Coming of Age With Hip Hop (part 4.1)

Welcome back for the fourth installment of Coming of Age with Hip Hop. This week, I have the pleasure of tackling one of the biggest years in Hip Hop: 1996. Due to the six heavyweight releases that I have selected as the premier albums of 1996, I will break this installment up into three segments. Each segment will critically explore and deconstruct two albums. The first segment will exclusively focus on 2Pac and his two landmark albums, All Eyez on Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. The second segment will feature Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Nas’ It Was Written. Outkast’s ATLiens and The Fugees’ The Score will anchor the third segment and round out 1996.
 

I know, right?!!! 1996 was one hell of a year… and you haven’t even seen the honorable mentions yet!

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1996

Simply put, 1996 was the shit! What else is there to say and how else could I say it? In retrospect, this year was certainly the climax of my high school experience. Every member of my crew had a car to whip, a chain to rock, a few fresh pairs of Tims and Air Force Ones to sport, and a cute honey to creep with after school. We had juice, love and unforgettable music.

 

By ’96, every member of my crew had abandoned their hoop dreams in pursuit of being fly-ass niggas. Basketball practice for free wasn’t aligning with our goals of getting money and macking. We traded in varsity dreams for part-time jobs and blew whole checks on clothes, music and entertainment.

 

My female peers validated the decision that my parents couldn’t understand. While my parents questioned why I would get dressed up and pay to see a game that I should be playing in, my female peers were affirming my flyness with their phone numbers every Friday night at some high school sporting event. My burgeoning affinities for flavor and cool (what the youngsters refer to now as “swagger”) and my greedy desires for the opposite sex somehow never managed to dominate my love for rap. At a time when teenage hormones determined the actions of most of my peers, my first love still remained the music.

 

I remember being horny all day in class and then going to see cute-ass Brandy after school. Even though I knew we had a tight window of time before her mother got home, I never let that pressure force me to miss Rap City while over her crib. Thinking back on it now, I think my perceived nonchalance towards her while watching the videos made her dig me even more, but I wasn’t intentionally ignoring her for that reason.

 

Truthfully, I just couldn’t wait to get in front of a TV in hopes that I could catch Smooth Da Hustler’s “Broken Language” video. To this day, that remains one of my favorite rap records of all time. Before the introduction of technology like YouTube and DVR, I know brothers and sisters that would hold themselves hostage in front of a TV for hours in order to catch their favorite song and video. The music meant that much to us… or at least to me. Another video in ’96 that I definitely didn’t want to miss was LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya.” Who doesn’t remember how this video introduced us to the sexy and gangsta Foxy Brown, or how brothers would spend their whole lunch period talking about the ferocity of Fat Joe’s bars or arguing about who had the best verse between Keith Murray and Prodigy?

 

One day at school, after having a similar lunch debate, I was chilling in the cafeteria during my free period. I was doing some school work and listening to my walkman when someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around to find the new janitor standing behind me.

 

“What you listenin’ to?” the janitor inquired.

“A Clue tape,” I responded somewhat puzzled by his random approach and question.

“Oh ok. One of them New York niggas, huh?”

“Yeah,” I answered, still wondering where this was going. “Clue is from Queens but he got mad other cats on it though.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m familiar with them joints. I be hearin’ yall talkin’ at lunch and shit. Why yall never rap about 2Pac? Yall always be on that East Coast shit.”

 

By now I am fully intrigued. I didn’t even know the janitor’s name, but yet he was familiar with our lunch conversations and rap debates. He seemed to be cool enough from general observations that I had made of him prior to this awkward conversation. The main thing that made him stand out was the fact that he was relatively young. He would always greet me with a head nod or peace sign from a distance, but this was the closest proximity that we had shared and this was definitely the first time we had ever exchanged words.

 

I interrupted his interrogation with a question of my own, “What’s your name, yo?”

“My bad, man. Mark,” he said as he extended his fist waiting for me to dap him up.

I gave him a pound and returned the courtesy, “D.”

“I know you a little Hip Hop head. You be rocking to your walkman every time I see you and I see how all your little homies always ask you what you think about some record or something.”

“Everyone knows that I’m always on the music tip I guess.”

“Are you from New York or something?”

“Nah, I’m from here.”

“Oh ok. You look like a New York nigga and you like all that East Coast music.”

“Where you from and who you like?”

“I’m from Boston, but I been all around and the only thing I fuck wit’ is 2Pac.”

“Word. Pac is cool. He got some dope joints.”

“Some dope joints? You must not be listening”

“You ain’t got All Eyez on Me?”

“Nah. My man be bumpin it though so I know a few joints on there. That joint with Red and Meth is crazy.”

Mark looked offended as he scratched his chin. He paused for a moment while rolling his eyes before stating, “Listen man, I’m gon’ bring you a dub tomorrow. You gon’ listen to that shit if I bring it in?”

“Yeah, if you bring it in, I’ll rock to it.”

“Alright then. I’ll hit you tomorrow during your lunch.”

 

All Eyez On Me

All Eyez on Me (Eyez) cannot be discussed without contextualizing it within the times. When considering this classic album, one must be cognizant of the bitter feud between the East and West coasts. B.I.G. and 2Pac served as both coasts’ respective commanders in chief and the media recklessly doused every interview, video and song of these two giants with kerosene and lighter fluid and then sat back and fanned the flames. Without question, this era was intense and combustible. The volatile stage had been set and 2Pac delivered an ardent opus bursting with violence, rage and a warped sense of redemption that resembled these inflammatory times.

