Just did a reorder on more of the 2Pac CD catalog, should be restocked soon!
When I first heard 2Pac on Digital Underground’s “Same Song” I was definitely feeling his style. He had flavor, nice rhyme patterns, and a great voice. I definitely was interested to hear more, but I’d be lying if I said I thought he was going to be a Rap Star, much less one of the all-time most legendary ones at that. His rugged but playful style probably had me assuming he was going to be coming out as a more talented, edgier, West Coast version of Father MC I can picture myself saying something like that, “Yo, this is what Father MC would sound like if he was dope!” Yes, you can feel free to laugh at me now…
In any event, I certainly wasn’t prepared for 2Pac to come back with a debut solo single like “Trapped”. I first witnessed this track via the music video, which in many ways is the best way to experience a 2Pac song. The video is shot in a combination of gritty Black & White and vivid Color. The Color represents the possibilities in life of a free man, while the Black & White scenes are reserved for the time locked behind bars after those opportunities have been snatched away. The overall theme of “Trapped” is accenting that feeling of hopelessness that many young black males growing up in poverty feel, trapped in the ghetto where the most likely ways out seem to be trading one cage for another; prison or a coffin. However, even a young black male, like myself, living outside the confines of the projects, that saw life ripe with opportunity, could still bitterly relate to his other scathing criticism of police harassment and brutality. You didn’t have to be living in the projects to incur the wrath of the police. When this song released I was freshly 21 years of age and I could write a small book recounting all the times I was approached by police and quite often harassed just for existing it seemed. Between the ages of 18 and into my 30s I was pulled over, verbal abused, searched, and threatened by police more times than I care to remember. Police brutality is a theme that 2Pac visits repeatedly on this album.
However, “Trapped” isn’t content on simply placing blame on outside forces, it also accepts some accountability. In the first verse he touches on it with, “Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught/Shoot up or shoot down with the bullet that he bought.” This stands as the first warning of the repercussions of the street life. The story detailed in the final verse even further drives home the point.
The flipside of “Trapped” was “Lunatic” and is perfect for highlighting an alternative side of Pac. It’s one of the rare traditional battle rhyme styles in his catalog. It’s an excellent up-tempo Shock G track*. While 2Pac usually centered his focus on emotion, flow, and his specific point, here he puts more time and thought than usual into his rhyme schemes and punchlines. His flow has the attitude of “Trapped”, mixed with the playfulness of “Same Song”. It gives the impression that he’s having a good time and it sounds so effortless to him, as he states matter-of-factly, “I’m out to show that I’m a dope MC.” There are points where his vocal inflections briefly and fittingly sound like his character, Bishop, from Juice. This is most evident when he proclaims, “I can hear the fear in your flow/You ain’t prepared. You’re scared and you’re bound to go…”
The actual album starts with “Young Black Male”, which is also a bit of a rhyming exercise. The hook uses ED O.G. and Ice Cube in tandem to showcase his influences from both the East and the West Coast. The song is just one verse long with him flipping the tongue with some braggadocio and brashness and then lets the instrumental rock on for a while, a style and song format he revisits on “Something Wicked”.
In some ways “Words Of Wisdom” is my least favorite, although not lyrically, his flow on the last verse is impressive, as his account of Black History. The biggest issue is that beat doesn’t match the intent as well as the rest of the album. When it begins with the extended spoken word piece it sounds as if it would be better suited as an interlude. However, there are some powerful lyrics to be found. Yet still, the vocal highlight is the dialog after the first verse when he puts America on trial and challenges, “I charge you with robbery, for robbing me of my history. I charge you with false imprisonment for keeping me trapped in the projects!” This is the song best suited for a remix.
The second single was “If My Homie Calls” b/w “Brenda’s Got A Baby”. “If My Homie Calls” sounds like an obvious single choice. It’s got all the right elements. Vocally, 2Pac speaks to a friend who took the route of the drug game. He contrasts their story with his as he strives to make his mark in the music industry. It’s a good song and hints at the strength of 2Pac’s true gifts; brutal honesty, grim subject matter, great storytelling, and heartfelt passion/concern. However, each of those traits is pushed to far higher limits on the B-side. “Brenda’s Got A Baby” is the first Rap song that I had to actually limit my listening to, it was just too “heavy”. I wrote about the similarities and assumed influence from Mele Mel’s “New York New York” verse HERE. While Mele Mel’s verse was shocking, I was fascinated and wanted to listen more and get lost in the story. On the other hand, 2Pac’s story was just so depressing and emotional. It was also relatable. When “New York New York” came out I had never seen a teenage pregnancy, so that song was fantasy-based to me, something that “could” happen. By the time ’91 had come around I had witnesses a ever-increasing amount of teenage pregnancies, even had a few scares myself, making 2Pac’s vision all too real. This is really the song on “2Pacalypse Now” that best hints at the power his words and presence would have on the world in the years to come.
