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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Keep Ya Head Up




In the 1991 hip hop classic film Boyz n the Hood, there’s a scene in which character “Tre” witnesses his friends “Doughboy” and Chris taken into police custody for larceny, as the Five Stairsteps song “O-o-h Child” plays. The chorus states:


Ooh child

Things are gonna get easier

Ooh child

Things’ll get brighter


The scene and associated song remind me of when I observed my friend and fellow children’s home resident “J.O.” being apprehended by sheriff’s deputies in middle school, approximately 1990. It was the last time I would ever see him.


A couple years after Boyz n the Hood was released, Tupac Shakur (“2Pac”) dropped the album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z..., which contained the song “Keep Ya Head Up” and featured a sample from “O-o-h Child” along with additional lyrics from singer Dave Hollister.


Before I delve into the track, I think it’s worth stating my opinion on a rapper so many people now seem to idolize. Show me your sacred cows and I’ll make burgers of them.


Though the memory is subject to inaccurate reconstruction and my recollection is subjective, I don’t recall 2Pac being celebrated as a godlike figure when he was alive. Hailing from the East Coast, the backup dancer to Digital Underground and trained actor initially went by the name “MC New York.”


Much later in his career, 2Pac used his acting abilities to convince some people that he was a West Coast thug. Not all of us bought the act back then, especially those of us who were really in the streets and putting in work.


Nonetheless, when in the Marine Corps and serving a diplomatic post in Lima, Peru, I learned of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement—named after Túpac Amaru II, from where 2Pac’s name originates—which was considered a terrorist organization by the governments of Peru and the United States at the time.


Despite 2Pac’s alleged connection to the Baltimore chapter of the Young Communist League USA, ranker status, and apparent terrorist namesake, I enjoyed the rapper’s music. However, he doesn’t qualify for my personal top 10 all-time emcee list and he damn sure wasn’t godlike.


Keep Ya Head Up


When thinking of “O-o-h Child,” I reject the act of assuring people that tough times will inevitably relent (e.g., “Things are gonna get easier”). Of this, I’m reminded of my blogpost entitled All Right, in which I stated, “I’m aware of the widely accepted practice of prophetic guarantees geared towards improving other people’s moods.”


Sometimes, matters don’t improve. In certain cases, things can actually get much, much worse. Rather than seeking to help people feel better with empty promises, I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in order to help people get better in spite of hardship.


In “Keep Ya Head Up,” 2Pac’s second verse includes some of the REBT techniques I use. For instance, the rapper states:


Ayo, I remember Marvin Gaye used to sing to me

He had me feelin’ like black was the thing to be

And suddenly the ghetto didn’t seem so tough

And though we had it rough, we always had enough


2Pac apparently found comfort in Gaye’s lyrics, as did I as a child. Interpreting struggle as something akin to empowerment is in accordance with how I encourage people to tolerate and accept their limited ability to change the world.


Granted, things would likely be more pleasing to each of us if we had our own way in life. However, demandingness of this sort violates philosopher David Hume’s is-ought problem, which suggests we cannot place rigid commands upon reality.


Similar to 2Pac, I think about how my mother, sisters, and I “had it rough [and] we always had enough” to survive. This is in accordance with Stoicism which is incorporated into REBT. The rapper continues:


I huffed and puffed about my curfew and broke the rules

Ran with the local crew and had a smoke or two

I realize mama really paid the price

She nearly gave her life to raise me right (Oh, yeah-yeah)

And all I had to give her was my pipe dream

Of how I’d rock the mic and make it to the bright screen

I’m tryin’ to make a dollar out of fifteen cents

It’s hard to be legit and still pay your rent


2Pac reflected upon his life from the perspective of an adult looking back at his childhood self. Admitting the struggle inherent in sustaining life, the rapper expressed understanding that as his mom suffered in adulthood, 2Pac apparently was unaware of her sacrifice.


Using my approach to REBT, I liken this to unconditional other-acceptance (UOA). It’s natural for an immature mind to assume that adults experience life with similar focus on singular issues.


As a child, 2Pac was likely focused on future plans while his mother conceivably thought about how she would feed her children in the moment, as well as remaining concerned for their future endeavors. Sometimes, children frustrate themselves with unhelpful beliefs about how parents fail to share childlike values.


In my practice, I’ve assisted adults with holdover self-disturbance from childhood regarding how their views were misaligned from their parents. UOA—unconditionally understanding that other people are fallible—can help in these situations.


