2Pac Shakur, “All Eyez on Me”
Doing time didn’t interrupt Tupac (2Pac) Shakur’s career. “Prison ain’t changed me,” he taunts on his new album, “All Eyez on Me.” “It made me worse!”
Last February, 2Pac was sentenced to one-and-a-half to four years for sexual assault; during the trial, he was shot while being robbed. For those who want gangsta rap off the market, he was living proof of the genre’s misogyny and violence. But for fans, he became the embodiment of street-tough “realness.”
His album “Me Against the World,” released last April, went immediately to No. 1 and sold two million copies. In October, he was released on bail while his case is on appeal. He signed with Death Row Records, which dominates West Coast gangsta rap, and wasted no time getting back to the studio. “All Eyez on Me” is hip-hop’s first double album, more than two hours long; it is slick, cocksure and unrepentant.
Where “Me Against the World” portrayed gangster life as grim and suicidal, “All Eyez on Me” (Death Row/Interscope) reverses the message. Joined by more than a dozen guest rappers, from the West Coast’s Snoop Doggy Dogg to the East Coast’s Method Man, 2Pac boasts about the life of a “boss player” awash in money, intoxicants and eager women. Although the rappers haven’t left their guns behind, they’ve moved from the street to the penthouse. Their main problem is no longer day-to-day survival, but intrusions by jealous also-rans.
Standard images of ghetto desperation turn up: “My world is a war zone, my homeys is inmates and most of ‘em dead,” 2Pac raps. He vows retaliation against enemies, and he and his guest rappers verbally brandish brand-name guns and cackle about watching victims bleed. “Life Goes On,” uses a hymn-flavored backup for a memorial to a dead friend; “Only God Can Judge Me” details 2Pac’s pain after being shot. Now and then, 2Pac alludes to his case: In “2 of Americaz Most Wanted,” with Snoop Doggy Dogg (who was indicted for murder), 2Pac raps, “I live in fear of a felony/I never stop at her knees.”
But far more of 2Pac’s rhymes are about living in luxury: driving a plush car, drinking cognac, smoking weed and having all the women he wants. His tone is relaxed, full of easy chuckles; he’s above the fray. While 2Pac used to show some sympathy for women, he has returned to hard-line gangsta machismo, with women as either gold-digging “bitches” or heavy-breathing, pliant “hos.” There’s no need for threats; celebrity and wealth draw women to him.
The lyrics are basic gangsta rap, customized to 2Pac’s tabloid exploits. But Death Row’s commercial advantage comes from textures, not text; its gangsta rappers bask in suave, easy-rolling vamps and choruses that coo with sumptuous ease. Producers including Dr. Dre, Daz from Tha Dogg Pound, Johnny “J” and Doug Rasheed back up 2Pac’s rapping with high, languid synthesizer hooks that float above unhurried Parliament-Funkadelic bass lines. Danny D weaves ardent Stevie Wonder melismas between the rhymes; breathy female choruses promise “I’ll be waiting for you.” Removed from the desperate reality, 2Pac glamorizes the gangster life for anyone who’ll buy the fantasy.
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