 

Backed by Suge Knight, the most intimidating boss in the game, and the West Coast flagship of Death Row Records, 2Pac released a furious epic that would become the new benchmark for gangsta rap. This album’s nihilistic tendencies, narcissistic hedonism and gross misogyny was enough to make Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle seem like a children’s bedtime story. With 27 songs written, arranged and recorded in just two weeks, Eyez became the first double album in Hip Hop history. It also marked a creative paradigm shift for 2Pac as he abandoned the social and political consciousness that undergirded previous efforts like 2Pacalypse Now and Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Eyez instead found 2Pac unapologetically embracing and reveling in the self-destructive, anti-community expressions of the “Thug Life” mantra.  

 

With 2Pac taking personal offense to one of Hip Hop’s most notorious (no pun intended) B side cuts ever released, B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya,” he had no choice but to answer strongly… and answer strongly he did with “Ambitionz Az a Ridah.” As of right now, this song still remains the hardest rap record out. If you have a sick ride, an incredible system and you want to let bystanders know it’s not a game, trust me, you’ll want to turn up the volume, roll down the windows and knock “Ambitionz Az a Ridah.”

 

Hip Hop, yall tell me if I’m lying. Love or hate 2Pac, this record is undeniable and it set off Eyez with an amazing proclamation that says, “2Pac is back in the motherfuckin building!”

 

In addition to all the aforementioned reasons, “Amibitionz Az a Ridah” is the perfect introduction to Eyez because it serves as 2Pac’s new creative manifesto. If you were digging that “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Dear Mama,” “Can You Get Away” 2Pac, then Eyez may not be the album for you. “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” indicates that 2Pac’s new super gangster aesthetic is entrenched in violent, sexist patriarchy as he raps “I got no time for these bitches.” There will be no sympathetic songs that serve as empowering odes to black women on Eyes because Pac will be too busy trying to “clown hoes like it’s mandatory.” Instead of searching for deeper meanings into the tragic ways that some black women have responded to patriarchal white supremacy, 2Pac is invested in castigating black women as “Skandalouz” and making sure that they get the answer to why he and his cohorts call them out of their name on “Wonder Why They Call U Bytch.” A good listen to “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” foreshadows that this is what we should expect from Pac on Eyez.

 

This remarkable and troubling intro is followed up by two lackluster songs that proceed to malign black women, “All About U” and “Skandalouz.” While both songs are heavily peppered with bitches and hos and feature Nate Dogg ridiculously crooning about hos, only one is worthy of further exploration.

 

Let’s be clear, “All Albout U” is not a good song, but it is an interesting text worthy of critical analysis because of its historical and present day implications concerning patriarchy, masculinity and black womanist thought. What I find most interesting about the song is 2Pac’s desire to berate women who have the perceived agency of movement. Historically speaking, black literature (that has been written by black women in particular) has focused on how black women’s inability to move compounds their oppression in a way that is inexperienced by black men. One can start as early as the slave narratives in order to engage in a comparative analysis. Notice the difference between the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. While both suffered the dehumanizing degradation of chattel slavery, Douglass is able to actualize a nominal freedom and agency that Jacobs is barred from simply because of the mobility that is afforded via his gender. Douglass’ masculine mobility comes as the result of not having the additional concerns of caring for children. We also see in Douglass’ narrative that his mother could have potentially moved as he moved to escape to freedom, but instead of exercising her mobility to run North, she would travel by night to another plantation just to sleep with her son, Frederick, before traveling back to her plantation by dawn.

 

Jacobs has a different experience. In addition to being a slave, she is a black woman that also has to deal with the imminent dangers of rape and sexual assault. Plus her thoughts of escape (similar to Douglass’ mother) are crippled by her concerns for her children. Instead of running away to claim her personal freedom, Jacobs just flees her master in order to avoid his constant attempts to rape her. The interesting twist to Jacobs’ narrative is that she returns to the plantation in order to inhabit a tiny crawlspace above a porch for seven years just to see and be near her children. The space was nine feet long and seven feet wide. Its sloping ceiling, only three feet high at one end, didn’t allow her to turn while laying down without hitting her shoulder. Rats and mice crawled over her and there was no light and no ventilation. Jacobs only left the crawlspace at night to stretch for exercise. Jacobs’ experience indicates how she left one form of slavery only to inherit a more physically restricting bondage. Moreover, both versions of bondage were prescribed by her station as a poor black woman.

 

The fiction of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, and J. California Cooper along with the poetry of Ntozake Shange and Rita Dove, all explore similar consequences and circumstances that poor black women deal with due to their lack of mobility. Consequently, each of these writers suggest that the experiences and conditions of poor black women are tantamount to the experiences and conditions of slaves even in a post-slavery America.

