A lil sumthin' for my godson Elijah and a lil girl named Corin..."
- 2Pac ("Keep Ya Head Up")
Almost anyone who is even casually familiar with Hip-Hop knows that the late Tupac Shakur gave the rap game one of it's greatest odes to motherhood with the timeless "Dear Mama." Shakur wrote the song as tribute to his mother Afeni Shakur, and he penned it as a sort of apology to her after he'd exhibited anger towards her for years prior. That bit of reconciliation gave 2Pac one of his most beloved songs and set a standard for rap tributes to Moms.
But a lot of fans may not know that there's another perennial Pac hit that also served as a love letter inspired by a Black mom.
2Pac and Cheryl "Salt" James of Salt-N-Pepa met in the early 1990s when Salt-N-Pepa was achieving huge commercial success and 2Pac was becoming notorious for run-ins with the law and controversial lyrics. Pepa was getting cozy with Treach of Naughty By Nature, who was one of Pac's best friends, and eventually, Salt-N-Pepa and 2Pac became friends, as well.
"I definitely met Pac through Treach," Salt recalls. "We were friends, but it was like a kind of... Tupac kind of said a couple of things to me."
2Pac seemed to see something in Salt. "I remember being at a party one time and I was dressed in overalls or something and he said something to me. Like, a lot of ladies there were, like, half-dressed, and he was basically encouraging me to stay [the] way [that I was]."
There was talk that Salt-N-Pepa's producer Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor, Salt's ex-boyfriend, didn't want the disreputable Tupac Shakur hanging around his superstar act. Pac was under fire for lyrics that politicians and watchdog groups said were advocating the killing of police officers, not to mention gangsta rap was under an intense microscope across-the-board. Rumors persisted that Hurby thought Pac might be bad for Salt-N-Pepa's crossover-friendly image. "I don't think Hurby liked anybody being around us," Salt says. "Hurby wanted us to be these 'untouchable girls' that did not fraternize with guys in the industry, to be on this pedestal."
"I'm pretty sure he was probably jealous or intimidated or something like that."
But Salt and Pac became good friends, despite any reservations from outside parties. The two of them would have heavy conversations about life and spirituality, so much so that 2Pac decided to honor Salt and those conversations they'd had, showing love to Salt as a mom. So in the opening of a new track he was working on, he put a shout-out to Salt's baby girl, Corin.
In 1993, Pac released "Keep Ya Head Up" as the third single from his platinum-selling sophomore album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. The Zapp-sampling hit would reach the Billboard Top 20, helping to cement Pac as a star. And he opened the song, a tribute to the struggle of Black womanhood, with words for Salt's daughter.
"A lil sumthin' for my godson Elijah and a lil girl named Corin..."
"[We] had conversations where he told me he respected me," Salt shares. "Nothing happened between us, but he met Corin a couple of times."
"One day, he called me and he was like 'I dedicated this song to your daughter.' I just chalked it up to..." Her voice trails off, before she adds, "Me and Tupac have letters that I've never shown anyone." Salt shared a poem from one of those letters exclusively with Rock The Bells in 2020. Her bond with Shakur was special and something she has held dear since his murder in 1996.
"I feel like he saw me in a way that he respected and he wanted me to know that," Salt says. "It was something that was probably going on in his head - to go so far as to dedicate a song to Corin, [a song] concerning me - that I'm not completely aware of. It was just a weird thing."
2Pac would turn up in Salt-N-Pepa's 1994 video for "Whatta Man" (with some controversy), before spending most of 1995 incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York. It was during his imprisonment that he and Salt wrote each other constantly.
“He felt like the whole world was turning against him and he was unjustly in prison," Salt told RTB. "I told him that he could turn away from negativity and turn away from sin. He could have this new relationship directly with God.”
And there's always the song. A song that an embattled rap superstar wrote after being inspired by his friend and her little girl. "He was always encouraging me to be who I am and to be strong and to be proud of who I am," she says of her late friend. "And I guess Corin made an impression on him."