Thursday, November 10, 2016

Revisiting 2Pac's "All Eyez On Me"

Wow, this is going to be an interesting post right here, not because I'm going to be talking about 2Pac (I've did a couple of posts related to him on the blog), but this will mark the first time that I'm doing a review/revisit of one of his albums. Today's topic will be probably his most debated and discussed album, "All Eyez On Me", his 4th and as far as I'm concerned hip hop's first officially recognized double album. But before we head back to the STACKED year that was 1996, allow me to talk about his previous three albums for a bit. 


His 1991 debut, the cleverly titled "2Pacalypse Now" was a good album, and even with hits such as "Brenda's Got A Baby", "Trapped", "If My Homies Call" and even "Soulja's Story", he was capable of so much more and such potential would be realized on his next two albums (his debut would earn a Gold certification on April 19, 1995 in excess of 500,000 units sold). 1993's "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z." would find him taking just about everything that worked on his debut and stepped things up in terms of his lyrical content, quality and subject matter. "Keep Ya Head Up" and "I Get Around" were both hits, two classics that showed his fun and sensitive sides, respectively (and I can't forget about the Ice Cube and Ice-T assisted "Last Wordz", which is one of the dopest "3 man" collaborations you'll ever hear). I remember my cousin Terrell letting me borrow the cassette when I was in the 4th grade and man, I liked it so much I didn't want to give it back to him, lol. Not surprisingly, Pac's sophomore effort was a success, debuting at #24 on the "Billboard 200" chart, later achieving a Platinum certification, moving 1,639,584 units to date. For those who say this was his breakthrough album, I agree. Speaking of breakthroughs, that would most certainly define his 3rd album, "Me Against The World." Not only is this album largely considered to be Pac's best, which I do agree with, he became the first artist in history to have an album debut at #1 on the charts while in prison, which is remarkable for the right and wrong reasons. To also say it was his most introspective album would be an understatement. The album featured classics up and down the lineup, such as the lovely, memorable tribute to his mother in the form of "Dear Mama", "So Many Tears" and "Temptations." It was definitely one of 1995's best albums as well as one of the greatest albums of all time, earning a Triple Platinum certification with 3,524,567 units moved as of 2011 and winning the "Best Rap Album" award at the 1996 Soul Train Awards. Even in prison and having the #1 album in the country, Pac STILL had momentum on his side, and this same momentum would bring about more changes.


After serving 11 1/2 months of what was to be a 1 1/2 - 4 1/2 prison sentence, Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight (and label attorney David Kenner) bailed Pac out of prison to the tune of $1.4 million, with Pac signing a contract inside the prison, alleged to be "on a piece of toilet paper." Once out of prison, Pac was in the studio in no time to start recording "All Eyez On Me" and according to former Death Row security guard Frank Alexander, "wrapped up the first track for the album in 15 minutes." Leading into this double album, as documented on this very blog, the buzz surrounding Death Row truly increased once Pac joined the label and it was one of the most anticipated albums of 1996. So, with ALL this being said, this revisit will ultimately determine my full thoughts and of course my full rating, which has long been 5 stars. Let's head back to 1996 during the peak/prime of Death Row Records!!



Release date: February 13, 1996 (Fugees' second album, "The Score", was released on the same day.)



BOOK 1



1. "Ambitionz Az A Ridah"
Produced by Dat Nigga Daz

"So many battlefield scars while driven in plush cars/This life as a Rap star is nothin' without God/Was born ruff and rugged, addressin' the mass public/My attitude was fuck it cause muthafuckas love it"


The lines above accurately define this appropriately titled, classic opener. If this was the first song that Pac recorded after he was released from prison, I could believe it and all three verses tell that story (more on that later). Even if he may not have said it that much, Pac was a "ride or die" type of dude and this opener ultimately showed he was down for that cause, no matter what. I also heard that this was also a dedication to Mike Tyson, in the sense that Mike apparently had this song playing as he prepared for his fights in  '96y, which is also something I could believe.
*5 out of 5*




2. "All About U"
Featuring Nate Dogg
Additional Vocals by Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dru Down
Produced by Johnny "J" and Pac

This would be the first of many songs Pac made for the ladies on this album, and trust me I'll have a lot more to say about as well. Backed by a nicely worked sample courtesy of Cameo's "Candy", in his own charismatic way, Pac talks about the adventures, if you will, of meeting the same chick no matter where he goes, but at the same time they still command all of his attention, lol. You can tell he was having a little bit of fun during this one. Also, Fatal Hussein and Yaki Kadafi made uncredited appearances here, but they ultimately didn't add much else to the song. Snoop closes it in somewhat of a hilarious form and who can forget the late Nate Dogg's hook.
*4 out of 5*



