funk, community politics and vulnerability. Lamar was nominated for eleven Grammys later that year and won the first award of the 2016 show for the best rap album.                    

  Lamar has experienced much success in a short period of time. Lamar has often been compared to many of hip hop’s all time greats.  For instance, one of the names that often comes up amidst discussions about him is the legendary Tupac Shakur. Both rappers share many similarities. Both are associated with the West Coast, and Kendrick seems to also be one of the most intelligent and socially conscious rappers of today, just like Tupas was in the 90s. Thus, Kendrick Lamar is coined to be the modern-day Tupac Shakur of today’s generation. Both Kendrick and Tupac have California roots, and both made songs paying homage to their stomping grounds (Kendrick’s “Compton” and “California Love” by Tupac). Interestingly, their birth dates are also similar. Tupac was born on June 16th, 1971, and Kendrick was born on June 17th, 1987. Like Tupac, Kendrick has a very distinct voice and flow that commands the attention of his audience. Additionally, Tupac was extremely versatile in that he had the ability to switch up his flow at will. He would sound aggressive on songs like “Hail Mary”, or he would tone things down to sound more reflective like he did on “Changes”. Kendrick is the most versatile rapper in the industry, and he’s more technically sound as a rapper like Tupac

 The two biggest similarities between Tupac and Kendrick are their storytelling abilities and lyrical content. While many of their peers were choosing to make music about riches, women, or other material items, Tupac and Kendrick were more socially conscious and chose to focus on more significant issues. Tupac was so unique in that he was able to capture the feelings of hardship and struggle that were felt by so many people all over the world. He rapped about pain, relationships, and societal issues, among many other things. He was great at writing lyrics that people everywhere could relate to, and that allowed him to influence millions. Though Kendrick is still in the early stages of his career, it seems as if, like Tupac, he possesses the ability to convey messages to an extremely large audience. His popularity has allowed him to become one of the most influential figures in hip-hop today, and he’s used his influence to release a number of songs that highlight various issues in not only his life, but also in society. “Swimming Pools” is a perfect example. At first listen, the song just sounds like another typical party joint about getting wasted. However, if one takes a closer look at the lyrics, one will see that Kendrick is actually using it to tell a story about his experiences with alcohol and also to make a pretty bold statement about peer pressure and alcohol abuse. This is just one of many songs Kendrick has released that addresses a problem in society. “The sky is falling, the wind is calling / Stand for something or die in the morning”, he raps on the intro to HiiiPower. Though they seem simple, one can live their entire life by these two lines. In his lyrics, Lamar is saying how important it is to have something in life that you firmly believe in and are passionate about. He’s saying that without passion, life loses all its purpose. Lamar also raps, “When the whole world see you as Pac reincarnated / That’s enough pressure to live your whole life sedated”. Lamar is fully aware of the comparisons that are made between himself and Tupac. Thus, Lamar has the potential to one day become as legendary and influential as Tupac in today’s society.


“Kendrick Lamar.” Kendrick Lamar, 14 Apr. 2017,

“Kendrick Lamar.”, A&E Networks Television, 31 May 2017,

“Tupac Shakur.”, A&E Networks Television, 16 Nov. 2017,

Ray, Michael. “Tupac Shakur.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 15 June 2017,

Other Work by Author

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Kendrick Lamar (K-Dot) has earned his respect and success throughout the music industry by achieving critical and commercial success.

Kendrick Lamar was born in Compton, California on June 17, 1987

In 2003, at sixteen years old he issued a mixtape called Young Nigga in Charge. This mixtape caught the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment which   led to a long term association that helped to raise Lamar’s profile.

In 2009, he became part of Black Hippy — beside fellow Top Dawg artists Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and ScHoolboy Q, a group whose members, appeared on other popular mixtapes and albums.

In 2010, Section.80 was a digital album created by Lamar that entered the Billboard 200 at number 113

By that point in his career, Lamar’s reputation had been strengthened through guest appearances on dozens of tracks, and he had the support of veteran West Coast stars as well. During a 2011 concert, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Game dubbed him “The New King of the West Coast,” a notion Dre endorsed more significantly by signing Lamar to the Aftermath label.

Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was released in October 2012 and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. Three of its singles, “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Poetic Justice,” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” reached the Top Ten of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart

Through his songs and albums Lamar is known to be a great story teller who is capable of making compelling concept albums

His recent albums To Pimp a Butterfly, untitled unmastered and Damned all debuted as number one. All 14 songs of Lamar’s Damn album entered the Hot 100

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