“‘2pacalypse Now is a battle cry,’ [Tupac] explains, ‘a no-bullshit record about how we really live, really feel. Hip hop’s a mirror reflection of our culture today. Everything put on wax will be remembered and “Pray” is not how we’re living in the ‘90s. It’s up to the rap audience to decide the future of rap music. If you want it to be that bubblegum “Ice, Ice, Baby” bullshit, that’s what it’s gonna be. But if you want it to be real, you have to stick with the real NIGGAs. If not, they’re going to take this industry away from us. It’s gonna be a white thing, just like they did with rock ‘n’ roll. I’m speaking truth. We’ve got to stand strong.'” (from 2Pacalypse Now 1991 Biography 1 via 2pac.com)
Out of all of the First Listens this week, there are going to be a couple really egregious ones – like ones that may or may not be proof that I’m unqualified to be writing about hip hop lol – and Tupac’s 2Pacalypse Now (1991) is one of those. I consider myself a very fake Tupac fan. I’ve listened to a pretty decent amount of his songs – and by “pretty decent” I mean I’ve listened to almost all of the songs on the Greatest Hits compilation project that came out in 1998. That’s probably where my Tupac listening history stops. And I’m slightly ashamed of that, but I’m happy to be free of the secret.
But anyone who knows even a little bit about hip hop knows how influential Pac has been to Black music; everyone that has ever made a rap track can have their musical influenced traced back to Pac in some way. His career was unfortunately cut short in 1996 (the day after I was born which is always very WILD to me when I think about it) at only 25 years old. But in that small amount of time, Pac made a significant impact. And that work started with 2Pacalypse Now, Tupac’s first studio album.
1991: 2Pacalypse Now
I mean, I didn’t think that I wouldn’t like this project, but I didn’t think that I’d have such a strong urge to listen to his entire discography after this! For this being Pac’s first solo project, it clearly sets up the way he ends up moving for the next few years of his career. He touches on police brutality, the criminal justice system, lack of resources in Black neighborhoods, mental health…everything. And these would end up being topics that he addressed in every released after 2Pacalypse Now. This is an album that has a clear motive to bring to light the issues going on in the Black community with zero frills.
And that’s something that immediately struck me as a difference between 2Pacalypse Now and Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990). I mentioned yesterday that the funkiness and grooviness of Sir Jinx’s production on AMW had the potential to be a characteristic of the project that made it more palatable, and after listening to Pac’s project, I’m very convinced that ended up being the case for a lot of listeners. Cube’s tone and subject matter aren’t completely toned down – he very successfully gets his point across on the project – but Pac’s album is a little bit more of a harder chew. There’s are a few samples of funk songs on here, but otherwise, this project is grounded in hip hop production (there were also a pretty decent amount of Cube and N.W.A. samples and references on here). And because of that lack of shoulder-moving groove, you’re forced to pay attention to the lyrics, and Pac is nothing short of blunt and outspoken.
The way that Pac told stories on this project was also a little bit different from Cube’s. Allow me to bring in two very unrelated, but similar pieces of work: Saba’s “LIFE” from CARE FOR ME (2018), and a poem from Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1980). Both of these pieces are grounded in everyday-ness. They aren’t necessarily fully first-person narratives of specific situations, but they walk you through the neighborhoods of Saba and de Certeau in a way that feels like you’re standing with them as they point out the whos and the whats. More descriptive than it is directly a recounting of personal experiences, though that is a part of it. And Pac’s project feels similar. It feels like if Pac went up to the top of the highest building in his neighborhood and just started pointing out things that were happening and the way he felt about them. He inputs himself in a bunch of the stories, but his point seems to be to give as much of an external view as possible. And just like Ice Cube, Tupac was an amazing storyteller, so each song places you right where he wants you to be.
One thing that was super refreshing to hear were the moments where Tupac brought in conversations about things that directly affected Black women. After the unjarred misogynoir on AMW yesterday, it was really nice to hear Pac spend some time talking about issues of domestic and sexual violence that continue to be a problem for women in the Black community on “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Part Time Mutha.” And it wasn’t uncommon for Pac (nor should he need to receive a medal for this work because it should be NORMAL) but it was just…nice! I appreciated him having Angelique on “Part Time Mutha” as well. A lot of times, though I appreciate the work, it feels a little weird to hear men take on a whole song’s worth of conversations about issues that women face. It’s nice, but it can feel a little paternalistic if it’s not done right, and I think Pac avoided that pretty well on this project.
There were some tracks that I really enjoyed. “Words of Wisdom” was a standout for me. I love Pac’s flow on here – though he could’ve kept the “NIGGA” acronym moment at the beginning of the song lol it was a little corny – and the production is amazing. The Herbie Hancock sample was chef’s kiss. If I had to pick a song that really embodied this album, “Words of Wisdom” would be it. I loved the production and the hook on “Something Wicked.” “If My Homie Calls” was another one that I really enjoyed. Again, the production was perfect and Pac’s flow was soooooo smooth on here. And then “Brenda’s Got a Baby” is an obvious fave. The only thing I’ve always HATED about “Brenda’s” is Dave Hollister’s vocals in the beginning and in the chorus! It’s such an ICONIC chorus – literally when it came on, I fell right in line and sung every part lol – but it really cheapens the song for me and throws things off. Like, they walk the line of being super corny, and it’s really the story that Pac tells during the verses that save this song.
Sigh. Tupac Shakur was really just a super talented man. Not that 20 year olds have no sense of the world, but he was only 20 when this album was released!! And his ability to put stories together like this and have such a strong sense of well-roundedness at such a young age is really a testament to how special he was. 2pacalypse Now is the perfect example of the vividness and fullness that comes when Black people tell stories about their lived experiences and the experiences of the people around them. You can feel how personal this music was for him. And you can’t mass produce that.
(listen to 2Pacalypse Now on Spotify by clicking the image below)
here’s something else you might like…
So I’ve dedicated myself to doing a Week Fulla every month for the remainder of the year, so that means there will be 11 total weeks and 55 ALBUMS. At least! And the first one begins today! I did a Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop last year in my hopes of becoming a true hip … Continue reading Week Fulla 90s West Coast Hip Hop – First Listen #49: Ice Cube’s ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’