Tupac Shakur was a visionary. His lyrics addressed issues that no other rapper of his time was even considering, and brought a whole new level of authenticity to the music genre. Not only did he write records that inspired people, but he was a man of extreme ego with a drive to be the very best. By striving for that, Pac broke a lot of traditional guidelines which in turn gave him the god-like status he still has post-mortem.
Hip hop in the nineties was arguably the best it’s ever been, and by looking at the state of the music being churned out by rappers nowadays, probably the best it ever will be. West Coast sounds were fresh and innovative, with the music befitting of a warm Californian afternoon cruising down Crenshaw Boulevard in a Chevy Impala. Those were the days that were.
1995 was a difficult year for Pac; in February, he began serving his potential four and a half year jail sentence for sexual assault. But in that October, having only served 11 months, Pac’s bail of $1.4million was posted by Death Row Records kingpin Suge Knight. Along with this commitment came the opportunity for an exchange; Knight wanted Pac to have three albums released through the label, prompting a first-of-its-kind release from the illustrious lyricist.
February 13th 1996 All Eyez On Me (stream above on Spotify) became hip-hop's inaugural double-full-length hip-hop solo studio album, simultaneously fulfilling two of the three contracted album releases, 12 months after receiving his sentence. Featuring six singles in total and equating to a staggering 132 minutes, this was sure to be a classic from the get go.
Many thought that despite already achieving huge success within the scene, a stint in jail would quash his creativity and alter his sound. If the penitentiary had any impact on Pac, it only made him stronger; his own words say it all as 'No More Pain' fades out, "Prison ain't changed me nigga, it made me worse".
Whilst incarcerated, Pac read countless strategic and philosophical works, including Niccolo Machiavelli (after whom Pac gets his infamous alias ‘Makaveli’), all of which provided the spark of inspiration to go on to make this his fourth – and best-selling – studio album. AEOM was a very different release to its predecessors, particularly in terms of the issues Pac was addressing.
Previously, he had spoken of his fears of being watched, his vulnerabilities as a person, and also more touching subjects such as scathing social commentary and his appreciation for women, particularly his mother about whom he released the song ‘Hey Mama’.
Whilst the paranoia remained (alluded to by the title), the vulnerability was replaced by chest thumping bravado, societal discourse absent whilst the for the main part he contradicted much of what he had said about women in the past with songs such as ‘Wonda Why They Call U Bitch’.
Instead, this album ultimately served the purpose of an unadulterated appreciation of living the thug lifestyle; something Shakur was supposed to have denounced. Joining iconic hip-hop rapper and producer Dr. Dre on ‘California Love’, one of the most legendary tracks to have spawned from either genre-defining prophet, this West Coast classic went on to be nominated for two Grammy awards.
Dre wasn’t to be the only high-profile name on the bill. Pac also roped in two of hip hop’s most notable Doggs, persuading both Snoop and Nate to provide vocals for ‘All About U’, with Snoop also featuring on ‘2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted’. Elsewhere the cast list bulged with names like Redman, K-Ci & Jojo, E-40, George Clinton and Method Man, an ensemble of guests as grandiose as you could get.
Overall it isn't quite the album lyrically a multi-faceted character like him deserved, but it helped shape his legacy. Tupac raised a culture of truth-telling and preaching the injustices he experienced throughout his life as a black male in America, something sadly lost with many of today’s rappers (Kendrick Lamar aside) who seem more concerned about how to make their music as ‘viral’ as possible instead of focusing on the true meaning of what it is they’re partaking in.
Although Pac was tragically killed only seven months after the release, his aural footprint lives on still to this day, and much of that is down to the success of All Eyez On Me. It helped shape the global perception of a man that defined a generation, the gateway to his huge catalogue of music.
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