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2Pacalypse Now

Tupac Shakur

1991

Tupac's debut album shows a lot of promise.  You can tell this dude wasn't your average rapper (even if the beats are pretty average).  His charisma and bravado certainly stands out, but not as much as his overtly political/topical commentary on life as a young black male.  These are intelligent raps for the most part, and you can tell this was a focused, intense, and pissed-off young man.  That said, 2Pacalypse Now is not quite as brash as his future albums, even if it is quite blunt and confrontational at times.  This album kind of has an underground feel to it, which makes it fairly unique in his catalog.  It's definitely sounds like a 1991 hip-hop album...it's old-school, which is generally a good thing, but aside from a couple of songs, most of the tracks here don't measure up to this latter material.  That said, when you consider he was only 20 years old when he recorded this, it makes it more impressive in spite of it's somewhat underwhelming vibe.  His politics and worldview are wise beyond their years.  Overall, while not one of Tupac's best records, it's definitely not bad and is essential listening being that it is his debut. 

8.0

Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

Tupac Shakur

1993

Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. continues the same social and political themes as 2Pacalypse Now, but ups the intensity a fair amount and features better songs and more highlights overall.  He openly rails against Dan Quail, and speaks a great deal about social injustice, black pride/power, things of that nature.  So in a lot of ways, this was Tupac at his most vital lyrically.  He's got more of that classic charisma/swagger but with more fire, passion, and urgency in his delivery compared to 2Pacolypse Now.  A fair amount of the songs on S4MN are intelligent and thoughtful, although a fair amount are pretty generic sounding and contradictory as well.  In other words, it's kind of a typical Tupac record, but it's got that classic, old-school early 90s hip-hop sound.  Less laid back and more intense generally, with nice scratching and samples here and there.  Overall it kind of sports more of an east coast vibe than west coast...it's got that rawer, street-wise vibe. 

This was my 1st Tupac record, and I listened to it heavily as a kid.  He quickly became my favorite rapper, so a lot of the songs on here that might seem like filler to some people resonate strongly with me.  That said, it's still kind of an inconsistent album, but it's Tupac, so it's certainly better than most of it's ilk.

8.5

Me Against the World

Tupac Shakur

1995

Me Against the World was Tupac's most thoughtful, introspective, and soul-bearing album.  This album also stands out has his least-venomous record, as he focuses less on glorifying violence and verbally assaulting his enemies, instead choosing a more intellectual approach to his rhymes.  Yes, he is still obsessed with his own impending death ("If I Die Tonight" & "Death Around the Corner") both of which are haunting to listen to in retrospect.  But overall, this album sports a more toned-down, R&B sound compared with his other albums.  "Temptations" is easily the best R&B-flavored cut on the album.  And it wouldn't be a Tupac album without some pointed, in-your-face songs, and "Fuck The World" definitely delivers on that front, and was a personal favorite of mine as a kid.  But if you're listening carefully though, there is an underlying theme of positivity on this record, most evident on the album's brilliant title track, the advisory "Young Niggaz" and the nostalgic "Old School".  What's particularly gripping to these ears are the boldly confessional tracks like "So Many Tears" and "It Ain't Easy".  On "So Many Tears" the man is literally bearing his soul, exposing his innermost demons, fears, and secrets.  "It Ain't Easy" shows Tupac at his most down-to-earth, his most honest.  And everyone knows "Dear Mama" which really shows the depth of Tupac's sensitivity.  It's songs like these that not only made Tupac a very special rapper, but a very special and unique human being as well.  Overall, while this isn't my favorite Tupac album, I feel that Me Against The World is the best representation of who Tupac really was as a person. 

"The message I stress: to make it stop study your lessons
Don't settle for less - even a genius asks-es questions
Be grateful for blessings
Don't ever change, keep your essence
The power is in the people and politics we address
Always do your best, don't let the pressure make you panic
And when you get stranded
And things don't go the way you planned it
Dreamin of riches, in a position of makin a difference
Politicians and hypocrites, they don't wanna listen
If I'm insane, it's the fame made a brother change
It wasn't nuttin like the game
It's just me against the world"

