The Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2016 (So Far)
Classic Album: Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me” (Review & Video)
1995 was an landmark year for Tupac Shakur.
In February he began serving a one-and-a-half to four-and-a-half year prison sentence for sexual assault. Soon after that he released the album “Me Against the World”, which gave 2Pac the distinction of being the only artist ever to have an album at number one on the Billboard 200 while serving a prison sentence.
While incarcerated, 2Pac read many books by Machiavelli, Sun Tzu's The Art of War and other works of political philosophy and strategy, which would later influence his music.
In October 1995, after serving eleven months, 2Pac was released from the penitentiary due in large part to the help and influence of Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row Records, who posted a $1.4 million bail pending appeal of the conviction in exchange for 2Pac to release three albums under the Death Row label.
While not the most customary way to score a record deal, it gave 2Pac the chance to immediately start recording his next album.
Maybe it was his time in prison, or maybe it was simply his signing with Knight's Death Row label, but whatever the case, 2Pac emerged hardened and hungry with “All Eyez on Me”, the first double-disc album of original material in hip-hop history. It only took 2Pac two weeks to record the 27-track epic.
“All Eyez on Me” was released on February 13, 1996 almost a year after 2Pac began his prison sentence. Sadly, the Grammy nominated album was the last to be released during 2Pac's lifetime.
The album opened at number 1 on the Billboard 200, making 2Pac the first rapper to have two straight albums debut at number one. Although 2Pac spent most of 1995 locked up and battling the system, the album makes it obvious that, rather than reducing his artistic abilities, the struggles only elevated his skills.
Most of the tracks on “All Eyez on Me” are unapologetic celebrations of living the thug lifestyle (“California Love”) and while there is the occasional reminiscence about past and present friends ("Heartz of Men"), it moves away from the social and political consciousness of “2Pacalypse Now”.
The album featured six singles, the most of any 2Pac album up to that point and at 132 minutes, truly is an epic set of music. While every track has something to offer, “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”, “How Do U Want It”, “Picture Me Rollin” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” (which features Snoop Dogg), stand out above all the rest.
While “California Love” was released as the “comeback” single for 2Pac, it also epitomizes the west coast lifestyle, and is easily one of the best hip-hop tracks of all time. The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards and features Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman.
2Pac is ferocious on the track, showing that he was motivated and ready to be back on the rap scene: “Out on bail fresh outta jail, California dreamin/Soon as I stepped on the scene, I'm hearin hoochies screamin/Fiendin for money and alcohol/the life of a west side playa where cowards die and its all ball/Only in Cali where we riot not rally to live and die.”
Dr. Dre has one of the cleverest and most recognized verses on the album as he raps: “Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west/A state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness/The track hits ya eardrum like a slug to ya chest/Pack a vest for your Jimmy in the city of sex.”
“I Ain’t Mad At Cha” is a personal track for 2Pac, a heartfelt tribute to his friends he knew before he was famous. He speaks of losing touch with people and how many people turned on him after his success.
On the track 2Pac raps about his younger days, his time in prison and how his life has changed from being in the ghetto to being a celebrity. "So many questions, and they ask me if I'm still down/I moved up out of the ghetto, so I ain't real now?/They got so much to say, but I'm just laughin at cha/You niggaz just don't know, but I ain't mad at cha."
"Life Goes On" is arguably the most emotional track on the album and is a tribute song to his friend Kato. Ironically, it also talks about his own death, and his funeral. You can hear the truthfulness and sadness as 2Pac raps: “As I bail through tha empty halls/breath stinkin' in my jaws/ring, ring, ring, quiet y'all/incoming call, plus this my homie from high school/he's getting bye/It's time to bury another brotha nobody cry.”
The track also has one of the best and most meaningful choruses on the album, as 2Pac croons: “How many brothas fell victim to tha streetz/Rest in peace young nigga, there's a Heaven for a 'G'/be a lie, If I told ya that I never thought of death/my niggas, we tha last ones left/but life goes on.”
“2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” is my personal favorite track on the album. Featuring Snoop Dogg, the track has an infectious beat, and some of the best lyrics on the album. The duo paints a perfect picture of the California lifestyle and show why they are two of the best MC’s of all time.
2Pac brings it with confidence and bravado as he raps: “So now they got us laced/Two multimillionare motherfuckers catchin cases (mmm)/Bitches get ready for the throwdown, the shit's about to go down/Uhh, me and Snoop about to clown/I'm "Losin My Religion", I'm vicious on these stool pigeons/You might be deep in this game, but you got the rules missin.”
Snoop uses some great culture references as he spits the verse: “I got a pit named P, she niggarino/I got a house out in the hills right next to Chino/and I, think I got a black Beamer/but my dream is to own a fly casino/like Bugsy Seagel, and do it all legal.”
With all his past success, 2Pac could have put out a run-of-the-mill album and still probably sold millions, but instead he put something truly original and epic.
With solid tracks from top to bottom, the album is easily one of the best of all time. Throughout his career 2Pac released some truly great music, but I think “All Eyez on Me” is his defining work and is most definitely a classic.
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