Cross That Line
I know the question y’all asking yourselves: Why did XXL put Tupac on the cover again? Well, it’s the 10th year of the anniversary of his death, stupid. And our ’Pac covers have always done their numbers. I even sold one with his mom, Afeni, on the front a few years back. My bosses said it couldn’t be done, but y’all proved me right. You got to give the people what they want.
Truth be told, there’s just not enough true rap stars around these days—artists who have touched the world the way ’Pac has. I was shocked when my staff was so overwhelmingly supportive of doing this issue. They seemed to feel it would be almost disrespectful not to acknowledge the man who remains the most influential person in hip-hop culture a full decade after he left us. Plus, the past 10 years of his career achievements needed to be documented.
Now that you’ve enjoyed our tantalizing time line, it’s time for da boss man to face the music. So I’ll address 10 topics that have come up in discussions around the XXL offices while we’ve been slaving away trying to finish this thing. Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity. How long will YN mourn him? Until y’all tell me to stop.
1. HOW EXACTLY DID ’PAC BECOME THE HIP-HOP NATION’S CHOICE FOR G.O.A.T.?
Well, it starts with Makaveli. Though it was body-slammed by critics when it dropped two months after ’Pac’s death, the album is a classic that captures hip-hop’s most controversial star at his most volatile and engaging. From the fiery venom of “Bomb First (My Second Reply)” and “Against All Odds” to the playful bravado of “Toss It Up” and “Just Like Daddy” to the riveting religious overtones of “Hail Mary” and “Blasphemy,” ’Pac’s most potent platter is the album your favorite MC can’t live without. It’s the record that rapper is playing in the background while he’s chillin’ at the crib. The one he cops over and over and over again.
This album is even beloved by two artists who get dissed on it: Nas and Jay-Z. In fairness to the New York giants, it must be noted that ’Pac’s death (and that of his arch rival, the Notorious B.I.G., six months later) was a determining factor in allowing them to embrace the memory of their former antagonist—all is forgiven in death, and it should be. Ironically, five years later, it would be Nas and Jay-Z engaging in rap’s biggest battle since ’Pac and Big and all the East-West nonsense—complete with claims of swagger-jacking and sleeping with the enemy’s woman. And how twisted was it in 2002 when Jay-Z remade a song from an album that targeted him to announce his then-budding relationship with his real-life squeeze, Beyoncé Knowles? ’Pac’s original “Me and My Girlfriend” was just a metaphor for a gun—a concept that Nas himself mastered earlier in 1996’s “I Gave You Power.”
Speaking of power, it’s the rappers that emerged in the late ’90s and the new millennium that put ’Pac in the top position. His peers anointed him king, and the fans cosigned. Example: Go see Jay-Z live and watch the dope boys and girls go crazy when Jigga Man lets his DJ drop the needle on a ’Pac classic. That gets more cheers than the main attraction.
2. WITH ’PAC DEAD AND GONE, ARE WE ALLOWED TO QUESTION THE MOTIVES AND MOVES OF HIS DEAR MAMA?
It’s a fact proven in rap: Mothers become celebrities when their sons pass away. After a legal tussle with Suge Knight, Afeni is the official boss lady. Simply put, she’s in charge of the legacy. What projects will come out and which won’t? Who gets permission to use which vocals on what song? She’s got the answers, the one and only master of the masters. Kinda ironic, since ’Pac and ma dukes didn’t always have the best relationship. She wasn’t always there for him as a mother, but now she reaps the benefits of her son’s recording career—something that, before he died, she seemingly had little to do with. Where was she when her baby boy was signing his life away to Death Row Records? An ass-whuppin’ by the one who gave him that life in the first place might have been needed back then.
To give credit where it’s due, Afeni has put together a couple of quality projects and created a respectable foundation and arts center, all in her son’s name. Like all parents’, her intentions seem to be in the right place. Still, the decision to have Eminem produce an entire album of her son’s material? That’s a never-forgive action.
3. ISN’T THERE JUST WAY TOO MUCH POSTHUMOUS ’PAC MATERIAL?
Yup. And bet your bottom dollar, most of it ain’t worth your hard-earned cash. Only the most bored of rap fans or the most fanatical of ’Pac fanatics would really take the time to listen to double-disc debacles like 1997’s R U Still Down? (Remember Me) or ’01’s Until the End of Time in their entirety. And honestly, couldn’t someone have talked some sense into Afeni before she decided to drop a spoken-word album based on ’Pac’s poetry? Oy vay!
4. ARE THERE ANY POSTHUMOUS ’PAC SONGS WORTH LISTENING TO?
You gotta have a hole in your soul if the “The Realist Killaz” doesn’t get you amped. Producer Red Spyda’s sinister pairing of ’Pac and a then-emerging 50 Cent was a vicious volley in 50’s beef with Ja Rule—and packed an extra punch since so many rap fans felt that Ja had been biting ’Pac’s style for years. You know the late star would have been laughing watching Shady rumble with Murder Inc. throughout 2003, arguing over who would get to break bread with ’Pac if he were here on God’s green earth. (The real answer? The Boot Camp Clik. They actually knew the nigga.)
Then there’s Trick Daddy. While they never met (to the best of my knowledge), ’Pac’s “Still Ballin” (from 2002’s Better Dayz) featuring the Miami mack has enough sonic chemistry to make it feel like it could have been a real collaboration. Trick loves the kids. ’Pac loved the thugs. So it’s not hard to imagine these two raising hell down in the Sunshine State. The after party at Club Rolexx would have been off the chain.
Still, ’Pac’s most poignant cry from the grave might just be “Changes” (from 1998’s Greatest Hits). Despite the cheesy Bruce Hornsby sample, this previously unreleased gem proves that no amount of overproduced studio magic can match the quality of material that ’Pac actually saw to completion. That’s just the way it is.
5. IS IT WRONG FOR ’PAC’S FORMER ENEMIES TO RECORD SONGS WITH HIS VOCALS?
Yeah. But actually, Nas is the only culprit here. Don’t get me wrong, “Thugz Mansion” is a good song. But it’s hard to justify making amends (by way of making music that will surely make money) when the other person isn’t around. I know Nas insists that things between the two were copacetic in ’Pac’s last days, and I’m sure Afeni asked him really nicely to get down. But come on, Esco, just say no.
Read YN’s answers to the final 5 questions and the rest of our tribute to the 10th anniversary of ’Pac’s death in the October 2006 issue (#85).