Tag Archives: Live Squad

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.


NaS – It Was Written

NaS
It Was Written
July 2, 1996
Columbia RecordsSME
080/100
NaS It Was Written

1. Album Intro // 2. The Message // 3. Street Dreams // 4. I Gave You Power // 5. Watch Dem Niggaz (feat. Foxy Brown) // 6. Take It In Blood // 7. NaS Is Coming (feat. Dr. Dre) // 8. Affirmitive Action (feat. AZ, Foxy Brown & Cormega) // 9. The Set Up (feat. Havoc) // 10.  Black Girl Lost (feat. JoJo) // 11. Suspect // 12. Shootouts // 13. Live Nigga Rap  (feat. Mobb Deep) // 14. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) (feat. Lauryn Hill)

No hip-hop album has inspired the concept of the sophomore slump the way It Was Written has. There’s quite literally no hip-hop head who will claim that his debut album is merely alright while It Was Written is the shit. Basically hip-hop heads used to have a disregard for today’s album because it wasn’t another Illmatic, one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums ever. But, as usual, snobby opinions by over-analysing critics don’t seem to be much in line with what the man in the street thinks, because even today, seventeen years post its release, it’s still Nasir’s best-selling album out of his eleven solo releases.

Now that the smoke has cleared and people have finally gotten the fuck over the fact that NaS will not release another Illmatic ever  contemporary reviews have been becoming increasingly positive. Just compare the original ’96 review of this album with the december ’12 revisit, both on RapReviews.com and marvel at the attitude change, which is pretty representative for the view of the community as a whole on It Was Written, both then and now.

Back to ’96. It Was Written was bound to disappoint. Illmatic was a masterpiece and nobody bought it upon release, leading to both unreasonable expectations from those who did buy it, impossible to fulfill even if Nasir would’ve reused the Illmatic producers and lyrical themes, and also leading to NaS shifting his musical directions into something more (sigh) pop/commercial sending him on a collision course with his fanbase. Whether this change in sound was forced upon him by his money hungry label, instigated by a money hungry NaS or was NaS legitimately interested in trying some new sounds is unknown to me, here are the facts though: NaS switched his management from MC Serch, a well-known rap legend his his own right, as well as one of Illmatic‘s architects, to Steve Stoute, who managed Mary J. Blige at that time. Stoute and/or NaS chose not to invite over Illmatic producers Q-Tip, Large Professor and Pete Rock, but kept DJ Premier and L.E.S. around, presumably as to not completely let the existing fanbase go. To produce the rest of It Was Written they brought in the Trackmasters who had produced prior hits for Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and Method Man and do half of the tracks, as well as fellow Queensbridge hip-hop artists Mobb Deep, both to spit guest verses and to produce. Also recent Death Row Records refugee and West-Coast legend Dr. Dre produces one track. NaS’ debut album had exactly one guest verse; AZ’s on Life’s a Bitch. His sophomore featured the priously mentioned Mobb Deep and AZ as well as Foxy Brown, Cormega and R&B singers JoJo and Lauryn Hill. Final difference noticeable without actually listening to the album: Illmatic had but nine songs whereas It Was Written has thirteen (not counting intros). Basically one can correctly guess how this album differs from its predecessor and how this negatively impacts its sound before pressing play, different beats and not all of ’em as good as the last time around, more guests and not all of ’em being able to keep up and more songs than the last time around, not all of ’em warrant inclusion.

Luckily most of these things don’t turn out as problematic as they could have.

Under the influence of Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album, as well as those following, including Jay-Z and AZ NaS started to parttake in a subgenre of gangster rap called mafioso rap. No longer was he Nasty NaS, the street thug running from police, selling drugs, drinking 40 oz.’s, robbing foreigners and ripping their green cards. This time he was NaS Escobar (named after the Columbian cocain kingpin Pablo Escobar) a moniker that was meant to indicate he had moven up in the world of crime, no longer having to do dirt but having people to do this for him. In a sense this new, more sophisticated thuggery warranted the more expensive, glossy sounds the Trackmasters brought to the table.

The opening track the Message could certainly go toe-to-toe with anything off Illmatic what with its Sting-sampling Trackmasters instrumental, NaS’ rant about his supremacy over the rap game taking subliminal shots at Biggie and 2pac and DJ Kid Kapri’s scratched-in hook consisting of lines from N.Y. State of Mind and Halftime. It’s not only as good as his previous work but it also shows NaS to be quite malleable, being able to adapt to fresh new sounds. If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) has the Fugee’s Lauryn Hill re-singing the hook of Kurtis Blow’s song of the same title over a Trackmasters re-creation of an old Whodini beat while NaS describes his utopia of racial equity, equal distribution of wealth and freedom in general. It may be more radio friendly than anything off his debut, but it’s every bit as anthemic as It Ain’t Hard to Tell. With these songs NaS succesfully combined street crediblity with pop acessablity, something at which the pop mutations from Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1; such as (Always Be My) Sunshine and The City Is Mine failed at miserably. (From this point Jay would only get better at them while NaS, well… Nas wouldn’t.) The only single that is slightly embarassing is Street Dreams, and only because Nas decides to interpolate (horribly re-sing) the hook of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, otherwise it’s fine, if a bit unspectacular.

There’s also some really good street cuts to be found here. The DJ Premier production I Gave You Power is a narrative told from the point of view of a gun and it is one of NaS’ signature songs for a reason. The two Mobb Deep collabos The Set Up and Live Nigga Rap, the former featuring only Havoc, the latter Prodigy as well, are also well on point. The same goes for the posse cut Affirmitive Action, featuring the original the Firm line-up: NaS, Foxy, Mega and AZ, So far so good.

Unlike Illmatic though this disc has some pretty mediocre stuff too: Black Girl Lost featuring Jodeci’s JoJo throws some social commentary into an album that’s mostly all about our host’s crimes and money, but unlike If I Ruled the World this track is preachy as fuck and falls flat because of it. Leave that shit to Pac, yo. Watch Them Niggas samples Bob James’ the Sponge and has a beat a little too dreamy for a song all about vigilance and back spabbers. Suspects and Shootouts are also unmemorable. Most disappointing of all is the Dr. Dre produced NaS Is Coming, with its boring-ass beat and NaS sleepwalking over it. It’s a blatant attempt at fan crossover, but that shit only works if some chemistry is on display, which here it is most certainly not.

While nothing (except for maybe NaS Is Coming because of how underwhelmingly disappointing it is) will make you want to break It Was Written in half and slit your wrists with it the bad songs do show exactly why this isn’t considered to be on par with Illmatic. It’s not as focused as that album was, and on most of these tracks the man seems distanced from his lyrics and performance. On his debut he at least sounded like he had lived everything he rapped about for the entire duration of the album whereas here, only on the lesser tracks, it would seem he tells tales he himself has heard second hand and doesn’t care that much about. Still the good songs are really good and there are a couple of classics to be found on here. And although this can’t fuck with its predecessor, that’s alright, most album’s can’t hold a candle to that one. And although I mentioned it all the fucking time throughout this review (it’s part of reviewing this particular album) one is best to see them completely seperately, even if Nas or Columbia Records may have somewhat called this comparison upon him by lazily reprising Illmatic‘s album cover.

Best Tracks
The Message
I Gave You Power
Affirmitive Action
The Set Up
Live Nigga Rap

Recommendations
Pick this one up.