Tag Archives: Interscope Records

2pac – Me Against the World

2pac
Me Against the World
March 14, 1995
Out Da Gutta Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
073/100
2pac - Me Against the World
1. Intro (performed by Dan O’Leary, Debbie Hambrick, Jay Jensen, Jill Rose & Sarah Diamond) // 2. If I Die Tonite // 3. Me Against the World (feat. Dramacydal & Puff Johnson) // 4. So Many Tears (feat. Digital Underground, Stretch & Thug Life) // 5. Temptations // 6. Young Niggaz (feat. Killa, Funky Drummer & Moe Z.M.D.) // 7. Heavy In the Game (feat. Richie Rich, Ebony Foster & Lady Levi) // 8. Lord Knows (feat. G-Money, Kenyatta Forman, Killa, Kim Armstrong & Natasha Walker) // 9. Dear Mama (feat. Reggie Green & Sweet Franklin) // 10. It Ain’t Easy // 11. Can U Get Away // 12. Old School // 13. Fuck the World // 14. Death Around the Corner// 15. Outlaw (feat. Dramacydal & Rah Rah)

2pac is  the JFK of rap: very charismatic, inspirational and influential, surrounded by drama during his lifetime and conspiracy theories in death, fairly popular when he was alive but never moreso than after he got shot and killed in the public eye and, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, overrated as hell in what he actually achieved in the realm of the living while nobody can say with any accuracy just what the guy could and would’ve done if his ending was less premature.
It’s not as though the man didn’t leave a slew of commercially and artistically succesful releases in his wake. In fact every album he released up until this one has already gotten a recommendation for a purchase on this website. But he never dropped anything as significant as Ready to DieIllmaticReasonable Doubt or The Chronic and the almost god-like reverence many people had for him, the phrase “best rapper dead or alive” was dropped casually in one sentence with the name 2pac on a regular basis, in the late ’90s and the naughties was ridiculous. A lot of people held the opinion that not only are Brenda’s Got a BabyKeep Your Head Up and Dear Mama deep and meaningful songs (which admittedly they are), but that also they aren’t at all at a contradiction with his more violent, misogynistic, homophobic and otherwise less socially responsible moments, most infamously Hit ‘Em Up. In other words 2pac could get away with pretty much anything on his albums and still be considered a martyr and a saint, so long as he included at least one thoughtful or pseudo thoughtful track on there. The truth is probably that while 2pac, a classically trained actor mind you, was one of the few people in gangsta rap who could deliver both conscious material and hyper violence with equal fervour and credibilty, there was never as much of a unified vision to it as his fanboys would like you to believe. He was just really good at setting moods, no matter what that mood was. And it should be noted that 2pac may have lived a lot of shit he rapped about, he had been in prison and he may not have seriously known or believed it when he layed down some of those vocals but he would eventually meet a violent death in the streets, but there was a lot of fiction in his raps too: He never seriously was a drug dealer for instance and it was sort of mathematically impossibly for him to beef with everyone he mentioned on 7 Day Theory, so Pac may not have been the realest motherfucker to have ever existed, he was however life sized.

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Thug Life – Thug Life: Volume 1

Thug Life
Thug Life: Volume 1
September 26, 1994
Out Da Gutter Records/ Interscope RecordsUMG
063/100
2pac-Thug-Life-Volume-1-cover-big
1. Bury Me a G (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 2. Don’t Get It Twisted // 3. Shit Don’t Stop (feat. Y?N-Vee) // 4. Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor (performed by 2pac) // 5. Stay True (feat. Stretch) // 6. How Long Will They Mourn Me (feat. Nate Dogg) // 7. Under Pressure (performed by 2pac feat. Stretch) // 8. Street Fame (feat. JMJ) // 9. Cradle to the Grave // 10. Str8 Ballin’ (performed by 2pac)

2pac never shied away from weed carriers company. Most of his albums have their fair share of guests appearances. Thug Life: Volume 1 however is the only album released during his lifetime to cast him as a member of a group of equals. In reality though it’s like 2pac is introducing Big Syke, Makadoshis , Rated R & Mopreme and to a lesser extent Stretch to the masses, while launching his vanity label Out da Gutter Records in the process, rather than him truly sharing the spotlight with these guys in equal measure.
Not only are his performances longer and more numerous than those of anyone else supposedly headlining but Pac is also the only one to have solo songs and more importantly has the charisma of five men rolled up in one where the rest is somewhat lacking.