3. "Skandalouz"
Featuring Nate Dogg
Produced by Dat Nigga Daz

It would be an understatement to say that this was the complete opposite of the "All About U." Pac was truly a ladies man, no doubt about that, but for every woman that had him smiling from ear to ear, there was the next one who was, as this song says, "skandalouz." Even during his admission of "being attracted to pretty bitches", Pac was essentially puzzled by those who "would act like they didn't know him" after a while, the "back stabbin', money grabbin' woman, the one who'll "have you wakin' up wit all ya cash missin", as well as "specialize in tellin' lies", etc, but at the end of the day, "the bitches and the liquor kept on callin' him", lol. Decent song for what it was.
*4 out of 5*



4. "Got My Mind Made Up"
Featuring Tha Dogg Pound, Redman and Method Man
Produced by Dat Nigga Daz

Man, revisiting this joint, it's another one of the greatest collaborations of all time (and I'm not sure if I've seen this on many "greatest hip hop collabos of all time" lists, but it deserves the spot). You'll notice I didn't quote any lines because there's MANY quotable ones found here and respectively I didn't want to include entire verses. Daz started things off with a decent verse, and while I got love for him, he was outclassed by the verses from Pac, Kurupt, Meth and Red and to this day I couldn't tell you who had the best verse. Also, in a historical note, this was originally supposed to be a collaboration with Tha Dogg Pound and Wu-Tang, but the initial version that included Inspectah Deck was deemed "too lengthy", so his verse was cut and replaced with Pac's, which ended up making the album. Don't worry loyal reader, both versions will be included below. Classic stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

Original version w/ Deck




5. "How Do You Want It"
Featuring KC & JoJo
Produced by Johnny "J"




"Your body is bangin' baby I love it when you flaunt it/Time to give it to daddy sugar, now tell me how you want it" -Pac


The lines above paint the verbal picture on this one. Although it was not too soft for the fellas, this was strictly for the ladies all the way through (complete with the KC & JoJo feature), and the accompanying video (each version, but I'm only posting one here) really shows Pac's love for women in more ways than one, and in a slick line, he says "I'm hittin' switches on bitches like I been fixed wit hydraulics." And in a line that was truly fitting for multiple reasons, he says "C. Delores Tucker you's a muthafucka/Instead of tryin' to help a nigga you destroy a brother", so powerful even in a song like this. Also, in another historical note, this single, which my aunt Denise owned back in '96, included the vicious diss "Hit 'Em Up" as a "B-side." History has judged this to be a classic, however, my overall rating comes to a "4 out of 5."




6. "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted"
Featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg
Produced by Dat Nigga Daz

"Ain't nothin' but a gangsta party!!!!"


I've always been a big fan of this song. Not only is it dope featuring an inspired Snoop along with Pac over one of the Daz's dopest beats, but considering their prior run-ins with the law, which saw Pac released from prison in late '95 as mentioned and Snoop acquitted of murder charges in '96, these men all but thumb their collective noises at the law, further cementing the "untouchable" status of Death Row in the process (definitely a dose or realism to be found here). In a dope touch, Pac and Snoop trade verses throughout the song, showing the very good chemistry they had (it's a shame they weren't able to make more songs together). You gotta love the scene in the video, which will be posted, when both men stand up to the jury in the courtroom and give them a piece of their lyrical minds, lol. Classic.
*5 out of 5*




7. "No More Pain"
Produced by DeVante (Swing)

"When I die, I wanna be a living legend"


One of the notable aspects of this song is Pac's interpolation of Meth's "Bring The Pain", already a classic at this point. Pac preaches no more pain considering the life he wants to live, but at the same time, would not be afraid to bring that same pain if necessary. And yes, 1/4 of Jodeci, DeVante Swing provides Pac with a dope, piano laced production. Good song.
*5 out of 5*




8. "Heartz Of Men"
Produced by David Blake (DJ Quik)

This was another very good song, however, what perfectly defines it is not anything Pac said in the three verses (and I'm not discounting any of those verses at all, it's still vintage Pac all the way), but this following quote during the song's opening:

"Now everybody keep your eyes on the prize cause the ride get tricky"


Read that line a few more times and let it sink in, because I'm sure the majority of us can relate to it, even if our ambitions are/were different from Pac's. He also mentioned Makaveli for the first time here, which would end up becoming his alias.
*4 out of 5*




9. "Life Goes On"
Background Vocals by Stacey Smallie
Produced by Johnny "J"




I liked how The O'Jays' "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" was sampled to give an already emotional song a dramatic touch. Pac dedicates this song to those who had passed away (he could do those type of songs VERY well), specifically two friends named Kato and Mental, while also reflecting on his own life and his (sigh) potential, not eventual, death. It was so secret that Pac did talk about death often in some of his music, dating back to probably the "Me Against The World" album. This song was so touching that my long time friend Kentyl immediately started crying while listening to it, being that we had lost one of our good friends named Deebo in 1999 (still miss him). In the midst of losing someone close, one of life's ultimate challenges is moving on, but life does indeed go on.
*5 out of 5*




