Album: All Eyez On Me
Label: Death Row
While N.W.A. may have started the genre, and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg made it mainstream, there was simply no way that the world was ready for the music of one of hip hop's most tragic heroes. Far and away one of the most prolific, controversial, and overall monumental artists, not only in hip hop, but in the larger history of music, there have been few performers as important and talented as Tupac Shakur. Whether you loved or hated him, the truth was, you could not ignore him or his vivid lyrics, which perfectly represented the poetic nature of hip hop. Truly embodying the dark, street-thug nature of his lyrics, his songs are honest, raw, and as authentic and unimpeachable as any songs ever written. With one of the most unique delivery styles ever, there have been countless imitators since he appeared on the scene, yet no other emcee has been able to deliver the powerful lyrics with the captivating style of Shakur. The reality is, an overwhelming majority of rappers can barely create enough material to fill a single album, yet Tupac holds the distinction of releasing the first ever double album in the history of the hip hop genre. While Tupac released many amazing albums during his life (and strangely, even more after his passing), the one record that clearly stands out above the others is in fact, his magnificent double album, 1996's, All Eyez On Me.
When All Eyez On Me was released, its impact was massive and immediate, as it quickly topped the charts in album sales, as well as causing a massive amount of controversy due to its lyrical content. Fueled by the so-called "coast battle," as well as the fact that Tupac had very recently been released from prison, the album was full of sharp, angry lyrics, yet there are also deeper, more thoughtful songs on the album that are often overlooked. All Eyez On Me is an album full of stark juxtapositions, with Tupac making peace and making enemies simultaneously. Released exactly seven months before his murder, All Eyez On Me contains many amazing moments that leave the listener stunned, from lyrical content to other emcees found throughout the record. While Tupac would lend fuel to the fire of his issues with Notorious B.I.G. with "Hit 'em Up," (the b-side to the albums' second single), there are many moments on All Eyez On Me where it becomes clear that this was an individual issue, and nothing close to the "full scale" coast battle that was constantly reported in the media. With this in mind, one of the most shocking aspects of All Eyez On Me is the fact that, while released in the midst of this so-called "coast battle," NYC's own Method Man and Redman both appear on the album. Their presence alone contradicts nearly every notion of the time and makes one reconsider exactly "who" was responsible for the so called coast war. It is these thought provoking realities, as well as the phenomenal music, beats, and of course, lyrics that make All Eyez On Me by far one of the greatest albums ever released in any genre.
Both sides of All Eyez On Me are truly fantastic, yet many feel the first disc is far stronger, and the fact that this side of the album yielded all six singles certainly supports this argument. While Tupac's brilliant lyrical content and delivery serves as the cohesive element throughout both albums of All Eyez On Me, the songs themselves show great variance, mostly due to the number of different producers on the record. Easily the most instantly recognizable sound comes from the signature "g funk" sound of Dr. Dre. Responsible for the albums' biggest hit, "California Love," Dre would leave Death Row Records a few months after the release of All Eyez On Me. One interesting note is that the version of "California Love" that topped the charts in the U.S. is, in fact, a remix of the original version which is found on the album. The album version is far heavier, and has a more powerful bass and keyboard sound. A majority of the album though, was not produced by Dre, and is in fact the amazing work of fellow Death Row "inmate," Daz Dillinger. Daz, who in reality is the cousin of Snoop Dogg, appeared on both Snoop and Dre's debut records, as well as representing one half of the short lived group, Tha Dogg Pound. A majority of the more memorable songs on All Eyez On Me are Daz's musical creations, and songs like "Ambitionz Az a Ridah" and "I Ain't Mad At Cha" show the wide diversity in style that he possessed. Regardless of who is "behind the boards" throughout All Eyez On Me, every song has its own distinct sound, and the combination of the different musical approaches helps to make the album nothing short of phenomenal.
The true brilliance of Tuapc can be found all over All Eyes On Me, as his stunning lyrics never fail to have impact, regardless of whether he is extolling the virtues of the "gangsta" lifestyle, or making deeper, "life" observations. The first of these ideas is perfectly depicted on what is still widely considered to be the epitome of the "gangsta" lifestyle, the aptly named duet with Snoop Dogg, "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted." On the track, both artists glorify their run-in's with the law and stand in strong defiance with the fact that they are both once again free and back to the same excessive lifestyle that had before the incidents. This notion of freedom is taken another step by Tupac, as he takes an entire track to settle any issue he had with anyone and make it clear to all that he was "out for good" on the amazing track, "Picture Me Rollin'." The songs' opening lines perfectly sum up a notion that Tupac would go back to many times in the months leading up to his murder as he questions, "...why niggaz look mad? Y'all supposed to be happy I'm free! Y'all niggaz look like y'all wanted me to stay in jail..." It was Tupac's ability to be so introspective as well as peer deeper into the true motives of those around him that made him such an extraordinary lyricist. Standing in stark contrast to the general image of Tupac that the media created are songs like "Life Goes On" and the tragically stunning, "I Ain't Mad At Cha." The latter of these songs truly presents Tupac in a light completely opposite of what most people think of him, as the song is simply Tupac with a light beat and piano, presenting lyrics of genuine introspection and forgiveness. It is also on this song where Tupac drops one of his most devastatingly amazing observations as he questions, "...so many questions and they ask me if I'm still down, 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..." In many ways, this epitomizes everything that makes Tupac so iconic, his ability to be both brutally violent and sensitive, both with equal amounts of vivid imagery and impact. Truth be told, anyone who does not understand why Tupac's lyrics are held in such high regard need look no further than the phenomenal collection of songs found on All Eyez On Me.
Largely due to how he was created and presented by the mass media, many people still cannot get past the "thug" image and look deeper into the amazing lyrics and observations made by Tupac Shakur. By far one of the most insightful and talented writers in music history, he is one of the few emcees who was able to turn the pen on himself and be as honest as he was when looking at others. Representing the tragic epitome of life imitating art, there are few artists who have been so dangerously authentic in their art, and many say that this blurred line is what led to his senseless murder in November of 1996. Thankfully, Tupac left behind a massive, stunning body of work that has been a huge influence on every emcee that came after him, and his albums still rank among the greatest ever, more than a decade after his passing. Tupac's final release before his death, All Eyez On Me, perfectly captures the internal struggle he faced, as the album contains sharp contrasts between the excessive "gangsta" lifestyle, as well as songs that address the larger questions in life. His ability to present both of these ideas with equal impact is a testament to his ability as a performer, as well as his uncanny talent as a writer. Though he is still largely marginalized due to being a rapper, one cannot deny that the words of Tupac truly rank among the most stunning and moving ever written. Brilliantly setting the stage for his tragic murder, 2Pac settled all scores, as well as gave a peek into his questioning of what existed after life on his monumental, unsurpassed masterpiece, 1996's All Eyez On Me.
Standout tracks: "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted," "I Ain't Mad At Cha," and "Picture Me Rollin'."