Deep Album Cuts Vol. 78: 2Pac

20 years ago today, Tupac Amaru Shakur died. He wasn't in the 27 club -- he'd only just turned 25 at the beginning of the summer of 1996. So he was one of the youngest of popular music's many icons who died too young, and yet he left behind a staggering body of work that few rappers could ever hope to equal. His solo career lasted less than 5 years, but in his life he released 4 albums (one of them a double CD), completed a 5th album released soon after his death, and left behind enough unreleased verses to double his discography with posthumously assembled albums. That might not seem like so much today, in the era of rappers routinely releasing several mixtapes a year. But the pace at which 2Pac worked, and the increasing urgency and quality of that work toward the end of his life, was remarkable and unprecedented. It's one of hip hop's great heartbreaks that we'll never know what more he was capable of.

2Pac Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Me Against The World featuring Dramacydal and Puff Johnson
2. Ambitionz Az A Ridah
3. Me And My Girlfriend
4. Got My Mind Made Up featuring Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, Method Man and Redman
5. If I Die 2Nite
6. 5 Deadly Venomz featuring Apache, Live Squad and Treach
7. All About U featuring Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg, Dru Down, Yaki Kadafi and Hussein Fatal
8. Whatz Ya Phone # featuring Danny Boy
9. I Don't Give A Fuck featuring Pogo
10. Death Around The Corner
11. No More Pain
12. Representin' 93
13. Bomb First (My Second Reply) featuring E.D.I. and Young Noble
14. Against All Odds
15. Ain't Hard 2 Find featuring E-40, B-Legit, D-Shot, C-Bo and Richie Rich
16. All Eyez On Me featuring Big Syke
17. Last Wordz featuring Ice Cube and Ice-T

Track 9 from 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
Tracks 6, 12 and 17 from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z... (1993)
Tracks 1, 5 and 10 from Me Against The World (1995)
Tracks 2, 4, 7, 8, 11, 15 and 16 from All Eyez On Me (1996)
Tracks 3, 13 and 14 from The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)

I stuck to just the original 2Pac albums released during his life, and the Makaveli album he completed just before his death and released 2 months later. And even when I left aside charting songs that were officially released as singles, those albums contain a number of hugely famous songs. "Ambitionz Az A Ridah" wasn't a single but is 2Pac's most popular song on Spotify, gaining over 50 million plays on a service that didn't exist until 10 years after it was released. "Against All Odds," "Me Against The World," "All About U," those are among his most beloved tracks even if they didn't appear on the Hot 100.

2Pac cast a long shadow over hip hop for a good decade after his death. But it's been interesting to watch it dissipate over the last 10 years, as his fallen rival the Notorious B.I.G.'s legacy has arguably continued to grow. For every Boosie or Kendrick who comes along with loud and proud 2Pac influences, there are a dozen other new rap stars descended from a completely different lineage. This has resulted in an odd seesaw feeling, like the guy went from overrated to underrated in the space of a few years, to the point where young rap fans who typically don't privilege technical skills over everything will smugly recite the party line about why 2Pac was a mediocre MC.

2Pac was a remarkable rapper and an amazing songwriter, though. Even if he falls short next to some of the giants of "lyrical" rap, there's more rhyming and alliteration and wordplay in his verses than he often gets credit for. And the sheer musicality of his writing and his delivery is unmatched. The 2Pac flow is immediately identifiable and easily mocked, but nobody else really sounds like him, and the way his voice pivots around the beat and pulls melody out of every vowel sound is a unique gift. He created a template for how countless rappers rap, as much as Rakim or Slick Rick or anyone else.

In some ways I suppose 2Pac's music has dated, but a lot of his production holds up incredibly well. Daz Dillinger made 3 of the greatest beats of all time on All Eyez On Me ("Ambitionz," "Got My Mind Made Up," and "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted"). Easy Mo Bee holds the distinction of being the only producer who did classic songs for Biggie (a large chunk of Ready To Die) as well as Pac ("If I Die 2Nite" and "Temptations"). "No More Pain" was produced by DeVante Swing, although rumors have been seemingly confirmed by his then-protege Timbaland that some of his distinctive drum programming is on the track as well.

"Representin' 93" is part of a series with "Soulja's Story" and "Souljah's Revenge" where 2Pac pitched down his voice to play a character, and it was really kind of a very example of the kind of voice manipulation that's standard in rap now. I enjoyed juxtaposing "Representin' 93," where 2Pac showed respect to pretty much all his Strictly-era contemporaries, with the 7 Day Theory songs where he was just declaring war on half of the rap game. It's sad, though, to think of what those 3 years in between must have been like for him that he took that turn. It's amazing to me that a couple of the guys he dissed in '96, Jay-Z and Nas, wound up sampling and dutifully paying tribute to 2Pac by the early 2000s. It's especially funny that Nas sampled Pac saying "fuck Jay-Z" like Jay couldn't come back and sample any number of lines on "Against All Odds."

When I remember 2Pac in my own memories of the period, being only 14 and not really heavily into rap yet when he died, I still knew that he was a star. I remember "I Get Around" being on MTV constantly, his next album shocking the industry debuting at #1 while he was locked up, and the triumphant comeback with Death Row. Biggie didn't register as really that famous to me before he died but Pac did, maybe because he was the first rapper I saw covered breathlessly on MTV News, getting shot, going to jail, coming back. Even before that, "I Don't Give A Fuck" was one of rap's first controversial songs about police brutality, released 6 months before the L.A. riots and denounced by Dan Quayle. But even when you set aside all the crazy controversies, these stand up as some amazing songs.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
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