An ode can be defined as a ‘ceremonious lyric poem on an occasion of dignity in which personal emotion and universal themes are united’ (Ode, 2012). Although hiphop music is usually known for it’s violent, and often, masculine lyrics, ‘Dear Mama’ the first single from Tupac Shakur’s album, “Me Against the World” produced in 1995, can be considered to be a modern ode. Tupac Shakur, popularly known as 2Pac is one of hip-hop’s most influential rappers. He wrote this song out of the respect he has for his mother. ‘Dear Mama’ is a song written and produced in 1995, it contains a lot of literary elements that allows us readers to be able to analyze it from a literary point of view. Unlike other gangster rappers, 2pac sought to raise awareness for the respect of single mothers everywhere. Like many other young individuals, 2pac did not see or appreciate what was right in front of him and learned when it was too late, the sacrifices mothers make to ensure that those they care for are fed, sheltered, educated, and loved. ‘Dear Mama’ (1995) is not used as a way to express regret, but is rather used as a way to make amends for the wrongs he did to his mom in the past, and he tries to correct his mistakes by taking care of his mother financially.
One of the literary devices Shakur successfully used in ‘Dear Mama’ is symbolism. A lot of the symbols in the lyrics are references to the success 2pac has been able to enjoy through his work and art. For example, 2pac’s success means that he is not only able to pay the rent when it’s due ‘I love payin’ rent when the rent’s due but also being able to give his mother gifts ‘I hope you got that diamond necklace that I sent to you’. Additionally, many of the tropes 2pac integrates into the lyrics are symbolic of ‘thug life’ and street codes. 2pac contends that it was much easier to make money selling drugs and associating with thugs than it was to provide for a family through legitimate means. Shakur raps, ‘I hung around with the Thugs, and even though they sold drugs/They showed a young brother love/I moved out and started really hangin’/I needed money of my own so I started shaggin’/I ain’t guilty ’cause, even though I sell rocks/It feels good puttin’ money in your mailbox’. Consequently, Shakur raps, ‘I finally understand for a woman it ain’t easy/Tryin’ to raise a man you always was committed/A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how ya did it’.
2pac’s use of theme in the lyrics of ‘Dear Mama’ (1995) establishes the song as poetry. The overarching theme in ‘Dear Mama’ (1995) is appreciation. Shakur wants to thank his mother for everything that she has done and the countless sacrifices she made in order to ensure that he and his siblings would never lack. Shakur recognizes his upbringing was not easy and even though he did not agree with his mother all the time, he appreciates everything that she did for him. ”Cause when I was low you was there for me/And never left me alone because you cared for me/And I could see you comin’ home after work late/You’re in the kitchen tryin’ to fix us a hot plate/Ya just workin’ with the scraps you was given/And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’/But now the road got rough, here alone/You’re tryin’ to raise two bad kids on your own/And there’s no way I can pay you back’. Throughout the song, Shakur kept repeating how much he appreciates his mother.
Another establishment of poetry in the song is the lyrical tone. At the beginning of the song, 2pac appears to be resentful of the possessions he did not have: ‘I shed tears with my baby sister/Over the years we was poorer than the other little kids’. However, once 2pac takes responsibility for his actions and behavior, and became financially stable to take care of his mother like she took care of him, the tone of the lyrics changed to been gracious and appreciative. 2pac acknowledges, ‘When I was young, me and my mama had beef/Seventeen years old kicked out on the streets’. (Shakur, 1995). He contends that regardless of this ‘beef,’ he grew to understand the sacrifices his mother made and how he has benefitted from it. Looking back, Shakur (1995) recognizes ‘and who’d think in elementary/Hey! I see the penitentiary one day and running from the police?’ and ‘even as a crack fiend, mama/You always was a black queen, mama/I finally understand/For a woman it ain’t easy to raise a man.’
Shakur’s lyrics also showcase a personal transformation, which supports the internal narrative structure of the ode. Shakur (1995) raps, ‘I was low you was there for me/And never left me alone because you cared for me’ and comments on his mother’s seemingly supernatural ability to provide for ‘two bad kids on [her] own…working with the scraps [she] was given…and making miracles every Thanksgivin’.’ By actually seeing and understanding what his mother did for him, 2pac was able to restore his faith in both his mother’s abilities and sacrifices and in God, because ‘even though I act crazy/I gotta thank the Lord that you made me/There are no words that can express how I feel/You never kept a secret, always stayed real’.
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Through the song’s format and theme, alongside the literary devices and narrative 2pac shows, ‘Dear Mama’ is perfect example of literature’s influence in popular culture and in hip-hop. ‘Dear Mama’ allows Shakur to express his emotions and thus fulfills Walt Whitman’s (1800) definition of poetry: ‘For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.’ Because Shakur does not hold back and is sincere with his desire to thank his mother for everything she has done and is honest in his approach, he can be known and labeled as an inspirational and legitimate poet.