Ask any diehard Tupac fan to name their five favorite songs by the fallen Hip-Hop icon and very few will put “Changes” on their list.
The posthumous single from Pac’s Diamond-selling Greatest Hits album is among his most popular songs and one many casual rap listeners know nearly every word to, but the heavy-hearted hit never felt completely authentic. Considering Tupac’s Makaveli persona was spitting much more paranoia than positivity during the artist’s final months, “Changes” came across like a manufactured single that was pieced together for mass appeal.
Between an obviously catchy Bruce Hornsby sample, uplifting concept, choice lyrics from another successful single (“Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto”), and the timeliness of Tupac’s death relatively fresh on the minds of both longtime fans and new ones following the hype train, everything about the 1998 hit felt perfect for radio. Too perfect.
As leaks trickled out from Pac’s vaults, the original version leaked and fans eventually found out Interscope had indeed upped the ante on the single.
Produced by Deon Evans, this unreleased take from 1992 used the same core sample, but spliced in lines from Run DMC and Ice Cube as the hook. Those would later be taken out and replaced by singing from vocalist Talent, polishing up the chorus for extra replay value and a proper single push.
Still, while the original version was a bit more rough around the edges, the core was still pretty much the same “Changes” we would eventually see chart in fourteen countries.
Had the song come out six months prior and seen the same success, who knows the type of songs Pac would’ve been making moving forward.
Despite the perceived corniness from Shakur’s unwavering fanbase, this melodic social soapbox had wings that would’ve made the single huge, whether nostalgia was involved or not. Had he been alive to see the impact his outspoken record had, there’s a good chance his entire musical output might’ve started heading more exclusively down that influential path.
Pac’s music already had life lessons intertwined. But, for every “Keep Your Head Up” single, there were three “How Do You Want It” records. If “Changes” got reworked and pushed sooner, not only would his creative inspiration taken him in a different direction, labels would’ve encouraged that switch.
Instead of being rap’s hit-making firestarter, Pac could’ve come down from his Death Row high and taken more of the cultural leadership role everyone knew he was capable of.
Afeni’s son was already expanding his vision behind the scenes, trying to build bridges with his One Nation movement, meant to bring rappers from all across the country together for shared opportunity. The same can be said for Death Row East, a forward-thinking movement in Suge Knight’s historically West Coast label that came to a screeching halt once Pac passed.
Unfortunately, “Changes” came too late and instead of seeing growth from Pac, negative energy took away his opportunity to truly shine. Not just with his music, but his life itself. The man’s legacy might still ring iconic twenty years after his death, but considering he was only 26 when he died and in the national spotlight less than five years, he barely scratched the surface with his impact.
Yet, some things will never change. That’s just the way it is.