When it comes to prolific and productive dead dudes, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who beats Tupac Shakur. Even me, a guy who has little to no knowledge of hip hop and the artists who populate that world, knows that his posthumous output has become somewhat of a punchline. I don’t think its joke status is based on quality, I think it’s purely based on the regularity of releases since he caught a few bullets almost 20 years ago.
So there are half a dozen or more albums newer than All Eyez on Me, but as a music fan in general, I can’t count them as true 2Pac records. Too many third parties and people not named Tupac Shakur have had their grubby hands on those. So for Swansong Week, I think the last album released in Pac’s lifetime qualifies, not the stuff that has come since.
The first thing I noticed about All Eyez on Me, before I even pressed play, is that it’s a double album. That’s a red flag. In my experience, almost all double albums are great single albums that get stretched into mediocrity over their bloated running times. Ambitionz Az a Ridah and All About You (featuring Snoop Dogg) are better than average songs. They’re pretty good in fact. But they’re not good enough to get me excited about 25 more tracks and two plus hours of All Eyez.
It’s funny, for the most famous victim of the gangsta rap lifestyle and the poster by of the East Coast / West Coast feud of the 90s, 2Pac and All Eyez on Me seems fairly light on gangsta violence and general hip hop self aggrandizing. Sure, that’s probably a result of me having very little in interest in, and a very short attention span for, lyrics. But songs like No More Pain and Heartz of Men grab and keep my attention for their beats and flow. As they fade out, I realise that I have no idea what their lyrical content is.
Only God Can Judge Me is the kind of song that makes me realise why 2Pac has remained so iconic all these years. There have been plenty of good to great songs before this in All Eyez, but Only God Can Judge is the perfect mix of beats, rhymes, vocal and musical hooks, and even a little narrative. And then there’s California Love, the song that white guys out of the loop, like me, think of when they think of 2Pac. Because for me, it’s the only one of his songs I knew before today.
If I was taking a glass half full view of All Eyez on Me, I might see a song like When We Ride as an awesome late album standout that shows how much life this album has in it, when it can still impress me after more than few really cool songs. But unfortunately, by the time it popped up, a fatigue related glass half empty vibe had well and truly set in. So a great song like When We Ride, and it’s direct follower Thug Passion, just make me think what an amazing single album this could have been. Instead of such a hit and miss, filler loaded behemoth.
All Eyez on Me is epic. Epic in length, epic in ambition, epic in sound a production. It’s also proof that often, less is more. At over two hours, there isn’t enough variation to keep it interestingly eclectic. There also isn’t enough of a unifying sound or theme to make it some sort of ambitious concept double record. It’s just a collection of mostly way better than average hip hop. But it’s just so much above average hip hop that eventually, it all sort of blurs together.
1988 – 1996
Selected Major Achievements/Accolades:
#86, Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Immortal Artists of all Time”
Guinness Book of World Records, Highest Selling Hip Hop Artist of All Time
Inducted in the Congress’ National Recording Registry
Highest Selling Rap Album of All Time (All Eyez on Me)