 

Now enter 2Pac’s “All About U” in which the chorus sings, “Every other city we go, every other vi-de-o/ No matter where I go, I see the same ho.” While this song accounts for black women’s newfound ability to move from club to club, city to city and video to video, it quickly turns and harshly ridicules them as hos for this recently acquired mobility. What we unearth in “All About U” is a vicious double standard that celebrates black men’s latitude to be “rolling stones” while the femininity of black women is assaulted for their perceived transgressions of realizing their sexual autonomy that derives from an equalizing mobility that 2Pac’s internalized patriarchy is not willing to acquiesce.  Examine these lines from the first verse:

 

In every club, I see you starin like you want it
Well baby if you got it better flaunt it
Let the liquor help you get up on it
I’m still tipsy from last night
Bumpin these walls as I pause, addicted to the fast life
I try to holla but you tell me you taken
Sayin you ain’t impressed, with the money I’m makin
Guess it’s true what they tellin me
Fresh out of jail, life’s Hell for a black, celebrity
 

The first line, “In every club, I see you starin like you want it,” is a very important line because it places 2Pac and this woman as equals, or at least with equal opportunities and agency to move. She is able to be in every club that he is in and thus he is forced to acknowledge her presence, “I see you starin.” But this acknowledgement comes with the accompaniment of 2Pac attempting to dominate this woman by dictating how she should use her body in the very next line, “Well baby if you got it better flaunt it.” From the juxtaposition of these two lines, one quickly sees the tension between this anonymous woman’s ability to be everywhere that 2Pac is and 2Pac’s ability to dominate her by benefiting from an age old system of patriarchy.

 

The last few lines of this stanza really represent Pac’s perceived entitlement from being not just a man, but a rich man specifically when he raps,

 

I try to holla but you tell me you taken
Sayin you ain’t impressed, with the money I’m makin
Guess it’s true what they tellin me
Fresh out of jail, life’s Hell for a black, celebrity
Imagine the absurdity of this notion! Pac has truly bought in to the patriarchy of white supremacy and capitalism by asserting that “life’s hell for a black celebrity” simply because he has been rejected by a black woman who has the autonomy to pick her own man and then move independent of that man. This tension and 2Pac’s warped ideas of ownership, entitlement and power based off of patriarchal white supremacy reminds me of why Janie Crawford left Joe Straks in Zora Neale Husrston’s classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God. To be sure, if Janie was a character in Pac’s “All About U,” then we know that Janie too would have to be a “trick ho bitch” in the tortured minds of 2Pac, Nate Dogg and The Outlawz.

 

Along with “All About U” and “Skandalouz,” there were a few other subpar records like “Life Goes On,” “Tradin War Stories” and “What’z Your Phone #” sprinkled throughout Part 1 of Eyez. Despite these filler tracks, the timeless and incomparable sounds of smash records like “Got My Mind Made Up,” “How Do You Want It,” “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” “No More Pain” (my personal favorite on the whole album), “Heartz of Men” “Only God Can Judge Me,” “California Love” and I Ain’t Mad At Cha” would be enough to grant any album classic status! Eyez is truly an album where the hits far outweigh the misses and after sampling the barrage of hits on Part 1, I couldn’t wait to pop in the second tape to see what I had in store.

 

Part 2 did not disappoint with the opening track! It quickly matched the intensity and fire of Part 1 with the Dr. Dre produced and George Clinton backed “Can’t C Me.” For all of those that would detract from 2Pac’s lyrical prowess, I would certainly suggest that they revisit this record. His flow was impeccable as he masterfully broached the layered Dr. Dre production and precisely unpacked his rapid fire verbal acuity on top of the beat. “Can’t C Me” was scorching! Moreover it was the perfect way to set off the second installment of Eyez with a true West Coast gangsta touch. As I have clearly stated in the previous installments of this series, I had a true affinity towards East Coast rap music. Nevertheless, “Can’t C Me” made me want to get a pair a Chuck Taylors, throw up the “W” and yell, “West Siiiidde!”

 

The following track, “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug” also demonstrates an aesthetic point of departure for 2Pac. On previous albums, a song like “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug” would have a different conclusion. Based off of the social and political underpinnings of previous albums, and Pac’s prior concerns for young black men trying to negotiate the madness of poor, urban America, one would anticipate that the moral of “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug” would be encouraging the young middle class teen that the thug life is not the way to go. But this All Eyez On Me 2Pac is only concerned with the trappings of thug life, no matter the cost. Thus, at the end of the song when a young black middle class teenager has placed himself on the road to incarceration and an early death, 2Pac only warns him to “stay sharp” to avoid getting locked up for life instead of admonishing him to leave the street-life alone altogether.

 

Besides “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug,” other problematic records such as “Wonder Why They Call U Bytch,” “Thug Passion,” “Check Out Time,” and “Rather be Ya Nigga” are all sprinkled throughout Part 2. While I can’t indict these songs as wack, they certainly don’t possess the timeless quality of “Can’t C Me” or some of the other classic recordings found on Part 1. On a whole, Part 2 is inferior when compared to the brilliance of Part 1, but extremely dope records like “Picture Me Rolling,” “All Eyez on Me” and “Ain’t Hard 2 Find” add to the classic status of Eyez.

 

All Eyez on Me is a monumental album with significant gravity. It reflects the tensions and uncertainty of the times as Hip Hop suffered and limped through a cultural civil war. Released exactly 7 months before 2Pac’s untimely demise, the reckless abandon of All Eyez On Me foreshadowed Pac’s date with death on the Las Vegas strip that unforgettable September night. Thankfully for Hip Hop, Pac redeemed himself by recording The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory before his death.