10. "Only God Can Judge Me"
Featuring Rappin 4-Tay
Produced by Doug Rasheed and Harold Scrap Freddie

"And they say it's the White man I should fear/But it's my own kind doing all the killing here" -Pac

"Recollect your thoughts, don't get caught up in the mix/Cause the media is full of dirty tricks" -Pac


This very song is so appropriately titled and it certainly makes its points. Prior to this, I don't think any artist in any genre of music came with this particular title. Granted, there may have been songs where this theme was touched upon, but the "only God can judge me" title was definitely Pac's (first) for the taking. It was such a profound statement that Master P, either as a homage to Pac, a blatant case of biting, or both, titled his "return" album in 1999 in the exact same manner. Pac even says, "and I don't see why everybody feel as though they gotta tell me how to live my life.....let me live baby." That's a statement that speaks volumes and every person who appreciates their place in the world, especially the U.S., should feel this same way. In addition, I've never been a fan of Rappin 4-Tay, and while his presence didn't distract from the song, it added nothing to it outside of showing Pac support, which was cool. Excellent stuff here.
*5 out of 5*




11. "Tradin War Stories"
Featuring Tha Outlawz, Dramacydal, C-Bo and Storm
Produced by Mike Mosley and Rick Rock

"We tradin' war stories, we outlaws on the rise/Jealous niggas I despise, look in my eyes"


This is a true highlight of a song when it comes to stories about survival on the streets, kind of a hidden gem in a way. Even though Pac drops a tight opening verse, this was more of a showcase for the guests, all of whom were not out of place next to Pac.
*5 out of 5*




12. "California Love (Remix)"
Featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman
Produced by Dr. Dre




Allow me to talk about the song first before I proceed with a bit of criticism. This was a tremendous choice as the album's first single, because once Pac signed to Death Row, as he said during this song's video shoot, "they were like superpowers now" and man, I remember the hype and buzz for this being SO strong when it dropped. I mean, Pac as the newest member of Death Row over the unmistakable production from Dre, that's a win/win situation right there. This is another song that history has shown to be a classic, and when it comes to showing your state absolute love, this song is always in the top 5 of that discussion. Now, for the unfortunate criticism. WHO'S bright idea was it to include the REMIX on the album instead of the original????? Don't get me wrong, this remix was dope, there's no denying that, but the original version was one of the key selling points of this album and also the more memorable of the two. It doesn't affect the overall rating, but someone made a bad call there. With hindsight being 20/20, maybe the remix could've been a "hidden bonus track" on "Book 2." Overall, no matter which version you prefer, this song will always be a cornerstone, if you will, of West Coast hip hop. Note to aspiring artists: If you ever decide to create a song representing your state, make sure you go all out.
*5 out of 5*

Original version

Remix


13. "I Ain't Mad At Cha"
Featuring Danny Boy
Produced by Dat Nigga Daz




Oh man, this right here is one of my top 3 favorite Pac songs ever, such a thought provoking, excellent song all the way around (too many lines to quote here). First off, Daz did an outstanding job sampling DeBarge's "Stay With Me." Secondly, this featured Pac at his reflective best. Across three verses, he talks about dealing with a long time friend becoming a Muslim and the resulting changes, time spent in prison while at the same time trying to mentally console his mother and then-girlfriend and the changes in his lifestyle over the years in terms of perception from the public, family and friends. At the end of the day, Pac isn't mad at anyone ("life goes on") and that right there shows the growth of him as a person, because prior to the prison sentence, Pac's mentality was "fuck it/I don't give a fuck", as mentioned in "Ambitionz Az A Ridah." Oh, and who can forget the video? In what would be the final video made with him alive, Pac is "murdered" (witnessed by actor Bokeem Woodbine), and it proceeds to Pac rapping in the "afterlife" with himself sort of watching over Bokeem and how he's copping with everything. Has to be seen to be appreciated (it would debut shortly after his death). Excellent song and one of Pac's best.
*5 out of 5*




14. "What'z Ya Phone #"
Featuring Danny Boy
Produced by Johnny "J" and Pac

Man, after so much QUALITY material on "Book 1", it closes on perhaps the weakest note possible, forget anti-climatic. Prince's "777-9311" is unfortunately jacked for a song that shouldn't made the final cut, let alone the album. It's 5:10 too damn long. It features two verses from Pac and a heavy dose of "phone sex" towards the end. No matter what the intentions were, this shouldn't have made the album.
*1 out of 5*




BOOK 2


1. "Can't C Me"
Featuring George Clinton
Produced by Dr. Dre

In retrospect, it's sad and unfortunate that not only did Pac and Dre have a falling out, almost immediately when Pac got to Death Row, but it's a shame they weren't able to work out their differences and record more songs together because Pac was FEELING it here. Then again, