NOTE TO READERS: This post was written with no intent to disrespect the dead. XXL pays me to share my honest thoughts, views and opinions. And I do just that.
I originally wrote this about this 5 years ago. Back when it was unpopular to question Tupac’s legacy, to objectively analyze his impact on pop and hip hop culture, in short to ask “Is Tupac Overrated?” It’s no question Tupac was charismatic, and yes he did drop some good songs. Still, the way many have carried on since Mr. Shakur’s untimely death, how merchandise and posthumous albums continue to sell, I feel it’s time to revisit this issue.
Like most, I was extremely saddened by Mr. Shakur’s death in 1996. Being that I wasn’t a fan of his, I went out and purchased all of his cd’s that I hadn’t owned. There’s been more than a lot of talk about how 2pac was a poet, a leader of our generation and so on. I don’t question his talents as a poet, I question his skills as being hailed as one of the “greatest” rappers of all time. Poets are cool, I like poetry. Sometimes. I’m just not trying to hear Maya Angelou spit no types of fiyah on the mic. Associating all this “greatest” talk with the kind of sentiment surrounding one’s passing, I was more than intrigued by how Pac has become a legend of rap. Truth be told, over the years, all that talk got annoying. 5 years ago, I was in the process of going through my digital music collection to see, out of all his albums, which songs recorded by Pac were keepers and which ones were deletable. Long and short, I decided to give 2Pac a second chance, see what his stans fans were talking about, just in case I had missed something.
I listened to his first lp, “2Pacalypse Now”, released in 1991. Being a true rap fan with no types of hate in my heart, after a couple of listens, there was no way around it. That album was wack. There’s no decent song on it and I still can’t decide what’s worse, his feeble attempt to rhyme or the sub par production. Even the “breakout” hit single Brenda’s Got A Baby was lacking in sound, but being that it was the first rap song ever dedicated to single mothers in the hood, in every city across the country, it was deemed to be mad prolific. Yeah, I get that, but really, eff that. That song was weak by any hip hop classic standard. Straight up and down. “2Pacalypse Now” got deleted from my files with the quickness.
Next up was his 2nd Lp, “Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.S” released in 1993. First and foremost, [||] for that title. I don’t know if the periods embedded in “N.I.G.G.A.S.” is supposed to mean something “deep”, whatever, it seemed dumb to me then. Still is. The only song on that album that comes close to being dope is I Get Around, actually the first song by Pac that I liked. Still, I saw that as being a Digital Underground song featuring 2Pac as their up and coming weed carrier. Being how his first LP was wack, Digital Underground probably decided they would help their lil homie out. Production on that song was tight, Pac’s flow improved dramatically, but Shock G stole the show with his classic line “I’m Shock G, the one who put the satin on your panties.” But cool, I’ll give Pac the credit. Unfortunately, the rest of the album was really really really bad. So other than I Get Around, every other song on the album got deleted. Knowing how “Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.S” was released around the time Pac delivered his “stunning” acting debut in that “Juice” movie, a whole bunch of people probably got caught up in his portrayal of his “Bishop” character and went with the hype. To me, Bishop wasn’t gully, just a Harlem cat suffering from severe mental issues. Since I knew real dudes like that in Brooklyn, I was no types of impressed with Bishop. Especially since them dudes from Brooklyn were suspect up until they had a gun in their hand. What’s gully with that? Think about it, if Tupac was such an incredible rap artist and “Juice” was considered to be his movie, why was it that none of his songs made the album? A lot of people bought into it, but I for one didn’t sip the juice.
Next up was “Me Against The World” released in 1995. Now I gotta hand it to 2Pac in that the hype surrounding this album’s release was beyond incredible. It was around the time he got shot up with five hot ones in a New York City recording studio. Way before it became cool for rappers to get shot up a whole buncha times. A day after the shooting incident, Shot Up Pac then checks himself out for “security” reasons and also, because he had to make it to court, him being in the middle of fighting that rape charge. I remember seeing the image of Pac on the news, getting wheeled out of the courthouse, all bandaged up with his middle finger pointed straight to the heavens, and thinking “what a crazy fuck this dude is turning into!” He then gets sentenced to a bid in jail and starts blaming the entire East Coast for all of his woes.
Dear Mama comes out and it’s the first time dude has great production, rapping skills are intact and he’s rapping about shit everyone on the planet can relate to. That song right there is genius in the same way Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday is. A Mother’s Day song. The only other song on Me Against The World worthy of a playback is Old School what with its tight production and Pac rapping like he’s brand new. The rest of the album is ehh, lukewarm, not as bad as his prior two releases, but bad enough, especially since the hype behind it made it damn near impossible not to wonder what his crazy ass was talking about. Other than them two aforementioned songs, the rest of the lp got the delete treatment.
1996 was the year “All Eyez On Me” hit the streets. With this lp, the world was introduced to the “new and improved” Tupac Shakur. Now riding with the infamous Suge Knight and signed to the most dangerous record label of all time, Death Row Records, Pac was geared to drop a classic, especially since he was armed with one of hip hop’s greatest producers of all time, Dr. Dre. In addition, Pac (and Suge) were deep in the middle of orchestrating that bizarre East/West coast beef. Pac was on a roll, talking slanderous in every interview about Bad Boy, Diddy, B.I.G. and almost all things East related. Album wise, 2Pac was at the top of his game, dropping instant classics like Ambitionz As A Ridah and Hearts Of Men [||]. Problem was he allowed too many unknown weed carrier rappers rap (poorly) on the album. Snoop, Richie Rich and Nate Dogg I can understand, but what the eff was a Big Syke and a Rappin 4 Tay doing on this joint? Even Got My Mind Made Up featuring Method Man and Red Man sounded forced, like if Meth and Red flew their verses in via email. Then the fact that it was a double cd. Too many cuts, too many wack sounding weed carriers, too long. Would’ve been a better (not classic) cd with like only ten songs. You already know mad deletion took place.
Finally “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” recorded right before and released right after his death in 1996. (I’m in no way counting the hundred or so other albums released after his death.). This was Tupac at his very best. With his new character Makaveli sounding raw and angry, Pac really let you know he had gone way the fuck off the deep end and had become one savage individual. Crazy too. The rabid kind. Beats were better than anything ever produced for him, 2Pac spitting pure venom, boy did he let everyone have it, Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, De La Soul, even his own producer and label mate Dr. Dre got called out. Pac started a war that no man was safe from. And it was a beautiful thing. Not calling it that, but this was the closest he came to having a classic album. The reason it fell short? 25 more unknown weed carrier features on almost every cut. With blazing tracks like Hail Mary and Intro/Bomb First, allowing third rate cats to shit up them songs = FAIL. Word bond. That being said, “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” had like six solid joints. Throw in my favorite Hit ‘Em Up (sans weed carriers) and you have a decent discography of like 18 strong records (actually 12 strong records once weed carrier and side artist elements are factored in). Taking all of this in, I can understand the Tupac hype, which really boils down to two points:
1) Tupac, if he deserved any types of accolades as a rapper, was that, throughout the course of his career, he never let go of that Bishop character from “Juice” and lp by lp, he continued to perfect that role until he became Bishop in his songs and in real life. If anything, he should have been nominated for a new type of award, one where the rapper/actor down the line really and truly becomes the character he played in a movie from a few years earlier. BET might have to look into that.
2) You know how every chick with mental/emotional issues loves that Sade? Seems like Tupac’s left footprints on the hearts of every gangbanger, thug and thug wannabe. [||] I’m sure most of those dudes stay eff’ed up in the head what with them losing homies weekly due to gunfire and gang warfare. Instead of going to see a therapist (we don’t seek mental help in the hood) they turned to 2Pac for therapy. Pac became like their version of Sade. I once read somewhere about how this one dude would sit in his truck to listen to Tupac, and everytime he did, he’d start crying tears, bubbling and heaving, all that. For real B. So yeah I get it, Tupac is like a thug’s Sade. Thug Sade. Only difference between Tupac and Sade being that Sade dropped four classic albums.
So with all that being said, the late Tupac Shakur still remains way overrated.
What do you think?
UPDATE: What if Tupac had Twitter?