I used to not get the 2pac line “How can the devil take a brother if he’s close to me?” I remember when that song came out — I was a freshman in high school, doing freshman things in my comfortable, white upbringing. Hip-hop skill spoke through to me fine but some of the lyrical themes were lost on me, which, of course, in part, they still are.
One time down in Terre Haute I put on “Changes” in this bar and this black dude went into this like convulsion of rapture. And I currently rank it as the best song of all time and my rubric for doing this is pretty much just lyrically based. I don’t think anyone would doubt the sheer breadth of what Pac is doing in this song — it’s a song about race, about America, about spirituality and about the darkest existential battles.
At 15, hearing that song, I was looking for things that were there. I wanted things visible, tactile.
And not to downplay the importance of matter in the physical realm (I’m not gonna go on one of those “nothing is as it seems” kicks here)… I mean I’m a pragmatist. What you see is what you get. I believe that.
But at some point recently it hit me the transcendent plane Pac was on when he uttered this line, likely devoted at least in part to his oft-publicized late homie Kato. And you thought that was lame, all those times he was going on and on about this “Kato” dude nobody had heard of. I mean, it’s just one person dying. Mathematically, that’s not much.
The older you get, though, you realize that in this life, we don’t always have each other as pillars to lean on. We’re in competition with each other, in a sense. And it’s often lethal. The window for establishing a connection, a bond, with one another, is precicously thin. Some may never do it at all or do it in some debased mode like hard drugs or promiscuous sex contributing to AIDS and such. 2pac found God in himself through struggle and that type of thing safeguards you against the devil through mental transformation and total transfusion of the mind’s very fabric. The priorities in the righteous take a step back from material gain and conquest. Pac’s whole discourse is about the larger whole of society — there’s almost nothing concerning himself, in particular, in that entire track, save for just to outline the harsh, potentially fatal environs in which he’s entrenched. But to overcome the ego and invite another person into your heart, in the constrained circumstances of ghetto southern California in the early 1990s is an act of God. 2pac proved this by blueprinting the landscape and showing how in times of need, the light shines even brighter.