Lord Knows: Tupac makes Vatican Playlist

Posted on December 7, 2009 by

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On December 2, the Vatican posted a playlist on its MySpace page which included Pac’s posthumously-released song “Changes”, claiming that he, along with the other artists featured, “share[d] the aim to reach the heart of good minded people.”

This is, of course, surprising for the obvious reasons: that Tupac had a long-standing connection to violence, both lyrically and literally (but then again, so does the Catholic Church in its own ways); that many prototypical Catholics would oppose Tupac’s place on this list; and that no one really believes that Joey Ratz and his crew listen to early ’90s West-coast gangsta rap.

But this selection becomes even more interesting when you seriously consider the lyrical content of “Changes” in particular, and Tupac’s stance on egalitarianism, social justice, and the oppression perpetuated by an established power structure in general.  Sure, Tupac was known for his sometimes-violent lyrics, but if you look carefully at his ryhmes, most of this violence was situated as a necessity for survival in a racist, classist, and inequitable social and economic system. And it would be hard to argue that Tupac wouldn’t view the Catholic Church – that has a sordid history of oppression that stemmed from a desire to maintain power   – as part of the problem, and not the solution.

Consider the lyrics of “Changes“; they touch on issues of racism, police brutality, and drugs, but more than anything they’re an indictment of the established system, which the Catholic Church is certainly a part of:  

“Cops give a damn about a negro
pull the trigger kill a nigga he’s a hero
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares
one less hungry mouth on the welfare
First ship ’em dope & let ’em deal the brothers
give ’em guns step back watch ’em kill each other”

Tupac’s rhymes certainly acknowledge the problems in the black/ lower-class community, but he’s essentially calling out the systematic mechanisms in place that help create these problems:  

“It’s war on the streets & the war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty they got a war on drugs
so the police can bother me
And I ain’t never did a crime I ain’t have to do”

It’s likely that the Vatican read through these lyrics, and focused on gems like:

“I got love for my brother but we can never go nowhere
unless we share with each other
We gotta start makin’ changes
learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers
and that’s how it’s supposed to be
How can the Devil take a brother if he’s close to me?”

or

“We gotta make a change…
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.”

Which fall right in with the Catholic party line, right? But it feels like the Vatican might be missing the point of the song: that the established system – which includes the Holy See – is actively contributing to problems in minority, lower-class communities, and that these communities need to fight to alter the system in the name of more equality.  I mean, if the line “It’s time to fight back that’s what Huey said/ 2 shots in the dark now Huey’s dead” isn’t a call for revolution, what is it? And that’s not the only time Tupac has called for a rebellion against the system (which most certianly includes the Church) in his lyrics. Perhaps the Catholic Church should have checked out his discography before it presumed to adopt him as their own musical representative. Would the Catholic institution really believe that “They Don’t give a Fuck About Us” or “White Man’s World” DIDN’T apply to them?

And here are some other reasons that the choice of Tupac might be ironic for the Catholic Church:

  • Tupac is named after Tupac Amuru II, the Peruvian leader of an indigenous uprising against the Spanish occupation of Peru (and, by association, the Spanish Catholic Church) in 1780.
  • Tupac can be classified as an advocate of Radical Egalitarianism, which is based on two fundamental ideas :1) that an unequal distribution of wealth and other benefits of society is inherently harmful, and that the purpose of government is to ensure that wealth is evenly distributed, regardless of the relative contributions or merits of the parties involved; and (2) that modern capitalist society is in some way spiritually corrupting, and that mankind should return to an earlier, more natural state. Sound a bit like Tupac? Well, the Catholic Church is officially opposed to Radical Egalitarianism .
  • Tupac was a member of the Young Communist League, which has always been at odds with the Catholic Church.

Now, it would be nice to think that the Vatican included “Changes” because of a commitment to programs of social uplift, a condemnation of racial inequity, and an embrace of the idea that things actually do need to change. Indeed, there are MANY devout Catholics who have devoted their lives to these ideas.

However, isn’t it more likely that this is just a gimmick? The Vatican wants to seem “hip” and open-minded, so they throw a black rapper reknown for his socially conscious and anti-establishment bent on a list with Mozart and Dame Shirley Bassey and hope to bring some hiphop heads into the fold. But really, what would Makavelli say if he was still alive?

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