This album was an important one for Pac because on it he first collaborated with a whole bunch of people who would help define his next few albums, such as producer Easy Mo Bee who would go on to produce some of the best songs on his best album Me Against the World, failed rapper and producer Johnny J who made more beats than anyone else on All Eyez On Me, rapper Big Syke who became 2pac’s placeholder on said beats whenever he was having a smoke break but somehow didn’t have his contributions removed before the album went into pressing, possibly because 2pac was in a hurry to release the album, had just used up his entire book of verses and needed all his new ideas for his Makaveli album, Death Row inmate Nate Dogg, and the ladies of R&B group Y?N-Vee who got to sing backup on many of 2pac’s hooks. Digital Underground, the group that introduced 2pac to the world, is nowhere to be found, perhaps because the man wanted to set up shop for himself.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a heavily censored record but not in the removal of curse words-sense. Entire songs that 2pac wanted to have on here were deleted. At the time of its release hip-hop in general and gangsta rap in particular were under severe criticism by people such as Bob Dole and C. Delores Tucker, which apparently lead to Interscope Records cutting some of the tracks they felt would be controversial. I call bullshit on that however because most of the tracks assumed to have been cut aren’t that different from what did make it. Why would Is It Cool 2 Fuck be considered too controversial when Bury Me a G, almost the exact same song lyrically, is left on? The only exclusion that actually makes any sense in line with this reasoning is the original version of Runnin from tha Police with tha Outlawz, the Notorious B.I.G. and Stretch and only because 2pac had gotten in a gunfight with two off duty policemen in the previous year. (Off course despite the controversy, or maybe even because of it, Interscope would’ve been better off actually releasing the song, in the first place because it sounds awesome but also as a middle finger to censorship, to give this album a high profile guest appearance and to prevent that ghastly Eminem remix that came out nine years later from being hailed as a classic if not preventing its creation and release entirely.)

As it stands Volume 1, which by its very title made a promise for a sequel it wasn’t going to be able to keep, is a messy affair, not just as an album but also within individual songs.
Bury Me a G also makes a false promise by it’s title and it’s mournful instrumental. By all means this should‘ve been a song about fear of death, the afterlife or even under which letter to file Thug Life’s members’ remains in the case of their uneventful demise. It’s a song that’s mostly about one night stands however leading to any listener with an sort of attention span feeling cheated.
How Long Will They Mourn Me pull a similar bait-and-switch and adds insult to injury by wasting a serviceable Nate Dogg hook, or possibly a really shitty one even, it’s very difficult to tell with it being mixed so far into the background of the bluesy Warren G instrumental. (Nate is credited as a co-producer so perhaps the man was trying to protect his reputation and made himself as inaudible as he possibly could without giving up his first non-Death Row paycheque. Apparently someone noticed before the song was released as a single because he sounds much louder on the video version.) The hook asks the listener how long the listener will mourn either Pac or every member of Thug Life while the verses talk about entirely different dead gangstaz. It’s not a big  stretch by any measure but it still comes across as sloppy.
It should be noted that these are some of the best known songs off Volume 1, probably because 2pac talking about violent death always did sound fascinating but never moreso than after he suffered one. Also hip-hop listeners are oft willing to be forgiving of most mistakes in the vocal booth if the beats are on point, which they are here.
Cradle to the Grave is much better than either previously mentioned song and actually works pretty well as a lyrical showcase for the non-2pac members of the group as well as their label boss. Speaking of which, when they’re left unattended by Pac they actually sound a lot like people who could’ve had careers without him. Don’t Get It Twisted and Street Fame are in fact quite decent rap songs and makes one wonder whether these guys could’ve made Volume 2 work despite the star attraction catching a fatal case of the drive by shootings. (The answer is: Probably, but most definitely not on a major label.)
Shit Don’t Stop is an unrelenting West Coast party track that is about nothing in particular, but given this crew’s earlier misunderstandings of concepts and their failures to stay on topic anyway this approach may have been the best one for this crew. This song serves its purpose as something you can dance to which manages not to sound bad. There’s also a version with no 2pac and different verses by the other members, I’m happy to report it sounds just as good as the album version.
Stay True and Under Pressure pair Pac with his boy Stretch and although he was once a suspect in the first 2pac shooting, which does make it somewhat awkward hearing them rhyme together, he was perhaps a better collaborator than the guys 2pac lined up for the better part of this album because he has a more memorable voice than any one of them, bar Syke, and better rhyme skills to boot.
Off course there’s the 2pac solo-shots Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor and Str8 Ballin’ which are fine songs that any fan of the man’s pre-Death Row Records work should enjoy and are perhaps the best reason to pick up Thug Life: Volume 1. After all there’s a reason why even the other guy with a solo career, that would be Big Syke, never became a household name.
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor is Pac’s first collabo with Johnny J who for better or worse would go on to produce most of All Eyez On Me and it’s another song about mourning, this time of the coherent kind.
Str8 Ballin’ is a collabo with legendary producer Easy Mo Bee who combines some sort of eerie fun fare carrousel ride melody with bubbly funk for Pac to talk about ghetto escapism over to great results.