8.8

All Eyez On Me

Tupac Shakur

1996

To better understand All Eyez On Me, it helps to put the album into prospective.  After surviving being shot 5 times in November 1994, Tupac spent the vast majority of 1995 incarcerated, and apparently seething about the incident that almost took his life the prior year.  He was looking at a possible 4+ year prison sentence until the CEO of Death Row Records, Suge Knight, bailed him out of jail and subsequently signed him to the label.  Tupac spent 11 months behind bars and was suddenly a free man, and also a very rich man, signed to the biggest and most successful rap record label in the world, joining forces with the likes of Dr. Dre and Snoop in the process.  So it makes sense that the vibe of All Eyez On Me is predominately celebratory in nature ("Can't C Me", "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted", "Picture Me Rollin", etc) .  Tupac obviously had a lot to say on this album, and had a lot of pent up energy, aggression, and hostility.  He was intent on establishing himself as not only the best rapper in the game, but as a man that was clearly not to be fucked with ("Ambitionz Az A Ridah").  He was pissed, and understandably so (being shot 5 times would make me angry too).  Basically Tupac wanted to be the baddest dude on the planet, and his charisma on All Eyez On Me certainly drives that point home ("Holla At Me", "When We Ride").  He raps with a confidence and swagger that is now legendary, like a man on an epic power-trip, confident that he could not only triumph over his enemies, but destroy them, or anyone else that got in his way.  Aside from openly publicizing his vendettas, he also displays his trademark sensitivity on songs like "Life Goes On" and "I Ain't Mad At Cha", two incredibly heartfelt and emotional songs.  Then there's tracks like "Shorty Wanna Be A Thug" and "Wonda Why They Call You Bitch" both of which do a earnest job of showing the dark side of life in the ghetto, and in the process give the listener prospective and empathy for the songs' characters.  Then there are more laidback cuts like the misogynistic yet playful "All About U", the R&B standout "How Do You Want It" and the good-humored "Checkout Time".  Overall, armed with the best beats and production he ever had in his career (courtesy of Dre), the man sounded unstopable on All Eyez On Me.

But unfortunately, as we all know, Tupac was in-fact stoppable, as he would die in a hail of bullets later in 1996.  It goes without saying that Tupac made a lot of enemies, and the openly taunting and confrontational tone of albums like this certainly exasperated that fact.  By signing to Death Row, he only got deeper into the the violent gangsta-rap lifestyle, as he ultimately became the poster-child for the thug-life mentality.  This image of him was at it's peak when he was murdered, and as a result, the more sensitive and intellectual side of his persona was largely overshadowed at the time.  And that's the real tragedy here.  Tupac was smart, Tupac had vision, Tupac had heart, Tupac had an incredible amount of charisma and potential.  But he got caught up in a violent lifestyle that led to his demise.  It seemed like he might have been turning a corner on Me Against the World, but that was recorded before he got shot 5 times, before he got imprisoned, and before he was essentially bought by Suge Knight, who ran a pretty ruthless, cut-throat record label.  Tupac was trapped at the time.  Suge owned him for all intents and purposes, and as a result, shit just got deeper and he got caught up in the violent gangsta lifestyle which frankly he should have been above. 

All Eyez On Me captures Tupac at the height of his confidence and rapping prowess.  The beats are simply too good and his delivery too charasmatic for this not to be the best rap album of all-time in my book, in spite of the fact this album hastened his all too early demise.

R.I.P.

9.0

The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

Tupac Shakur

1996

This is 2pac's last album of original material that he recorded in the months before his untimely death.  Overall, it's kind of a depressing listen, not just because Tupac sounds so unhappy, angry, confused, taunting, violent and of course death-obsessed, but because roughly half of the album is not particularly good.  There's a couple of throwaways here, quite a few mediocore songs, and only a handful of good songs.  Also, similar to AEOM, Tupac's ego is inflated to epic proportions on Makaveli.  He really seems to think he is invinceable, all-powerful...he's nihilistic, prophetic, etc...it's almost scarey to listen to at times.  Makaveli, more-so than any other of Tupac's albums, really makes you question the man's sanity.  He really sounds frenzied at times, confused, tortured...sounds like he was living in a state of constant chaos and paranoia, and it's chilling to listen to for the most part, but it's also pretty GD compelling at times.  Makaveli is a flawed album, but it is what it is...the last, rushed, claustrophobic statement from the most charasmatic and contradictory rapper of all-time.

8.3

R U Still Down? (Remember Me)

Tupac Shakur

1997

Most of this album is filled with a lot of leftovers from what sounds like his S4MN/MATW era.  Half of the songs are forgettable, the other half are actually pretty good, and there are a few really good songs, particularly "Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto" and the brooding "Only Fear of Death" which is one of my favorite 2pac songs of all-time. 

I stopped buying 2pac's post-humanus albums after this one...did not feel the need to hear the man being chopped up and exploited any longer.  Always be wary of post-humanus releases, as it is purely a cash-grab and certainly a corruption of the artist's original vision.

7.8

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