 

The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
After listening to The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (Makaveli), I can easily say, “I FEEL YOU,” to every rap junkie that advances that 2Pac is their favorite rapper of all time. This effort was nothing short of a masterpiece and I’m proud to advance that this is my favorite 2Pac album. It’s what All Eyez on Me could have been minus the filler tracks and suspect guest appearances. On Makaveli, Pac was focused and on his “A” game, exemplified by the fact that he wrote and recorded the 12 track classic opus in just three days… as if he knew he didn’t have much time left.
 

Makaveli also marks a brilliant return back to Pac’s original artistic aesthetic and creative sensibility with its poignant social and political commentary. Songs like “To Live and Die in LA,” “Blasphemy,” “Life of an Outlaw,” “Krazy,” “White Man’z World,” and “Hold Ya Head” center this magnum opus and ground it in the harsh realities that common black folk gruel through. If ever there was an album in which Pac became the voice of the people, then Makaveli is that album.
 

Another thing that I find particularly interesting about Makaveli is the song layout and track listing. It is very important to note the order of the songs and how they rub up against each other. Important conversations and a range of discursive discourses begin to emerge over and through the layered songs of Makaveli. For example, religion and spirituality- and their relevance and functionality to poor black people- get examined through a host of complex lenses on Makaveli between “Hail Mary” and “Blasphemy.” “Toss It Up” and “To Live and Die and LA” provide an interesting intertextuality to help one better understand 2Pac’s complex ideas on religion. When examined altogether, these four songs provide spaces that allow us to consider the relationship of religion and poor black people through the myriad lenses of sexual yearnings and immediate gratification, negotiating and surviving impoverished urban environments and responding to the media’s criminalized identity of black youth.
 

When the track listing for the album is examined in its entirety, then one sees that it actually mirrors 2Pac’s performance persona and facade as “thug.”  The sensitive and nuanced, politically charged and socially aware songs aforementioned are sandwiched in between the hyper-violent and volatile songs, “Bomb First” and “Against All Odds.” These songs respectively serve as bookends to the album and provide a rugged, hard-body, thug life exterior to Makaveli. Beyond this contrived exterior of reckless hostility and thug life, lies a caring, vulnerable soul that cries out for the pain of his people. This is the duality and contradiction that has come to define 2Pac. He is infamously regarded as a thug and ruffian to those that don’t know him while he is heralded as compassionate and loving to those that know him best. Makaveli exquisitely demonstrates this dichotomy through the careful layout and arrangement of the individual songs that appear on the album.
 

Before I begin to critically engage the richness and complexity of some of my favorite and/or most intriguing songs on Makaveli, I would be remiss not to mention the ferment, commotion and overall hardcore excitement and appeal that “Bomb First” and “Against All Odds” generated. I can’t recall any rap album that started and finished as hard as Makaveli did. This was unadulterated and uncut aggression. If Makaveli marks 2Pac’s return back to his politically/socially aware foundation, then one can easily marshal that “Bomb First” and “Against All Odds” are defiant remnants of 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me days. These songs erupt with the same gangsta energy and hood explosiveness of “Ambitionz of a Ridah” and “Can’t C Me.” Regardless of whether you were a Death Row and West Coast fan or a Bad Boy, East Coast enthusiast, you had no choice but to love the spirit and fire of “Against All Odds.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I don’t fuck with 2Pac, but that “Against All Odds” shit is hard as hell my nigga.” I bet my bottom dollar and last dime that if someone played “Against All Odds” right now, that everyone would smile and get goose bumps as soon as they heard Pac say, “Hoping my true motherfuckas know, this be the realest shit I ever wrote.”  Let’s move on before I start a riot up in here!
 

I wish I had the space to write about every song on Makaveli. The complexity and ingenuity of each track warrants a detailed critical exploration and deconstruction, but unfortunately I will only be able to briefly address a few via this forum. That said, let’s skip pass the smash singles of “Hail Mary” and “Toss It Up” and start with “To Live and Die in LA.”
 

“To Live and Die in LA” has to be one of the best rep your city/hood/region rap songs to date. It surpasses the shallow and surface breadth of “California Love” with a developed depth that details why LA should be lamented and celebrated. What really gives “To Live and Die in LA” complexity and depth is its musical production coupled with the visual interpretation of the video. Sonically, “To Live and Die in LA” is a very pleasant, light and upbeat song.  If one just vibes to the smooth groove of the production, then it can be easy to overlook the depressing trials and tribulations that LA imposes on its poor black citizens. The same can be said of the video. While 2Pac is rapping about the poverty, murder and gang violence of LA, the video provides a counter narrative that celebrates the beauty of the city along with the common black folk that dwell in LA. The creative synergy of the production, 2Pac’s lyrics and the video really help to paint a robust and full picture of LA ranging from the danger and despair of South Central Los Angeles to the beautiful scenery of LA’s oceans and beaches to the iconography of Hollywood.
 

The next track, “Blasphemy,” is a scathing critique of how the Christian church and the political views of the Christian Right are leveraged by the state to further propagate an American cultural hegemony that oppresses and maligns black people. Before one begins to explicate “Blasphemy,” one must start with the perceived blasphemy of the album cover.
 

Makaveli’s album cover has a naked 2Pac nailed to a cross with a bandanna on his head as his crown of thorns and nothing but a Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics sticker covering his genitalia. The album cover’s provocative imagery is iconoclastic and introduces us to the controversial ideas that 2Pac is considering on “Blasphemy.”
 