Thug Life: Volume 1 is a good enough album to satisfy fans of pre-Death Row 2pac. Most of the production is bluesy and understatedly dramatic. The vocals performances by 2pac and his boys are for the most part adequate if at times a bit inconsequential. But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves: The man we all came to see here always was more about setting the mood than being a technically impressive rapper in most senses of the word. Setting moods this album does fairly well and while it probably is the least essential album the man released during its lifetime it’s still decent. And the cutting of several tracks from the playlist has the unintended benefit of making this album short, which is almost never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Don’t Get It Twisted
Pour Out a Lil’ Liquor
Cradle to the Grave
Str8 Ballin’

Recommendations
Pick this one up but try to find a used copy, or at the very least a cheap one. Also you should put 2pacalypse NowStrictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Me Against the World higher on your list of priorities if you don’t already own those.


Sparkle – Sparkle

Sparkle
Sparkle
May 20, 1998
Rockland RecordsInterscope RecordsUMG
070/100
Sparkle - Sparkle
1. Good Life (feat. Cam’ron & Nature) // 2. Time to Move On // 3. Lean on Me // 4. I’m Gone // 5. Turn Away // 6. What About // 7. Be Careful (feat. R. Kelly) // 8. Nothing Can Compare // 9. Quiet Place [Interlude] // 10. Lovin’ You // 11. Straight Up // 12. Vegas (feat. Strings) // 13. No Greater [Prelude] // 14. Play On // 15. Plenty Good Love

Rather than putting himself in the flesh in the background on his protégé’s album cover this time around R. Kelly has found a much subtler way to make his presence on Sparkle known to the record buying audiences. I’m sure that if you put in a little effort you will spot it eventually.
Now if this R. Kelly Inn. sounds like a brothel pleasant place to stay to you, you aren’t far off, because Sparkle is the very first album released by his short lived but very own interscope subsidiary boutique label Rockland Records, and R. Kelly is pimping it with all his might doing his very best to make visitors comfortable enough to “come again some time.”

Sparkle sounds like what Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number would have sounded like if it would’ve been recorded in the R. Kelly-era rather than in the 12 Play-era. Sparkle even sounds somewhat similar to Aaliyah, although she’s not quite as virtuous a singer. That’s to say: It sounds pleasant enough but ultimately not very distinctive.

Part of its somewhat bland nature is that nowhere does anybody remind anyone of a jeep. Robert’s wacky songwriting is mostly kept in check, which may be for the better since not everyone can deliver such lines without something becoming very wrong about the resulting music. In its place there are elaborate stories of inner city love, loss and betrayal that mostly steers clear of melodrama because of Sparkle’s unassuming singing style.

