The Thug Life of Media Research

Tupac Shakur, just another rap artist?

I was in my first research lecture and something particular struck an instant (let’s say ‘musical’) chord. Media and communications sits within an extraordinarily wide multidisciplinary field, but I didn’t realise it was so wide as to cover subjects ranging from reality TV to gangsta rap.

So I thought, could a rap song be considered a credible media text? That’s exactly what Karin Stanford (2011) attempts to explain in her text, Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.

Tupac Shakur was one of the most successful rap artists in history, known for expressing the hopes, worries and pain of youth living in disadvantaged communities. One of his greatest hits, Changes is a reflection of the enduring battle waged by African Americans against racism and injustice.


Being a media researcher, Stanford begins by answering one of the foremost questions of a text analysis; what qualifies Shakur in his outspoken critique of racism and injustice?

As Stanford suggests, Shakur is a socially conscious artists whose political credibility is located in his “lyrical critiques of racism,” and his mother’s membership of the Black Panther Party.



But what qualifies Stanford?

Stanford, Associate Dean at California State University, Northridge, earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Political Science, specialising in African American Politics. Published in the Journal of Black Studies, she contributes to the exploration of issues facing African American and Black populations.

With a scholar audience in mind, Stanford’s viewpoints are clear; she argues that popular and academic writers have “failed to examine Tupac’s distinct political ideas and identifiable activism.” In other words, have failed to recognise Shakur’s active contribution to the fight against racism and injustice.

Of course, other viewpoints are presented.

Stanford recognises two emergent perspectives among media researches; Shakur as a ‘revolutionary pedigree and thug persona,’ but persists that Shakur’s own political work has been blindsided by the political credibility attached to his family relationships.

The article draws on interviews and public statements as part of a brief literature review, and provides further evidence through Shakur’s public articulations, lyrical expressions and political work – such as his decision to join the New Afrikan Panthers (a youth organisation in support of Black Nationalism) – while focusing on his album, 2Pacalypse Now (Shakur, 1991).

“Pledge allegiance to the flag that neglects us,

Honour a man who refuses to respect us.”

Articles in the Western Journal of Black Studies express similar viewpoints and methodology. Edwards (2002) recognises Shakur’s complex life marked by “personal controversy and artistic success,” and compares the linguistic features of Shakur’s poetry, but in much more detailed analysis.

With a firm viewpoint, Stanford however fails to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. Has she been influenced in any way to reach such certainty in her research?

Berger (2014) argues that even with evidence, research is open to disagreement. But Stanford, with her structured and systematic style, uses reliable research to separate Shakur from other “gangsta rappers”. She focuses on his engagement in authentic activism and divides his political work across life milestones from the age of seven.

Berger (2014) refers to this “change over time” as the heart of synchronic research; that true meaning is found through the relationships of facts rather than the facts themselves, and that’s what makes Stanford’s text credible.


Berger, A 2014 ‘What is research?’ Media and communication research methods: an introduction to qualitative and quantitative approaches, 3rd ed., SAGE, Los Angeles, pp. 13-32

Edwards, W. 2002, “From poetry to rap: The lyrics of Tupac Shakur”, Western Journal of Black Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 61-70.

Stanford, K. L 2011 “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur,” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1 (JANUARY 2011), pp. 3-22. Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.


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