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2Pac

+ {Thug Life} + {Makaveli}

A controversial rapper who lived fast and died young, 2PAC – or Tupac Shakur – was an unlikely figurehead for his gangsta-rap genre up until his untimely drive-by-shooting death in September 1996. He was 25 years young. As the 20th anniversary of his death has come and gone, one’ll never really know the full extent of the man’s true potential and legacy, even though his benefactors have dug up a surplus of music from the vaults to fill the void. As these have thankfully subsided over the past decade, fans of the ill-fated star would find out even more about their idol through the 2016-released biopic, All Eyez On Me (the title of his final album), starring Demetrius Shipp, Jr. in the 2PAC role.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks, June 16, 1971, East Harlem, New York City (the son of Black Panther Party members Billy Garland and Afeni Shakur, who split up before his birth), he was re-named Tupac Amaru Shakur, in honour of an 18th century Peruvian revolutionary. Poverty-stricken as his mother cradled him and his half-sister around the States, times were tough for the lad. But having been eased into acting in 1983 by playing Travis Younger in the 127th Street Repertory Ensemble play, A Raisin In The Sun, somehow Tupac managed to gain entry to the esteemed Baltimore School of the Arts, and hidden talents were found as the teenager plied his talents to rap. A move to the other side of the country, to Marin City, California, didn’t curtail his ability to communicate his vocal skills.
From street hustling to landing at the door of Oakland’s alternative hip hop group, DIGITAL UNDERGROUND (through leader Greg “Shock G” Jacobs), Tupac rose through the ranks to finally produce/appear in the soundtrack to the 1991 comedy film, Nothing But Trouble; `Same Song’ was their collaboration featuring actor Dan Aykroyd. As part of the combo’s `This Is An EP Release’ and the P-FUNK-styled `Sons Of The P’ (both 1991), the feeling was 2PAC could now achieve greatness on his own. So from second-string rapper to Interscope Records’ golden boy, the word was out that his debut 2PACALYPSE NOW (1991) {*7} was worth a spin.
A veritable journey into the heart of black inner city darkness, the breakthrough (Top 100) record combined the bleak violence of gangsta with strong pro-Afro-American sentiments. Stamped with the “Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics” motif that was allegedly aimed to stop under-agers accessing its grooves, the policy inspired the opposite effect as youngsters – through word of mouth – pressed-played their curiosity urges. Drawing a line through PUBLIC ENEMY, N.W.A. and KRS-ONE, 2PAC’s conveyor-belt of un-airable hip hop/gangsta rap; `I Don’t Give A Fuck’, `Crooked Ass Nigga’ and `Violent’, typical of the times, the soulful, socially-aware `Brenda’s Got A Baby’ concerned a teenage pregnancy and its tragic consequences.
1993’s Top 30 STRICTLY 4 MY N.I.G.G.A.Z. {*7} saw 2PAC almost crack the high-end of the singles chart with the attendant, `I Get Around’ (a bragger’s guide to sexual exploits reuniting him with DIGITAL UNDERGROUND). A provocative and collaborative set railing against authority, both ICE CUBE and ICE-T dished up their own brand of “mutha-f’in” expletives in `Last Wordz’, while other rappers not so random (Wycked, Apache, Live Squad, Treach and Deadly Threat) peppered their blanks on other notes of negativity.
Tupac also had a penchant for getting on the wrong side of the law, running up an incredible string of charges including shooting two off-duty police officers, forceful sodomy, and attacking the co-director of the film Menace II Society, Allen Hughes (2PAC had already starred in movies: Juice (1992), Poetic Justice (1993; alongside JANET JACKSON) and Above The Rim (1994). While the shooting charge was dropped, 2PAC was subsequently sentenced to spend some time in prison for the sexual assault, ironically beginning his porridge while his third album, the aptly-titled ME AGAINST THE WORLD (1995) {*9} went atop the Billboard charts. The previous November, the rapper was shot five times and robbed of his jewelry (but not his Rolex watch!) by three unknown assailants in the lobby of a studio. Teaming up with fellow gangsta rappers, Big Skye, Mopreme, Macadoshis and The Rated R (where dey now?), Tupac stirred up another machismo do-or-die set of tracks under the banner of THUG LIFE: VOLUME 1 (1994) {*5}; `Cradle To The Grave’ was probably its best known song.
The aforementioned 1995 album is today regarded as a classic of its kind, a soul-baring, confessional record that underlined his power and prowess a la `So Many Tears’, `Dear Mama’, and `Temptations’, among others that might’ve charted had they been issued.
As it turned out, the only people who could afford his bail were Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine, who worked out that three albums under the Death Row Records umbrella would be payment.