The perfect companion piece to “Brenda…” is “Soulja’s Story” because it represents the harder edged persona that 2Pac later became famous for. The difference from his future work is that he still seems to be in tune with the inevitable consequences of his actions. He wasn’t the first to use altered voices to represent different characters. This technique was pioneered by Count Coolout in the very early 80s and Slick Rick in the late 80s. Still, neither was quite as effective in bringing their characters fully to life, so that even if you disagreed with their life choices you might find yourself concerned with their situation. This is verbal cinema.
“Part Time Mutha” takes musical and vocal pieces of the Stevie Wonder classic, “Part Time Lover” and slices in thin segments of Boogie Down Productions “Part Time Sucker”. Each verse takes a different perspective on the topic. In the first verse 2Pac speaks on the struggles of dealing with a drug addict mother. The second verse takes the female perspective and is performed by someone only credited as Angelique. The verse is a painful portrayal of young girl sexually & verbally abused by her father, with a mother who doesn’t believe her. The lyrics are so intense that it is easy to overlook and perhaps somewhat unnecessary to make note of the sprinkled in punchlines like, “Everyday I make class but yet I’m missing periods/The thought of pregnancy is in my head and now I’m fearing it…” In the final verse 2Pac expounds on when the lack of practicing safe sex leads to unplanned parenthood. It’s a lesson well learned, although ultimately the things he’s outlining are just as worthy of being the responsibilities of a father. I suppose he was just staying in line with the concept of the song title, but it could easily be misinterpreted.
In recent years, “Rebel Of The Underground” is a song that I find myself listening to a lot. It has a nice beat that’s a blend of West Coast Funk with a taste of East Coast Boom-Bap. With the exception of “If My Homie Calls”, it’s probably the most club friendly song on the album. It’s also possibly the best balance of his lyrical talents at this time. He’s flexing nuff style while at the same time dispensing valuable and challenging lyrical content, “In fact, they trying to keep me out/Trying to censor what I say cause they don’t like what I’m talking about/Something’s wrong with the media today/Got brothers selling out because they’re greedy to get paid/But me…I’m coming from the soul/And if don’t go gold, my story's still getting told”
Speaking of the “Underground”, the production team of The Underground Railroad (Shock G, Big D The Impossible, Pee-Wee, Jeremy, Live Squad, Raw Fusion) does a great job at formulating tracks that effectively drive home the impassioned direction of the lyrics.
“2Pacalypse” is a critical piece in the 2Pac story. It tells the story of a young man who had already seen a lot, perhaps too much. He was a man with purpose, but could be easily distracted by the agitators of his environment. As an artist, he was still finding his voice and style. Much of the album finds him adopting a roll-of-the-tongue delivery that was popularized on the East Coast, but it also shows a glimpse of the individualistic style he would soon master, which would become one of the most duplicated styles in Hip Hop history, though primarily done crudely and without any similar effect. “2Pacalypse Now” is also arguably his most blatantly conscious record. Undoubtedly, he continued to speak on these same issues through his whole career in his music, but that side of 2Pac became even more prevalent in person. The ideologies of “Trapped”, “Brenda Got A Baby”, “Words Of Wisdom” and “Part Time Mutha”, as well as the understanding of how young black males arrive at the crossroad in life that leads to radical decisions like those found in “Soulja’s Story”, “Violent” and “I Don’t Give A F**k”, are what have become the immortal soundbytes of Tupac’s legacy, courtesy of his many legendary interviews.
In hindsight, it’s interesting that at the start of his career he based his first album’s title off the word apocalypse, he was already referencing an ending or impending change. There are enough conspiracy theories surrounding Tupac already, but for the sake of my amusement here’s another. Perhaps the idea behind the album’s title was because he knew that the approach he took on “2Pacalypse Now” wouldn’t give his voice the volume it needed to reach those he felt most needed to hear it. Not just those people living in struggle, that he was determined to help improve their condition, but also to the higher powers who had ignored the voice of the people. His methods were often radical, but he garnered results. His voice was heard loudly around the world. Unfortunately, the right messages didn’t always make it through, but a lot of his commentary suggested he was aware of that and given the opportunity he was possibly going to further build on those early foundations that he held dear.
Examining 2Pac's discography leaves plenty of opportunities to praise, as well as critique his direction and creative output, but it’s nearly impossible to argue with the fact he possessed a seemingly limitless amount of raw talent, blind passion, and relentless work ethic. “2Pacalypse Now” forever exists as the original blueprint for that formula, one that is highly unlikely to ever be duplicated.
-“They call me militant, racist because I will resist/You wanna censor something? Mutha f***a censor this!”-2Pac (“Violent”)
*-The 12” Single has Shock G as the producer, but some online credits list Stretch Of Live Squad as the producer…
Written By Kevin Beacham
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