Now can your mind picture, a thug n—a drinkin’ hard liquor
This ghetto life has got me catchin’ up to God quicker
Who would figure that all I need was a hair trigger
Semi-automatic MAC-11 just to scare n—as
Pardon my thug poetry, but suckas is born everyday
And fear of man grow on trees
Criminal ties for centuries, a legend in my own rhymes
So n—as whisper when they mention
Machiavelli was my tutor, Donald Goines, my father figure
Mama sent me to go play with the drug dealers
Henceforth, we thug n—as and we came in packs
Every one of my n—as strapped sippin’ on ‘Gnac
In the back, my AR-15
Thuggin’ ’til I die, these streets got me cravin’ thorazine
My lyrics are blueprints to money makin’
Fat as that ass that honey shakin’
(“Tradin’ War Stories”)
It’s been quite a while, folks….but I’m back in effect to bring y’all a long overdue review just barely in time for West Coast Wednesday. Today’s installment is in recognition of All Eyez On Me (1996), the fourth full-length solo studio effort from late, great hip hop icon Tupac Shakur (2Pac), who was tragically gunned down just months after the album’s release. This joint — which celebrates its 27th anniversary this week — holds massive significance for a number of reasons. For starters, it was Pac’s first album for the ever-controversial Death Row Records and released at the height of the label’s success, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart and eventually achieving *Diamond* certification status (with more than 10 million copies sold in the United States alone!), ultimately ranking as 2Pac’s best-selling release to date; the album’s conception is rooted in controversy itself, with label founder/CEO Marion “Suge” Knight paying Pac’s bail for nearly $1.5 million when he was jailed on sexual abuse charges, in exchange for recording three albums for Death Row.
Secondly, All Eyez On Me would notably be the first time that a solo rap act ambitiously released a double album (2 CDs; 4 LPs) of original studio material; the only other double CD rap album to be released up until that point was No Limit Records founder/CEO Master P’s sprawling Down South Hustlers compilation Bouncin’ And Swingin’ from the previous year. This new development paved the way for many other hip hop artists to do the same and the trend continues to this very day nearly 30 years after the fact, further honoring and reflecting the prolific legacy of the slain rap icon; Pac’s posthumous discography itself would include several other double-disc releases of previously unreleased material created during a series of marathon recording sessions in his final months. In addition, All Eyez On Me would seemingly mark the first time that Pac truly embraced and glorified the “thug” or “gangsta” lifestyle on such a large scale, while still somehow managing to cling to his knack for personal reflection, introspection and socially conscious material, resulting in a solid, well-balanced package of hip hop greatness, though one that is also admittedly not without its share of filler; the Disc 1 closer “What’z Ya Phone #” immediately comes to mind as the project’s clunkiest number and probably could have been left off, to be honest.
The album is blessed with more high-profile guests than ever before and excellent, consistent production across the board, with talented beatsmiths Daz Dillinger (of Tha Dogg Pound; then known as Dat N***a Daz) and the late Johnny “J” leading the way. The very first song, “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”, is a timeless West Coast rap anthem with an instantly recognizable four-note piano melody that will stay in your head forever; it remains one of Pac’s signature songs despite not being released as an official single. The success of All Eyez On Me also ran concurrently with that of the double-A-side single “California Love” b/w “How Do U Want It” (both songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart!); the former features production and an opening verse from the legendary Dr. Dre and additional vocals from late, great Zapp frontman and vocoder innovator Roger Troutman, while the latter is a steamy sex romp featuring R&B vocals from Jodeci members (and real-life brothers) K-Ci & JoJo. “California Love” was initially slated to be a part of Dre’s follow-up to The Chronic before he left Death Row and ultimately appears on this album in a remixed version; the more popular and definitive original mix can be found on the single and on Pac’s Greatest Hits compilation from 1999.
All Eyez On Me yielded two other strong singles, both produced by Daz; “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” (an unforgettable duet with none other than Snoop D-O-Double-G, whose celebrity influence has far transcended hip hop in the years since) and “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” (a nostalgic number featuring Death Row R&B crooner Danny Boy, who also appears on several other cuts), respectively. I’ve also always been a fan of the heartfelt “Life Goes On”, a dedication to Pac’s deceased comrades. Additionally, Pac’s close affiliates the Outlawz (also billed here as both Dramacydal and Outlaw Immortalz; including late members Hussein Fatal and Big Syke, who sadly passed away themselves in 2015 and 2016, respectively) are sprinkled all throughout the project, most notably on the popular “All About U” (which also features an intro from Oakland rapper Dru Down, an outro from Snoop and one of the late, great Nate Dogg’s most memorable choruses over a sample of Cameo’s “Candy”), the incredible “Tradin’ War Stories” (also featuring Sacramento gangsta rap veteran C-Bo) and the back-to-back posse cuts “When We Ride” and “Thug Passion”. Speaking of posse cuts, the epic “Ain’t Hard 2 Find” (located near the end of the album and produced by “mobb music” maestros Mike Mosley and Rick Rock, who were also responsible for the aforementioned “Tradin’ War Stories”) contains guest support from Pac’s NorCal homies C-Bo, The Click members B-Legit, D-Shot and E-40, and Richie Rich; the latter also duets with Shakur on “Ratha Be Ya N***a”.
I’ve always found it interesting that All Eyez On Me — as well as its follow-up, the posthumous The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, released on Death Row under the Makaveli moniker nine months later and just two months after Pac was murdered — coincided with the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry and media circus, yet NYC/New Jersey rap stars Method Man (of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan) and Redman appear on “Got My Mind Made Up” along with Tha Dogg Pound; the track was originally supposed to feature an additional guest verse by Meth’s Wu-Tang brethren, Inspectah Deck, but it didn’t make the final cut, unfortunately. Shakur is further supported on this album vocally by San Francisco’s own Rappin’ 4-Tay (“Only God Can Judge Me”) and P-Funk wizard George Clinton (“Can’t C Me”; the only other Dr. Dre-produced track on here), and by DJ Quik, DeVante Swing (Jodeci), DJ Pooh, Doug Rasheed, Bobby “Bobcat” Ervin and QDIII behind the boards. Amidst a plethora of already familiar samples and interpolations utilized for many of the beats, I’ve also found it interesting that two other unrelated songs released in the same year would be hit singles using samples that were first popularized on All Eyez On Me; the title track uses elements from Linda Clifford’s “Never Gonna Stop” (which heads will recognize as the sample basis for Nas’ “Street Dreams”, while R&B group Blackstreet would use DeBarge’s “A Dream” shortly after the latter was borrowed for Pac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”.
When all is said and done, All Eyez On Me is a potential example of an artist releasing their magnum opus and/or most important work right before their death, as Pac was tragically murdered just months after its release; I personally often go back and forth between this and the Makaveli joint, which was technically completed during Pac’s lifetime even though he didn’t get to live to see it hit stores. After approaching this project from many different angles and having already written what is basically a short novel at this point and still feeling like it’s not finished, I can conclude that reviewing an album of this magnitude and importance to the culture is certainly no easy task but I hope I was able to shed some light for *All Eyez* to see.
R.I.P. Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996)) and Happy West Coast Wednesday y’all….
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