By nailing himself to the cross, 2Pac challenges, resists and explodes conventional notions of “white Jesus.” He replaces white patriarchy’s façade of innocence with its most feared antithesis: virile, unconcealed black masculinity. By replacing the crown of thorns with a bandanna, 2Pac is cleverly conjuring the image and idea of “thug” in a political context. Just as Jesus was crucified by the state, Pac is suggesting that he too will become a martyr for his radical stances that attack the status quo white power structure. Pac’s revolutionary political commentary automatically makes him a thug guilty of treason, thus, a state-sanctioned execution is his fate. Lastly, the Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics sticker covering his genitalia speaks to America’s historical fear of the black man’s penis. And we all know that this fear has compelled the crucifixions of thousands of black men through lynching, unjust incarceration and media condemnation through propaganda like “Birth of a Nation,” “King Kong,” Willie Horton, O.J. Simpson, etc.
 

In order to understand how the song, “Blasphemy,” brilliantly underscores and reinforces the aforementioned political commentary provided by Makaveli’s album cover, please see the second and third verse respectively: 
 

We probably in Hell already, our dumb asses not knowin
Everybody kissin ass to go to heaven ain’t goin
Put my soul on it, I’m fightin devil niggaz daily
Plus the media be crucifying brothers severely
Tell me I ain’t God’s son, nigga mom a virgin
We got addicted had to leave the burbs, back in the ghetto
doin wild shit, lookin at the sun don’t pay
Criminal mind all the time, wait for Judgment Day
They say Moses split the Red Sea
I split the blunt and rolled the fat one, I’m deadly — Babylon beware
Comin for the Pharoahe’s kids, retaliation
Makin legends off the shit we did, still bullshittin
Niggaz in Jerusalem, waitin for signs
God promised, she’s just takin her time,
Living by the Nile while the water flows
I’m contemplating plots wondering which door to go
Brothas getting shot, comin back resurrected
It’s just that raw shit, nigga check it

 

The preacher want me buried why? Cause I know he a liar
Have you ever seen a crackhead, that’s eternal fire
Why you got these kids minds, thinkin that they evil
while the preacher bein richer you say honor God’s people
Should we cry, when the Pope die, my request
We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X
Mama tell me am I wrong, is God just another cop
waitin to beat my ass if I don’t go pop?
Memories of a past time, givin up cash
to the leaders, knowin damn well, it ain’t gonna feed us
In my brain how can you explain, time in D.C.
It’s hard enough to live now, in these times of greed
They say Jesus is a kind man, well he should understand
times in this crime land, my Thug nation
Do whatchu gotta do but know you gotta change
Try to find a way to make it out the game
I leave this and hope God can see my heart is pure
Is heaven just another door? I leave this here
I leave this and hope God see my heart is pure
Is heaven just another door?

 

As we quickly move on, who can forget how Pac details the desperate cries of victimization and alienation on “Life of an Outlaw,” or the need to get high and escape the horrid reality of being a young black man in America on “Krazy?” It’s still nothing for me to zone out to “White Man’z World,” an incredible record in which 2Pac challenges us to probe and conquer our insecurities of self-hate and self-loathing as we strive to rebuild healthy and whole communities. And unless you’re talking about Jay-Z’s wack ass remake, it’s impossible to forget about “Me and My Girlfriend!”
 

In conclusion, no other rapper has dominated a year like 2Pac dominated 1996. Who else has managed to put out 2 classic, multi-platinum, career-defining, game-changing albums that both serve as cultural landmarks… and get murdered all in the same year?
 

I thought so. Rest in Peace Pac…
 

Stay turned for the next segment of 1996 which will feature Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Nas’ It Was Written. Before I bounce, allow me to leave you with an early gift:
 

1996 Honorable Mentions
Redman: Muddy Waters

Ghostface Killah: Iron Man

De La Soul: Stakes is High

Rass Kass: Soul On Ice

Mobb Deep: Hell on Earth

The Roots: Illadelph Halflife

Lil Kim: Hardcore

15 Comments to ‘Coming of Age With Hip Hop (part 4.1)’:

  1. HS classmate on 1 Jul 2009 at 9:49 am: 1

    Excellent work my friend! It’s amazing to think that as youth, we would gravitate to one side of the conflict that ensued. Of course, I was all EAST COAST and on Biggie’s team, but Pac was an iressistable talent for sure. I only listened to his Killuminati album in 96, and became a fan after “Me and My Girlfriend” and “Hit ‘Em up”. These were classic aggresive records that embodied the rage and confusion of young black men.
    ‘Me and My Girlfriend’ was a classic metaphor for love that should exist between Man and Woman; however the song was about the lustful relationship between Man and Gun. I can still recite every word of that almost 6 minute song to this day. The lyrical prowess exhibited in that song was genius to say the least.
    I remember sitting around the lunch table talking about our cars’ various mechanical problems LOL (I remember the Citation), girls from other schools we were messing with; but the most memorable conversations were those about Hip Hop.
    It was as though we knew that this was a monumental moment in time that will never be recreated, and we need to expose our minds to these various musical geniuses before their light was put out as a result of thier own success and brilliance.
    It’s sad to see people with BIG and Pac tributes, yet have never truly sat down and listened to their art. It is sad to see that these two geniuses are celebrated more for their untimely demise, rather than for their phenomenal works that fall nowhere short of absolute genius.
    Great incite my friend, and please note that I am one of many readers that feels the need to read your pieces more than once, in successful efforts of resurrecting my faith in music and appreciating the impact it has had upon me and those around me. Thanks for doing this service for our souls! Take care my friend…