That there’s nothing very wrong with Sparkles, combined with Robert’s sultry, blaxploitation-influenced production, helps to establish a romantic mood when it’s on that makes it very suitable for a night on the sofa with the misses and a bottle of vin rouge.

There’s one undeniable classic on here, that would be the R. Kelly duet Be Careful which is one of those “both sides of the argument” songs that is Robert’s forte whenever he duets a lady singer. It has the same sort of bluesey backdrop that When a Woman’s Fed Up has, and both singers sound terrific over it. That no-one has had the common sense to include it on an R. Kelly compilation yet is beyond me. Though it may have something to do with the fact that Robert and Sparkle’s hate one another’s guts these days, allegedly due to Sparkle’s fourteen y.o. neice allegedly appearing on what allegedly was the R. Kelly Sex Tape.

Sparkle is for the most part one of those albums that is quite simply a pleasant enough second serving of a proven success, in this case what made Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number and R. Kelly successful. And that while that isn’t very spectacular this is still quite decent musically and serves its purpose well. It’s purpose being pleasant when on while not getting in the way of a good lay.

Best track
Be Careful
Time to Move On
Turn Away

Recommendations
Pick this up if you like light R&B that goes down smooth and can manage to find it for a reasonable price.


2pac – Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

2pac
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
February 16, 1993

Interscope RecordsUMG
070/100
2pac - Strictly 4 My Niggaz
1. Holler if Ya Hear Me // 2. Pac’s Theme [Interlude] // 3. Point the Finga // 4. Something 2 Die 4 [Interlude] // 5. Last Wordz (feat. Ice Cube & Ice-T) // 6. Souljah’s Revenge // 7. Peep Game (feat. Deadly Threat) // 8. Strugglin’ (feat. Live Squad) // 9. Guess Who’s Back // 10. Representin’ 93 // 11. Keep Ya Head Up (feat. Dave Hollister) // 12. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. // 13. The Streetz R Deathrow // 14. I Get Around (feat. Shock G & Money B) // 15. Papa’z Song (feat. Mopreme Shakur & Poppi) // 16. 5 Deadly Venomz (feat. Treach, Apache & Live Squad)

“There’s no reason for a record like this to be released. It has no place in our society.”
Dan Quayle (vice-president of the United States of America) on 2pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

A lot had happend to the man born as Lesane Parish Crooks, but known to everyone and their grandmother as Tupac Amuru Shakur, since the release of his debut. There was the Dan Quayle controversy, which had the then-vice president condemning it for its alleged inspiration of the murder of a state trooper. There had been more controversy because a stray bullet had killed a little boy at one of Pac’s live shows and even more controversy because he had filed a $10,000,000 civil suit against the Oakland Police Department who had allegedly beaten him for jaywalking (the case was eventually settled for $42,000).

Controversy sells. And it did help sell nearly a million and a half copies, without getting much airplay but based on word of mouth (not unlike a bunch of Comptonites with attitude problems). I like to believe that people mostly bought 2Pacalypse Now because it was actually quite decent, but I’d be lying to myself if I did.

Anyhow, since it did sell well the sequel was likely to serve-up more of the same material, passive street narratives. In stead however 2pac gets on a soapbox much more than he did last time around. In stead of showing the listeners a glimpse of the life, times, trials and tribulations of young women growing up in less than pleasant circumstances in poor urban areas, the way he did on Brenda’s Got a Baby, he actively speaks to them and tells them to keep a positive outlook on life on Keep Ya Head Up. Rather than telling a Soulja’s Story he executes a Soulja’s Revenge.

And he even manages to have some fun with the hoochies (and Digital Underground) in the club on I Get Around, which he never did on his debut and which kind of contradicting his pro-feminist stance found on a Keep Ya Head Up, although the man himself would offer-up the explanation that these songs aren’t contradictory at all since he’s sending messages to different types of women. (bullshit).

These contradictory tracks would make for a patchy schizofrenic album on which each individual song would render the next insincere if there wasn’t some middle ground in the form of street narratives such as the title track and The Streetz R Death Row, on which he explains how the streets effect his mental health and induce both apathy and paranoia, making him the man he is today (with today being february 16, 1993).

