Saturday, November 25, 2006

Everybody Talkin' Bout Pac's Life

I picked up the new 2pac CD the other day. It came out on the same day as Daughtry, so it has suffered a little bit in terms of time spent in my CD changer. Still, it's an enjoyable CD.

Rap has always been one of my vices. I love the beat of the street, and I enjoy an intelligently crafted rhyme. There are a lot of rappers out there that I could take or leave. Most of these are rappers who put out CDs full of nothing but booty this, drugs that, bling bling the other, and a little sex sprinkled in, just to make sure that the track means absolutely nothing. Tupac Shakur was never like that. Oh sure he talked about all of the above at one time or another, but the vast majority of his work was incredibly cerebral and coming from a dark place in his soul. There was pain and hurt in his lyrics, and he probably spoke the truth more than any other rapper ever did.

Pac's critics like to point out his braggadocio, his glorification of violence, and his apparent misogyny when they dismiss him. But doing that is to just skim the surface. For every "Toss It Up," there was a "Dear Mama" and a "Brenda's Got a Baby," and for every "Hit 'Em Up," there was a "How Long Will They Mourn Me" and a "Teardrops and Closed Caskets." Whether the subject matter was comfortable or not, 2pac always talked about the truth of life in the ghetto and life as a black man. If you've never lived in it, you can't know. (I've lived in the ghetto, so I have a certain appreciation for it.) While I don't agree with him all the time, or even most of the time, I appreciate the way he presents his material and the clever way that he phrases it. I'm not a big fan of profanity or objectionable subject matter, but Pac rarely ever used it gratuitously or in a way that wasn't meant to paint a starkly realistic portrait of urban life on the West Side.

In any case, you have to respect the fact that the man can continue to release new CDs on the tenth anniversary of his death, with guest rappers that hadn't even been in the industry by the time he'd passed. A lot of people who have never had the chance to hear the SIXTEEN underground Makaveli tapes don't know where all this material comes from, but 2pac is one brother that spent a LOT of time in the studio before he died. I won't get into whether I think he's dead or not, but you have to admit, with such a body of work, he's definitely set for a good long while.

That being said, the last few CDs haven't been quite up to par with his earlier work. I still think he would have a hard time topping All Eyez on Me even if he was still alive. And with each album, the amount of unheard material decreases, so some of the more picked over stuff has been prominent on his later CDs. Granted, even Pac's weakest work was quite good, but still, you can only milk something so far.

So I approached Pac's Life with trepidation. But as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Pac's Life is perhaps one of the best of the posthumous albums. Nothing against Eminem, but the way he produced the last album sounded more like Em and less like Pac. Pac's Life goes back to a more West Coast sound. There's a bit of contemporization, but for the most part the sound hearkens back to a different era. There's almost no crunk here, just a solid beat to go with Pac's flows. The disc kicks into high gear right off with the remix of "Untouchable." And the title track, "Pac's Life," is extremely well done, both in the original mix and the remix with Snoop Dogg at the end.

The only complaint I might have is that 2pac typically only raps for one or two verses per song. There are a few reasons for this. The primary reason is that by only using one or two verses, they're able to conserve more of his work to be used later. Second, it often allows for the novelty of other rappers that Pac never worked with to rap with him on his record, fulfilling our "what if Pac had rapped with Ludacris" fantasies. Still, from time to time, it's easy to forget that you're listening to a 2pac record because you're not hearing him for stretches of time. On the other hand, this does allow for the completion of one of the album's major themes: paying tribute to Tupac on the 10th anniversary of his death.

This is a good record to have, but if you haven't heard 2pac before, go back and listen to Me Against the World and All Eyez on Me prior to picking up this record.


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