  2. wesley m on 1 Jul 2009 at 10:19 am: 2

    Dats heavy fam, The image of Pac on the cross is emblematic of the living breathing example he developed into and the jewels we are able to gleen from examining the faults and the achievements of his life. Also, raising the influences of his family, mentors, education and friends is of importance.. I have always stated that Tupac is the artist (in the broadest since possible) that has impacted me the most, not just in the context of hip hop, but for the relentless reminders his life offered for young black males as we continue our growth.. the ominous right wing preacher at the beginning of Blasphemy is an all to familiar voice to me as I heard all the televangelists growing up and hearing Tupac and Malcolm X and others challenge the root and the branch of western thought processes gave a young G some confidence in this “white man’s world”. The personal paradigm shifts during 2pacs life also lay out a future that we continue to walk towards that seems hopeless, but still with that essence, of our human right to exist freely with liberty, happiness and justice that Pac always managed to sneek in (LOUDLY at times).. Love to that brother, his Mother and all who keep the principles. GREAT WRITE BROTHER!

  3. Anwar on 1 Jul 2009 at 11:15 am: 3

    Iron Man a honorable mention that album was tough and I was not even a strong rap listener then and Muddy Waters was crazy.. I just had a flashback to the outfits back in those days… hockey jersey, vest, timbos.. Wow how the era’s have changed. All Eyez on me was and still is a banger…. You doing well.. Just have to see how you rank the next part with NAS and Jigga…. Affirmative Action/Black Girl Lost and repping for Dead Presidents/D’Evils….

  4. Cameron Denson on 1 Jul 2009 at 2:19 pm: 4

    Great article! Definitely a Pac fan and you provided me with a new lens to view his art through. One thought, if I’m not mistaken the Makaveli album was actually written and recorded in seven days, hence the subtitle : The 7 Day Theory.

  5. Tru Hip Hop Head on 1 Jul 2009 at 2:55 pm: 5

    Great post fam, keep it coming. You had some real interesting interpretations on Pac. Never thought about some of these songs in this way, but I really dig it.Great catch Cameron, the album was completed in 7 days, but he actually wrote and recorded it in 3 days. It took an additional 4 days to mix and master it and thus “The 7 Day Theory.” Can’t wait for the rest!

  6. Twan on 1 Jul 2009 at 4:47 pm: 6

    Incredible as always. No need to expound.

  7. Elijah Moore on 1 Jul 2009 at 11:09 pm: 7

    Damn, mean closing…Never really considered the length and depth of Pac’s 96 contribution. I was too ignorantly engulfed in the East Coast/West Coast war, which I directly blamed Pac’s rebeliousness and ignorance in starting, feeding, and continuing to his death. It was only years later I could truly appreciate Pac’s full array of MC talent.

    Back in 93..keep your head up and I got to get mines you go to get yours..was the shit..Pac was that dude! But as you touched on in earlier articles, our East Coast influence weighed to heavily to ignore! I rememember listenting to “All eyes on Me: and quickly dismissing that track, because he shared a beat with Nas’s Street Dreams..off his 96 classic It was Written. I couldn’t appreciate Pac’s version until years later. California Love…I absolutely hated that song, as did you Olukun! I’m proud of you for taking the time to critically engage a Pac album, because my Brother from Another..we honestly did not FUCK with him back in the day..Overall great piece once again..I wish you would’ve shared or dived into his thoughts post the rape indictment, I think that wouldve explained his disdain for woman at that point in his life..

    Pac was problematic, brilliant, complex, crazy as hell, and one of the Greatest MC’s EVER! RIP TUPAC SHAKUR!

  8. Andrew Borgelin on 2 Jul 2009 at 8:58 pm: 8

    Great article Olukun. Maybe my favorite so far based on the feeling it created in me. I have been contemplating the rebelliousness of rap recently and who better than 2pac to cover. Reading the article made me want to put Pac in right then and there. Hip hop is a beautiful, powerful, misused, underappreciated dichotomy that speaks to the brilliance and torture of Black people. There is hip hop energy and spirits. We will legitimize our culture through writers like you who dissect the hidden messages, jewels, pathologies, sicknesses, science, and mathematics that these urban poets recite through rhythmic essence.

    With that said ‘96 was the shit! Lupe was onto something on his last album when he covered The Cool. Conceptually it may be the most important album easily in the past 5 years. It is the sonic back piece to Richard Major’s book- Cool Pose: The Dilemma’s of Black Manhood in America. Being cool is one of the number one killers of Black Man, the fuck the world attitude, our live for the moment mentality. But it is our coping mechanism. “Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough”. And you hit it on the nail when you spoke about high school and how important it was to be cool. How much it meant for us to let the world know who we were. In the case of 2pac as you wrote this would be reflected in his “concern with the trappings of thug life, no matter what the cost”. What is the cost?