There are more guest rappers on here than last time around. Most notably West Coast heavyweights Ice Cube and Ice-T drop by for the ménage à trois Last Wordz. Live Squad, the group headed by Pac’s homeboy Stretch, pops up on two tracks, one of which, 5 Deadly Venomz also includes Naughty By Nature’s Treach and Flava Unit’s Apache. Digital Underground actually drops in for some guest verses on I Get Around, which they couldn’t be bothered to do the last last time.

The production, courtesy of Digital Underground, Stretch and Bobcat, is tighter and livelier than last time around and even though there’s still not much in the form of complete hooks, things aren’t quite as minimal as last time around. But adding richness and swagger does come at a price. Strictly contains some better songs than 2Pacalypse did, no doubt. Both I Get Around and Keep Ya Head Up, as well as the middle finger-to-his-absentee-father duet with his stepbrother Papa’z Song being prime examples, but as an album this is less than the sum of its parts whereas its predecessor was much more. Strictly lacks 2Pacalypse‘s intimate confessional feel. Still, it’s hard to stay mad when there’s this much movement away from 2pacalypse without loss of quality (deliberately avoiding the word progress here).

Also, this album doesn’t have any true low points like Young Black Male or Part Time Mutha off his debut were.

All in all Strictly 4 My Niggaz is a more professional, more diverse but less consistent and less compelling sophomore  release of one of hip-hop’s biggest characters, and even though it’s definitely a stepping stone to the celebration of excess that would be come All Eyez on Me one shouldn’t hate this album for it, because it is pretty good regardless.

Best tracks
Keep Ya Head Up
Soulja’s Revenge
I Get Around
Last Wordz
Papa’z Song

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


2pac – 2pacalypse Now

2pac
2pacalypse Now
November 12, 1991
Interscope Records/ UMG
075/100
2pac - 2pacalypse Now
1. Young Black Male // 2. Trapped (feat. Shock G) // 3. Soulja’s Story // 4. I Don’t Give a Fuck (feat. Pogo) // 5. Violent // 6. Words of Wisdom // 7. Something Wicked (feat. Pee Wee) // 8. Crooked Ass Nigga (feat. Stretch) // 9. If My Homie Calls // 10. Brenda’s Got a Baby (feat. Dave Hollister) // 11. Tha’ Lunatic (feat. Stretch) // 12. Rebel of the Underground (feat. Ray Luv & Shock G) // 13. Part Time Mutha (feat. Angelique & Poppi)

Being relatively new to their work, listening to Digital Underground’s Sex Packets and This is An E.P. Release I couldn’t really see just how 2Pac fitted in with the merry bunch that apparently birthed his career. Even if he did appear on Same Song the man is hardly known for being a P funk enthousiast or a laid-back funny guy, rather he was known for being quite the angry dude who liked to start shit, which makes him and Humpty Hump like day and night.

But Sons of the P however showed a more politicised D.U. that namechecked Nation of Islam and dissed black celebrities trying to look more caucasian and did quite well at that, and Pac followed suit by rhyming about his crack slanging career on his guest verse on The DLFO Shuttle, stressing that he didn’t much enjoy that particular lifestyle but had very little of a choice but to do so. After hearing that song the pairing made much more sense.

Now I don’t want to be a dope man, listen
I didn’t have a dime, a nickel, penny, a pot to piss in
See all my clothes had holes and they fit tight
Pray to God cause it’s hard trying to live right
Waiting on the train can’t hang with the street gangs
Making me insane, putting rain on my whole brain
But the train means change to better thangs
Can’t live with the negative and ghetto pains
Can’t be late, can’t wait to get to where we’re going
Almost ten to four and I’m sure that the train is showing
But I ain’t sure where it goes, I don’t really know it
But I got faith, that’s all it takes to get to where we’re going

It is this mindset, as well as the D.U.’s updated ’91 dusty, swingless funk beats that are found on Pac’s ’91 Interscope Records debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

His debut is different from his subsequent work in several ways.

Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z,  his sophomore album, included at least one celebratory radio single in the form of I Get Around. And on every single subsequent album release they became more prominent, aiding 2Pac in gaining radio actual radio hits, culminating in his Death Row debut album All Eyez on Me an album so bloated, single-minded, repetitive and overrated that it took some seriously brilliant marketing to sell it to the masses. For better or worse no such radio-friendly track can be found here. In fact hooks, the sword by which a radio song lives or dies, are barely present on this album at all. Even when R&B singers are brought in, such as on Brenda’s Got a Baby or Part Time Mutha everything remains raw, or at the very least meaningful and true to its creator’s beliefs.

Many of Pac’s subsequent social commentaries like the ode to single mothers Keep Ya Head Up, the ode to his single mother Dear Mama and the euology of his dead homies Life Goes On are much more positive than anything off 2Pacalypse: the 2pac found here is a rather passive and observative narrator of street life. Although he does parttake in the events he describes (by which I mean that several tracks he rhymes in first person, whether he actually did any of the shit he raps about himself I wouldn’t know) he doesn’t appear to have the idea that he’s ever significantly going to change anything and just rolls with the punches, doing what he has to in order to survive another day.  His tales are strikingly personal but not quite activist, mostly descriptive of events leaving the listener to draw his/ her own conclusions. On the album’s closest thing to a hit single Brenda’s Got a Baby he describes the trials and tribulations of an abused and impregnated ghetto girl, but never explicitly urges the listener to do something about it and “change the way we eat (…) live (…) treat each other” the way he famously did on his posthumous monster hit single Changes. It is this weary attitude that most separates 2Pacalypse from all of his other work. Some will say that he only mentions problems, and never comes up with any solutions but one must keep in mind that this is a rap album, essentially a piece of art. And the fact that Pac was just as clueless as to the solutions to these things which did really bother him, not unlike the people whose everyday struggle he rapped about, placed him among them, giving him credibility and sympathy other rappers lacked. After all 2pac was a musician, not a politician, and besides who wants to get preached to while listening to music? There’s an in-you-face subtle quality to this that most other albums couldn’t even dream about.

Most of these songs are pretty good, even if there are a few embarassments to be found on here. Young Black Male has Pac amateuristically speed-rapping his way through a not very engaging instrumental. Part Time Mutha, a prequel of sorts to Brenda’s Got a Baby, straight jacks Stevie Wonder’s Part-Time Lover in a rather lazy manner, with a rather generic female rapper dropping in for a verse, even if our host’s performance is just fine.

The rest is pretty damn good, with Trapped, Soulja’s StoryI Don’t Give a Fuck, Violent and If My Homie Calls being highlights because they flow tighter, have more interesting instrumentals, drop more profound knowledge or are simply better thought-through than the rest of what inhabits 2Pacalypse, and Brenda’s Got a Baby is hands-down the best song on here (It is considered canonical rap music for a good reason.) What remains is not quite filler but does run together. Given that this album stems from a time when albums were projects that were listened to in one piece, rather than bought off iTunes track-by-track, and also given that even the brainfarts are more intriguing than the highlights of most of today’s top rap artists “albums” this should be seen as a endorsement.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never considered myself much of a 2Pac fan, what with most of his die-hard fans being really fucking annoying pricks with a tendency of yelling things such as THUG LIFE and WEST SIDE without so much as a hint of irony, and All Eyes on Me (2Pac’s most famous album and one of hip-hop’s best selling albums in general), the only album of his I have heard in its entirety before I subjected myself to 2Pacalypse to write this review, sucking, save for five-to-ten songs (out of twenty seven).

But his debut is surprisingly entertaining and substantial, talking about real problems without our host catching a messiah complex, not mentioning THUG LIFE or WEST SIDE once, and it has effectively won me over and has me looking forward to going through his catalogue. Now, excuse my while I head for the yard to pour out a little liquor for the man (don’t want to do it here since I don’t want to make a mess in my room.)

Best tracks
Trapped
Soulja’s Story
I Don’t Give a Fuck
Violent
If My Homie Calls
Brenda’s Got a Baby

Recommendations
Pick this one up.