Rap Reincarnations: “Brenda’s Got a Baby” versus “Keisha’s Song”
As a genre, hip-hop’s narrative abilities lend themselves well to bridging the gaps between generations. This series explores the then/now of rap songs with the same themes.
Then: “Brenda’s Got A Baby,” by Tupac Shakur
Now: “Keisha’s Song,” by Kendrick Lamar
“In Brenda’s Got a Baby,” Tupac introduced listeners to Brenda, a young woman whose life is devoid of hope. Highlighting social problems assault, teen pregnancies, prostitution, and drug abuse, Brenda’s story hit close to home for every woman in the ghetto who faced such adversities. (A visceral image of Brenda giving birth on a bathroom floor is crude but effective.)
Section.80 saw Kendrick create the character Keisha, who, like Brenda, was a teen haunted by sexual abuse. However, Kendrick reveals he wrote the song as a warning to his sister. He witnessed Keisha walking the same path that left Brenda dead.
As it happens, Keisha’s favorite rapper was Tupac Shakur, and her favorite track was “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”
Both Keisha and Brenda were also characters created for their artists’ debut albums: Keisha’s story is concluded in Good Kid, m.A.A.d City’s “Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst,” where Keisha’s sister criticizes Kendrick for recreating “Brenda’s Got a Baby” with her sister as the focus; Keisha’s sister later dies, but instead of meeting a violent end she dies an implied slow death from AIDS, further reinforcing the message.
Kendrick has gone on record to state that Tupac was the biggest influence on his musical career, a thought that would again be revisited on To Pimp A Butterfly’s “Mortal Men.”