A Rap Legend Debuts With an Apocalypse

Jun 5, 2006 (Updated Jan 26, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Flashes of the rap legend 2Pac would become; some heartfelt and innovative introspection

Cons:Mostly indistinguishable militant/gangsta rap; mostly dull production

The Bottom Line: 2Pac's least remembered and least commercially successful recording, 2Pacalypse Now nevertheless (in retrospect) hinted at the rap behemoth he would become.


Funny how this future rap legend started out. I can still remember this skinny dude with the funny-looking flat-top doing the “Humpty Hump” on stage. Yes, people – the thug rap icon many hip-hop fans now immortalize and revere started out as a harmless roadie for Digital Underground. Funny indeed.

Well, needless to say, twenty-year old Tupac Amaru Shakur could rap. Outshining his Digital Underground comrades in “Same Song,” off their EP (This Is an EP Release), the young man would finally get his solo shot late in 1991. 2Pacalypse Now showcases a rapper far removed from the future, when the "thug" persona overwhelmed him and better beats clothed his lyrics.

Listening to this record, it is sometimes hard to believe that this was the same guy who would emerge as the most idolized and most popular figure in rap history. His passionate and charismatic voice had not yet fully developed. Moreover, his gangsta nihilism, showcased in songs like “Crooked A*s N***a”, was pretty standard and nothing really special – a far cry from the obsession of his mortality in his later work.

Even his rants against a racist America, for the most part, was virtually indistinguishable from the stuff that people like Chuck D, Ice Cube, N.W.A. and Paris had said or were saying. It is the standard lyrical barbs at brutish cops, the criminal justice system, ineffective politicians and racist agencies. In fact, some lines or songs mirror that of his peers. “Your daughter is my number one fan/And your trife-a*s wife wants a life with a black man” says he in “I Don’t Give a F**k”, reminiscent of M.C. Ren’s claim that a cop’s “f*****g family is wearing [N.W.A.’s] T-shirts” in "100 Miles and Runnin'". And “Violent” is similar to the aforementioned N.W.A. song in that like the boys from Compton, 2Pac is being chased by the cops.

But the guy is still captivating, and there are a few signs of originality in his socio-political raps. If there is any of 'Pac's albums that highlights his son-of-a-Black Panther roots the most, it is this one. I mean, this guy is heated, and it is not just what he says, but how he says it - with large doses of audacity, rage and charisma. He curses out the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and Bush the First in the spoken-word outro of "I Don't Give a F**k". “Trapped” finds him rallying against the inequalities of the American justice system: “One day I'm gonna bust/Blow up on this society/Why did you lie to me?/I couldn't find a trace of equality.” There’s also the aforementioned cop chase of “Violent”, the gloomy narration of “Soulja’s Story” and the generalized condemnation of “Rebel of the Underground”. Sometimes he would lash out in spoken word in the middle of songs (e.g. “Words of Wisdom”), change up his flow every now and then (e.g. “Young Black Male” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”), and even has the temerity to turn the dreaded N-Word into an acronym – Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished (N.I.G.G.A.). Almost every song in 2Pacalypse Now features a relentless and unapologetic young man doing everything he can to thwart the plans of a racist society.

And sometimes he picks the unlikeliest of targets. Who would have thought Honest Abe and the good ol’ Reverend King would be recipients his wrath?

Emancipation Proclamation - please!
Lincoln just said that to save the nation
These are lies that we all accepted
[…]
Why is Martin Luther King in my book each week?
He told blacks, if they get smacked, turn the other cheek
I don't get it…


But 2Pac does not just make rebellious songs. In fact, the best song in the album is the one farthest from the turbulence of his socio-political dogma – “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. It is one of the best songs 2Pac ever made. With a slowed musical backdrop, 2Pac tells the tragic story of a 12-year old mother who abandons her baby by leaving her in a trash heap. ‘Pac explores her miserable life, exacerbated by the teenage pregnancy - she is possibly semi-illiterate (“A damn shame - The girl can hardly spell her name”), she has the baby with her cousin, who later dumped her, she had a family who could care less about her welfare…all this leads to crack dealing, prostitution and eventual death. All the while 2Pac laments such an end, alluding to the fact that the pregnancy could have been prevented. “Just because you’re in the ghetto doesn't mean you can't…grow,” he says. “Brenda’s Got a Baby” is the kind of song – which advocates personal responsibility and self-determination - that one wishes ‘Pac had made more of late in his career. There’s also the touching friendship song (“If My Homie Calls”) and a tale of familial struggle (“Part Time Mutha”) that also serve as some of the few deviations from ‘Pac’s intense militancy.

The beats could have been better, though. A look at the liner notes reveals that some members of the Digital Underground were involved in the production work. Bearing in mind that Digital Underground already had three splendidly-produced and P-Funk-inspired albums under their belts (Sex Packets, This Is an EP Release and Sons of the P), this comes off as disappointing. It is not that the beats are bad; there is the slow reggae darkness of “Violent” and the resounding African drums of “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, but for the most part the beats are at best merely competent – and at worst dull. The main problem is that the beats fail to match the intensity and aggression of ‘Pac’s lyrics. And “Part Time Mutha” is just a straight-up shameful jacking of Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover.” So it’s amazing to note that even with B- and C-grade beats, 'Pac lyrical jewels still shine – a lesser M.C. would have drowned in this undistinguished music.

Although this is his least remembered recording and it was not so evident then, in retrospect, 2Pacalypse Now announced the arrival of a major rap talent and legend. There are flashes here and there of the rap behemoth he would become. It was not that successful commercially; in fact, it would not be certified gold until 1995. However, it stands up quite well along his later releases. It is interesting to note that later in his career, he got better production to back him up, only for him to move further away from the socially conscious and political charged stuff he started off with and closer to the thug lyrics he is presently better known for (for an excellent exploration of the beats and rhymes in 2Pac's music - as well as a great review - check out roheblius). In fact, with the exception of his sophomore effort Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., he would never be that socio-politically blunt again.

TRACK LISTING:

1. Young Black Male
2. Trapped
3. Soulja’s Story
4. I Don’t Give a F**k
5. Violent
6. Words of Wisdom
7. Something Wicked This Way Comes
8. Crooked A*s N***a
9. If My Homie Calls
10. Brenda’s Got a Baby
11. Tha Lunatic
12. Rebel of the Underground
13. Part Time Mutha

REVIEWS IN MY 2PAC SERIES:

2Pacalypse Now (1991)
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993)
Thug Life, Vol. 1 (1994)
Me Against the World (1995)
All Eyez On Me (1996)
The Don Killuminati: The 7-Day Theory (1996)
R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (1997)
Greatest Hits (1998)
Still I Rise (1999)
Until the End of Time (2001)
Better Dayz (2002)
Tupac: Resurrection Soundtrack (2003)
Loyal to the Game (2004)
'Pac's Life (2006)


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