2Pac’s perspective shift illustrates the mind of someone who practices UOA by no longer placing needleless conditions on a caregiver who likely struggled much in the same way the rapper did when he became an adult. 2Pac continues:


And in the end, it seems I’m headin’ for the pen’

I try to find my friends, but they’re blowin’ in the wind

Last night, my buddy lost his whole family

It’s gonna take the man in me to conquer this insanity (Oh, no, no, no)

It seems the rain’ll never let up

I try to keep my head up and still keep from getting’ wet up, huh

You know, it’s funny, when it rains it pours

They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor

Said it ain’t no hope for the youth

And the truth is it ain’t no hope for the future


If 2Pac would’ve been able to grasp the idea of UOA, then the concept of unconditional life-acceptance (ULA) wouldn’t have been too difficult to understand. Acknowledging that we and other people are fallible, we can also conclude that life itself is imperfect.


Placing unreasonable conditions for life to be any other way is unneeded. After all, it’s our rigid conditions—and not necessarily the imperfection of life itself—which causes needless suffering.


In addition to ULA, I assist people with use of an existentialist perspective. In essence, I invite people to consider that everyone they know, have ever known, and will ever know will one day die. This is an inescapable truth.


2Pac cited how his friends were scattered, one individual’s entire family was apparently killed, and how the rapper sought to evade being murdered. In a sobering twist of circumstance, regarding the latter element, the rapper ineffectively prevented his murder through his own actions in Las Vegas.


This is ULA and existentialism in action. Everyone dies in this imperfect life. In “Keep Ya Head Up,” 2Pac rapped about understanding this fact.


As well, he addressed a Gaye-esque observation that was likely tinged with communist sentiment by claiming, “They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.” Self-disturbingly, 2Pac added that there was “no hope for the future,” given his observation.


While the first portion of the above-cited verse reflects a healthy level of existentialist ULA, the latter portion of the citation represents an unhelpful condition. Perhaps illustrating my perception of 2Pac’s sentiment in the form of a syllogism may benefit the reader:


Major premise: I will accept life as a hopeful experience only if everyone’s needs are met and there is no more war.


Minor premise: Everyone’s needs aren’t met and there is war.


Conclusion: Therefore, I will not accept life as a hopeful experience.


2Pac’s implied condition is what led to a hopeless conclusion. That conclusion is what creates an unpleasant consequence (e.g., sorrow, heavy sensation throughout the body, and crying over the state of the world).


Using the REBT ABC Model, I help people to dispute their irrational beliefs which cause unpleasant consequences. Though it’s far too late for 2Pac to learn how to accomplish this, the reader still has time left to change one’s own life. “Keep Ya Head Up” continues:


And then they wonder why we crazy, huh

I blame my mother for turnin’ my brother into a crack baby

We ain’t meant to survive, ‘cause it’s a set-up

And even though you’re fed up, huh, you got to keep ya head up


Here, and true to the grievances of one who maintains a victimhood narrative, 2Pac shifts from acquired understanding about his mother to blaming her for apparent mistakes. With this momentum, he then declares that “we” aren’t “meant to survive,” because life is presumably a “set-up.”


This sort of self-disturbance is something with which I’m all too familiar. I’ve had a number of activist-minded clients seek treatment with me throughout the years and who’ve maintained similarly unhelpful perspectives.


When such people discover that REBT isn’t conducive to venting, whining, moaning, bitching, and complaining—and that personal responsibility and accountability are used in accordance with this psychotherapeutic modality—these people tend not to remain in treatment with me.


I find it interesting that despite the negativistic turn 2Pac took at the end of his verse, he concluded it by stating, “And even though you’re fed up, huh, you got to keep ya head up.” Here, “got to” serves as a should, must, or ought-type demand.


Basically, the rapper was stating that even though you’re overwhelmed, you should remain strong and not allow an unpleasant circumstance to get you down. I partially agree with this guidance though I try to refrain from telling others how to live their lives.


First, I disagree with what 2Pac said resulted in a person being “fed up,” namely the idea that the actions of some shadowy entity related to a “set-up.” Even if granting the premise, it isn’t such an action that results in an unfavorable personal outcome.


Rather, it’s a person’s attitude in relation to the proposed set-up that causes one to experience emotions, bodily sensations, and behavioral responses. Therefore, I partially disagree with what I perceive was 2Pac’s message.


Last, I partially agree with the rapper’s encouragement for strength in the face of adversity. This is the basis for Stoicism. It’s the kind of message promoted by use of REBT. In virtually any situation, you can keep ya head up rather than needlessly disturbing yourself.




Although I don’t worship at the altar of 2Pac, I was a fan of his music and acting ability. Unfortunately, I suspect the entertainer’s convincing performance in Juice may’ve gone to his head and convinced 2Pac that he could act out his thuggish persona without real-world consequences. Act around, find out.


At any rate, I once enjoyed the rapper’s song “Keep Ya Head Up” and wanted to take a moment to highlight REBT concepts contained within its second verse. Ultimately, the Stoic invitation to keep one’s head up is something I appreciate.


For the reader who would like to know more about REBT and how this modality may serve your interests and goals, I encourage you to contact me. After all, you could defiantly hang out the window and throw up middle fingers to life, or you could do something to improve your condition.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW





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