    What transformed Pac? Did he reach a point when he didn’t care anymore? To be Black and brilliant is a gift and a curse. The more you try to change shit the more you feel like shit stays the same. And that is the dynamic message of Pac. Talk to 5 different people and you will get five different takes on him. Some will call him the greatest ever and others will say he wasn’t that great of a lyricist. Undeniable he was dope in the finished product of his artistry.

    I wanted to add a different take on “All About U”

    In every club, I see you starin like you want it
    Well baby if you got it better flaunt it
    Let the liquor help you get up on it
    I’m still tipsy from last night
    Bumpin these walls as I pause, addicted to the fast life
    I try to holla but you tell me you taken
    Sayin you ain’t impressed, with the money I’m makin
    Guess it’s true what they tellin me
    Fresh out of jail, life’s Hell for a black, celebrity

    Being the gifted wordsmith that Pac was these words can have two meanings. The points you mentioned are very valid. I also think of how this 25 year old brother was powerful, scared, and so much more. He was ‘still tipsy from last night, bumping these walls as I pause, addicted to the fast life’. What makes him want to chase The Cool? ‘Fresh out of jail’ life is Hell for a black celebrity. Pac is living in a world chasing ghosts, dealing with the double consciousness of being Black and on top of that the pitfalls of fame and dealing with life after rape charges, being shot, and as we know now not really making that much money from his creative endeavors. Soul’s On Ice (what a gem Ras).

    2pac was very destructive. He not only predicted his death he helped create it all while leaving behind timeless music for us to decipher. Olukun what your writing reminds us is that there are many common themes in our classic sonic hip hop renderings. When we talked about you crafting this piece you told me that you were a bit shocked at how problematic ‘All Eyez on Me’ was. Similar to how we talked about how disturbed Biggie was on ‘Ready to Die’. On Lloyd Bank’s new mixtape 4-30-09 he speaks this food for thought:

    It’s terminate on sight
    The burner lay all night
    Inside of my is logically
    The only way that’s right
    I give you all I got
    Some of my homie’s gave their life
    The misguided die
    While the children pay the price

    As well as:

    Caged in like a zoo
    That’s why they going ape shit
    Lost child taught to short smile
    And make paper flip

    Does that not sound like thug life? I know you love that Styles P song Olukun where he says fuck a cage when there’s a cage up in you. And that is what made 2pac who he was. His ability to convey the depth, darkness, strength, and beauty of Black man all in the same breath all by the age of 25. Your article was compelling. Keep up the great work!

  9. Armond Towns on 3 Jul 2009 at 10:56 pm: 9

    Tough article. As you know, I’m definitely a huge 2Pac fan and researcher, and he really did tear ’96 up, increasing his fame, legacy, and what many see as his “prophetic nature.” And you are definitely right. “Ambitionz” is and will always be the shit. But whenever faced with the argument that Pac became less social/political when “Eyez” dropped, I always argue the contrary. For me, it seems that Pac’s career is based on the contradiction of being both social/political and “gangsta,” even on “Strictly 4 My Niggaz.” Not to mention that this is really during “gangsta rap’s” hey day (I’ll give you 1989-1997); the lyrics that N.W.A., Schoolly D, Pac, Snoop, and others were spitting were often self-destructive and harmful, but also never heard before, making them, in my eyes, very social and political. “Eyez” had songs like “Wonda Why They Call U Bytch,” “Life Goes On,” and “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” all of which are very socially and politically tied to issues of race, gender, violence, sexism, and poverty. And “7-Day Theory” has, what I argue to be, one of Pac’s most political songs of all time: “White Man’z World.” However, I do feel that the “East Coast/West Coast Beef” and Pac’s multiple fueds did “change” the overall tone of a Pac album, whether he was aware of it or not. Whereas on albums like “Me Against the World” and everything prior to that, Pac’s tracklists seemed relatively unpredictable, on his later albums there “felt” like he recorded more songs tied to images of hyper violence. For example, one “Me Against the World,” you could be listening to “Fuck the World” and then “Dear Mama” and never really miss a beat (I’m hard pressed to think of another hip-hop artist with this much range and popular appeal). His ’96 albums, however, lost much of that unpredictability, which I think is equally tied to Pac’s own demons and the media hyping the East Coast/West Coast beef, to the point that many people wanted every Pac song to attack Biggie (this was only fueled by the fact that the media depicted Pac as an “outlaw” [MTV ran out a “Tupac Police Record” around this time] and Biggie never really struck back). I think that Pac, like many of his fans and the media, fell victim to being enchanted with watching his public bouts with maintaining a certain image of black masculinity. This led Pac to accept (more so than he already had) a tone of tragic nihilism, and this showed through more in his final albums; but they were still social/political. Many may argue that nihilism and social/political action are incompatible, but I disagree. I challenge you to think of one revolution that did not start from the heart of a nihilistic soul. To me, Pac was far from perfect. He was nihilistic, narcissistic, and misogynistic…but so was Bigger Thomas. So was Bob Jones. So were many men who are now hailed in black literature as great characters, often characters that were created by authors who were just nihilistic, narcissistic, and misogynistic. I think that Pac is very much in the same category, making him just as tragic, contradictory, and just as in need of change (also called revolution; almost sacrificial, like the “Smile” video with Scarface). Putting his name with figures like John Lennon, Bob Marley, Frida Kahlo, and Gwendolyn Brooks, to name a few, Pac really is possibly one of the most complex artist to grace our presence in the last 100 years!

