Tag Archives: Johnny J

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.


Johnny J – I Gotta Be Me

Johnny J
I Gotta Be Me
February 10, 1994
Shade Tree Records/ SOLAR Records/ Epic RecordsSME
045/100
Johnny J - I Gotta be Me
1. Something She Can Feel // 2. Diggin Um’ Out // 3. I’m a Better Man // 4. Why You Want Me Now? // 5. Get Away From Me // 6. P.O.P. (Got Control Of Me) // 7. Better Off (feat. Mel-Low) // 8. It’s a Wonderful Day // 9. Shake That Ass // 10. Say Whatcha Gotta Say (feat. Big Syke & Y?N-Vee) // 11. Love’s the Way

The late Johnny J would become rather famous, critically acclaimed and commercially succesful not too long after I Gotta Be Me tanked. He did this by producing songs on 2pac’s Thug Life, vol. 1Me Against the World and All Eyez On Me albums. On I Gotta Be Me however he is the main attraction and gets to rap most of the time by his self, uniterrupted most of the time by anything but wimpy R&B choruses.

“If Johnny J was himself a rapper why did he never trade verses with 2pac on a track?” I hear you ask. Pac himself was hardly picky with his collaborators as most of the verses performed by his Outlawz posse demonstrate.
Well, that is a valid question, dear reader. While all of tha Outlawz, except Hussein Fatal who can be decent, suck most of the time on an acceptable conventional level Johnny J’s raps sound like they were performed by the whitest fratboy ever who decided that he would be a rapper about fifteen minutes before he started recording them and did so after having enough shots of tequila to forget that women are people and that by using the N-word he would get his ass kicked. Apparently even 2pac who normally wouldn’t give a rat’s ass who you’d throw in the studio with him as long as they had something, anything, ready to record during his infamous Death Row binge recordings realised that while good Johnny’s beats may have been, his vocal contributions sucked.

Off course using offensive racial slurs and misogyny are pretty much givens with any gangsta rap record from the 1990s, and it can serve a purpose as it does in for instance Eazy-E’s over-the-top gangsta caricatures or 2pac’s tales of ghetto misery. Johnny J appears to have neither an interesting point of view, nor any charisma behind the microphone, nor a sense of humour. This is problematic because when stripped of these things a gangsta rapper sort of automatically becomes a massive tool. Speaking of which the man appears to be obsessed with the size, texture and other details concerning Johnny junior, and how many times he can make your girl come. How every woman enjoys having sex with him and how they’re all conniving, gold digging harpies that are good for nothing but hosting his member is a theme that returns in all the songs (all) on I Gotta Be Me.
I guess one should look at the bright side of life. It’s not as though the man would’ve fared much better rapping about his career as a narcotics salesman back when he lived in a low income neighbourhood where life isn’t very pleasant, so not much is lost because of this choice in subject matter. Speaking of his income: The advance for this can’t have been that much, so why exactly Johnny J should have attracted any gold diggers remains unclear.

It is unfortunate that Johnny J was such a shit MC because the productions, credited to him and someone called Charlie Macc, are lush, groovy and bluesy. A lot of these tracks could’ve been better used by more competent rappers. In fact when other people grab the mic an inprovement is immediately noticeable, even if it is Big Syke, probably they guy who introduced J to 2pac but has done very little else of consequence in his career.
(One of these instrumentals, the one used on Better Offwas used by a better rapper, namely 2pac who used it for his Picture me Rollin’ off his All Eyez On Me, a song that while far from perfect is infinitely better than anything on here.)
In fact one could argue that this might’ve been a better album if the uncredited studio singer(s) singing the previously mentioned wimpy refrains were to have become the headlining act(s). Something She Can FeelIt’s a Wonderful Day and Better Man would’ve been perfectly functional quiet storm and Diggin Um OutWhy You Want Me Now?, Shake That AssSay Whatcha Gotta SayGet Away From MeP.O.P. and Better Off  would’ve been decent new jack swing. Proof of this is the bonus track Love’s the Way on which Johnny sings for the entire duration of a guitar strummy pop track. The dude’s singing isn’t very good and it runs for a little too long but it sure beats the songs on which he raps.

Alas, I Gotta Be Me wasn’t meant to be a success, and neither was Johnny J the rapper. But at least this horrible album wasn’t the end of this guy’s career in music, which with a little more exposure it easily could’ve been. After all some of the 2pac songs he produced proved the guy was a fine musician so long as he shut the fuck up and kept the beats coming.

Best tracks
Love’s the Way

Recommendations
Nothing on here warrants a spin, let alone a purchase.