The rapper was back at No.1 in defiant form with the landmark double set, ALL EYEZ ON ME (1996) {*9}, answering his many critics with the likes of `Only God Can Judge Me’. The album also spawned a chart-topping single in the epochal `California Love’, an utterly compelling 70s-style, pimp-rolling groove singing the praises of 2PAC’s beloved home state, cut in collaboration with ex-ZAPP frontman, Roger Troutman. But if 2PAC was pro-Cali, he was vehemently anti-New York, or at least its rap contingency, as witnessed on the track `Hit `Em Up’ (included on the CD single of `How Do You Want It’), a ferocious litany of hate primarily directed against his one-time friend, Biggie Smalls (the gun-slinging match was a now verbal riposte), but also stretching to MOBB DEEP and Bad Boy Records, the label at the centre of the East vs. West feud along with DR DRE’s Death Row.
It had to end in tears of course, and it came as little surprise when 2PAC was shot and killed in a drive-by incident; he died in hospital 6 days later on September 13, 1996. Although no-one was subsequently charged with the murder, the rapper’s list of enemies was almost as big as his police charge sheet and it was probably inevitable that a man who lived so closely by the gun wouldn’t live to see his 26th birthday.
Violence and politics aside, there was no getting around the fact that 2PAC was an immensely talented artist, having scored his third No.1 album in a row with THE DON KILLUMINATI: THE 7 DAY THEORY {*6} that November, under the alias MAKAVELI. His status as an American cultural icon was duly underlined when a college introduced a 2PAC course, exploring the man’s life and work. Crazy? Well, certainly no crazier than the esteem afforded the Kray Twins in Britain, and besides, did they pen anything as groovy as `California Love’ (?!).
In common with JEFF BUCKLEY, Tupac’s profile remained high after his death through the regular release of half-finished, works in progress, including outtakes double-set R U STILL DOWN? (REMEMBER ME) (1997) {*5}, STILL I RISE (1999) {*5} and UNTIL THE END OF TIME (2001) {*5}. Also in common with BUCKLEY, the bulk of this material was of prime interest largely to hardcore fans who’d the time and inclination to muse over what the finished article would’ve sounded like.
2002’s BETTER DAYZ {*7} ranked as one of the more enduring posthumous releases, a sprawling double set of largely unreleased material which attempted some kind of focus by splitting the music up into one disc of hardcore and one of more accessible tracks. Of the two, the harder material perhaps left the deepest impression, the likes of `Fuck ‘Em All’ – a collaboration with OUTLAWZ – generated the kind of brooding portent that sounded all the more menacing in the light of subsequent events.
One year on and fans were still being supplied with songs from beyond the grave, this time in the shape of the TUPAC: RESURRECTION (2003) {*7} soundtrack. Another essential purchase for diehards, the record gathered together more obscure tracks from the rapper’s bulging back catalogue, a brace of which benefitted from EMINEM’s production genius. The most poignant moment had to be the long-lost collaboration with The NOTORIOUS B.I.G., `Runnin’ (Dying To Live)’, an echo of happier days. B.I.G.’s unbeatable flow often ran at right angles to Shakur’s thick, resonant tones. The track might not have the verbal fireworks that so much of their respective back catalogues might’ve enjoyed, but hearing the pair together was still a thrill.
From 2PAC’s death up till now, there had been a whole new genre of rap born at the turn of the century, Pacsploitation: music which has been released posthumously from the wealth of unreleased rhymes recorded from Tupac. EMINEM was very much the man of the moment in 2003 and he produced three tracks on this collection free of charge as a mark of respect for Shakur’s mother, Afeni, who was executive producer at the helm creatively for this vivid, luxurious hagiography of her late son. With the exception of a few guest verses from the aforementioned Mr. Mathers and his protégé, 50 CENT, of the remaining guests, the aforementioned OUTLAWZ were essential. The especially created cuts from the archive material – of which there was believed to be hundreds of hours recorded but unreleased – captured the spark of Tupac’s original lyrical mastery. The contrast lay in the several culled from the rapper’s older albums, including the excellent sandpaper-and-syrup of `Bury Me A G’ (featuring THUG LIFE) and the dated but funky `Panther Power’ and `Holler If Ya Hear Me’.
The notoriously bad, sub-bootleg sound quality of 2PAC LIVE (2004) {*3} made it superfluous for all but the most ardent of fans, even if it did make the Top 60. Much more marketable was LOYAL TO THE GAME (2004) {*6}, an American chart-topping (UK Top 20) reanimation of vintage 2PAC, masterminded once again by EMINEM. Erasing the old backing tracks and re-tooling them with his own block-rocking productions, the Detroit superstar welded ELTON JOHN’s `Indian Sunset’ on to `Ghetto Gospel’ and landed Tupac his first posthumous No.1 single.
LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES (2005) {*4}, on the other hand, was yet another archival release, catching him not on top of his game and once again suffering from poor presentation. The final episode came with the Top 10 PAC’S LIFE (2006) {*6}, complete with a stellar cast of dual rappers from the respective KRAYZIE BONE and KEYSHIA COLE to LUDACRIS and, of course, SNOOP DOGG. Now watch the movie…
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD/BG-LCS/MR // rev-up MCS Oct2016

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