  10. Rashad on 4 Jul 2009 at 7:44 am: 10

    Great article! I guess I haven’t fully reconciled this east/west beef. During all of the media promotion, solid artists like The Roots were overlooked. Illadelph Halflife could have replaced one of those Pac albums. If some disagree with that selection, Ras Kass: Soul on Ice could have replaced one of the Pac albums.

    2Pac was hip-hop’s modern day PT Barnum. He wasn’t the greatest lyricist but you couldn’t keep your eyes and/or ears off him.

  11. BT on 4 Jul 2009 at 7:03 pm: 11

    D…I want to thank you for this installment. You know 2pac is my favorite rapper and always will be. Mostly for the reasons you kind of slammed him for. I love that no matter how I’m feeling 2pac has a record…better yet an entire album that I can sip henny and vibe too. True enough 2pac went into a different direction with All Eyes on Me. I must point out the source of some of this raw aggression towards women. Pac had just pulled time for raping a woman he was having sex with on a semi-regular basis because she cried rape. Pac left the room and she let his boys run a train on her. After Pac didnt want nothing else to do with her…she cries Rape. Pac wasnt even in the room when this “attack” occurred. Nuff about that. Even on this album he still rapped about the stuggle in “Only God Can Judge Me” as he so eloquently spits…

    I’d rather die like a man, than live like a coward There’s a ghetto up in Heaven and it’s ours, Black Power
    is what we scream as we dream in a paranoid state And our fate, is a lifetime of hate Dear Mama, can you save me? And fuck peace Cause the streets got our babies, we gotta eat
    No more hesitation each and every black male’s trapped And they wonder why we suicidal runnin round strapped
    Mista, Po-lice, please try to see that it’s a million motherfuckers stressin just like me Only God can judge me.

    Makaveli is my favorite 2pac album as well my brutha because you get the best of both Pacs. Murder you on Bomb First and encourage you on White Manz World. Gotta love It. I also must say that ’96 was a pivotal year for me. Its the year my father passed. I went through a transformation much like Pac did with All Eyes On Me. My attitude was Fuck Everything and everyone. I was barely going to school my 10th grade year. Still made decent grades just because I was smart. But hell it didnt matter to me one way or the other. So All Eyes On Me…I felt that attitude and that raw edge that Pac was delivering.

    Last but not least. Jay-Z received an official demerrit for that GAY AZZ remake and he as never earned it back. Not even with American Gangster. Me and Jay got beef about that!!

  12. Van Dee on 4 Jul 2009 at 8:08 pm: 12

    Given my east coast bias, even when my mans used to tell me how nice Pac was I still would half heartedly listen. However after that piece I may give him a little time. Once again you are the right man for the job. Funny thing though, on my way back from visiting NYC I popped in a mix CD. Listening to a lot of Artists and songs you have covered in this series. Just rockin down the interstate. I Shot Ya came on I was feelin’ it too! Then all of a sudden I was interrupted by the sounds of Fat Cracks fake ass. Damn!!! Had to eject the CD and toss it on 95. Disgusted, had to ride for an hour with no tunes to recuperate. Just had to share that, peace my brother.

  13. Sistah Girl on 8 Jul 2009 at 2:05 pm: 13

    I was turned onto the east coast by the friday night radio underground show in Illinois. However, I can’t deny that I was rockin Pac all day. Damn, it’s funny cause I thought that Makavelli was his best work. To live and die in LA was my favorite joint. Having nostalgic moments like these make me disgusted with hip hop now a days. No substance, no lyrical elements to move you emotionally. These kids are starved and deprived of true and real lyricism. We had party joints too, but our party joints were Biggie One more Chance or California LOve. Damn, I miss them days. but, 96 was the year of Pac.
    Oh my god, even the honorable mentions were off the chain. Lil Kim’s hardcore was the shit. Although she was off the chain with her lyrics, I loved the album. I was such a lil east coast head that the only ppl I listened to outside of the East side was Pac, Twista, UGK, Tela, Common, and MC Eight. That Muddy Waters was the bomb too. Thats my introduction to Red Man. I remember that cd giving me butterflies.

  14. Geo Yang on 12 Jul 2009 at 10:06 pm: 14

    I have both All Eyez on Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory; and I personally believe that the later was the stronger album. This does not mean that All Eyez on Me was mediocre or bad, it just doesn’t seem as focused. I feel like there are some filler tracks on that particular album. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory seems to represent Tupac better, as an artist because it shows off his lyrical skills as a “Thug,” while providing important social and political commentary through songs like “To Live and Die in LA” and “White Man’z World.” He puts out songs that are equally hard and gangsta like “Life as an Outlaw” and “Hail Mary.” This album is still relevant today. I don’t think there is a single song off that album that I don’t like. “Life as an Outlaw” has to be one of my favorite Tupac song ever! The album is a perfect mesh between his older stuff and All Eyez on Me, which I love to, especially, “No More Pain,”Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” “Tradin’ War Stories,” and “Only God can Judge Me.”
    1996 was definitely a great year in music and hip-hop in general! Although beef and rivalries can cause violence (death of 2pac and Biggie), it brought about some of the best music and the best of out of the two greatest MCs of all time!

  15. Erundina on 15 Mar 2012 at 3:11 pm: 15

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Published on July 1, 2009 at 8:05 am. 15 Comments.
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