Tupac’s Best Soundtrack Appearances, Ranked
With Tupac Shakur's massive output, sometimes it's easy to forget that some of his best work was on soundtracks, not albums.
And when you think about his film career, it makes sense. While his life was cut short, Pac's talent ran deep, and it was emphasized every time he showed up on the big screen.
His movie career began around the same time he got his break behind the mic. In 1991, he made his first movie cameo as part of Digital Underground in Nothing But Trouble. In 1992, following the release of his debut, 2Pacalypse Now, he landed his first starring role in Ernest Dickerson's debut film, Juice, where he played the mentally unhinged Bishop in an eerie performance that became a touchstone in his illustrious, short film career.
Following his breakout role in Juice, the movie roles kept rolling in, even as his music career took off. In 1993, following the release of his second solo album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z, Pac starred as Lucky in John Singleton's summer love-drama, Poetic Justice, alongside Janet Jackson. He quickly followed that up in 1994, with the basketball drama, Above the Rim (which is one of the best hip-hop soundtracks of all-time).
After his death in September 1996, three movies that he filmed before he died were released. 1996's Bullet, 1997's Gridlock'd and Gang Related which dropped in the fall of 1997. Of course, he recorded music for the those soundtracks—Gridlock'd, Gang Related and Above the Rim were all released on Death Row Records.
At this point, there's no arguing that 2Pac was one of the most prolific musicians of all-time, cranking out enough music to spawn posthumous releases years after his untimely death. Often overlooked, his work on movie soundtracks was among his strongest. Here are some of his best soundtrack offerings.
Although Pump Ya Fist: Hip Hop Inspired By The Black Panthers soundtrack wasn't the official soundtrack to the 1995 film Panther, it was released in conjunction with the fiery film. The release called on some of hip-hop's best sociopolitical orators to deliver moody music, including 2Pac.
Pac showed up and delivered one of the stronger songs from the Poetic Justice soundtrack with "Definition of a Thug Nigga." The song, which talks about the ups and downs of living a hustler's life, later shows up on one of his many posthumous releases, R U Still Down?
Gang Related was released after Pac's death in 1996, but the soundtrack features some of his best musical work. "My Life (Lost Souls)" is a standout on the album, a bass-heavy journey through the complications trying to survive in poverty and violence-riddled conditions. The Outlawz appear on the track to help paint a vivid picture of trying to escape the turmoil.
Another standout song on the Gang Related soundtrack, "Life's So Hard" is vintage Pac—paranoid yet in tune with his surroundings.
"Travel through my mind am I blind it's a shame
Young niggaz gettin' murdered straight took out the game
As I sit here puffin on a cigarette
Gotta be ready, never know who's plottin' on a niggaz death."
2Pac and Snoop Dogg had great chemistry on wax, with Snoop's laid-back delivery and Pac's passionate flow juxtaposing one another to create a cool vibe. Such was the case on "Wanted Dead Or Alive," a standout on the Gridlock'd soundtrack.
One of Pac's better songs, "Made Niggaz" was another track where Pac passionately explained the torture of poverty and lack of opportunity.
Once again, Pac is paying homage to his friend on this track. On the song, Pac is pledging to let him get the "last shot of Hennessy," because he's been so loyal while he was locked up.
Once again, this is one of Pac's best songs period. The track is especially telling of the direction Pac was probably headed in, regarding his sound. The beat is a little slicker, the delivery a bit smoother, as he offers another world-weary rhyme about life in the ghetto.
"Now, I was raised as a young black male/In order to get paid, forced to make crack sales/Caught a nigga so they send me to these overpacked jails/In the cell, countin' days in this livin' black hell..."
One of the best hip-hop movie soundtracks of all-time, the Above the Rim soundtrack was chock-full of hits, including this melancholy track from 2Pac, which was a definite standout on the release. Earnest and urgent, the track reflected Pac's sound at the time, which was explored further on his 1995 album, Me Against the World, a tragic, vulnerable look into life as a black man living in a society built to oppress.
"Drinkin' on gin, smokin' on blunts and it's on/Reminisce about my niggas, that's dead and gone /And now they buried, sometimes my eyes still get blurry /'Cause I'm losin' all my homies and I worry /I got my back against a brick wall, trapped in a circle /Boxin' with them suckers til my knuckles turn purple"
"Pain" is one of Pac's most definitive songs but was initially featured as a bonus track on the Above The Rim soundtrack. Although it's a fan favorite, it can't be found on the soundtrack and hasn't been streaming anywhere online for years, maybe adding to its allure. Again, this is vintage Pac, showcasing why he remains one of hip-hop's beloved figures.
"They'll never take me alive, I'm gettin' high with my four-five/Cocked on these suckas, time to die/Even as a youngster causin' ruckus on the back of the bus/I was a fool all through high school, kickin' up dust/But now I'm labeled as a troublemaker; who can you blame?"