While it’s often the parents with the limitless threshold, here it’s Tupac Shakur that holds a deep understanding of how people’s flaws aren’t the features you should focus on. Within reason, of course. He takes his share of the blame, looking back with adult eyes at the sacrifices his mother made for him. He understands. The hook/crux/point of the song is a simple, “you are appreciated.”
Shakur recorded this song just days after his 23rd birthday; equal parts gratitude, love, and acknowledgement of past wrongs. It’s always tempered by an understanding that the dramas that surrounded are further evidence of his mother’s strength. He realises the murky grey areas in life are often driven by decay and desperation, and notes these seeming contradictions throughout: the mother who was both a “crack fiend” and “made miracles every Thanksgiving” with food scraps; the drug dealers who were also loving parental surrogates to him; being able to finally provide for his mother bring counter-balanced by the darker truth of where that money came from.
It’s easy to have clear-cut morals when they aren’t actually tested. As Chris Rock says – albeit about infidelity – a man is only as faithful as his options.
Shakur trusted his audience could handle this soft touch; despite his reputation, the majority of his catalogue is absent of the gun-toting, thug-life, you-claim-to-be-a-player-but-I-fucked-your-wife bravado that permeated some of his later music. Speaking to the L.A Times in 1995, he brought up Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’ as a surprising source of inspiration for the track, stating: “The lyric on that song is so touching. That’s how I want to make my songs feel. Take ‘Dear Mama’ — I aimed that one straight for my homies’ heartstrings.”
In 2010, the song was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for its “cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance”. Even his own mother, arguably the only one who can take this song personally, prefers to focus on the universality, saying upon its induction: “It is a song that spoke not just to me, but every mother that has been in that situation, and there have been millions of us. Tupac recognised our struggle, and he is still our hero.”
It’s only one shard from his towering legacy, but it’s the sharpest one.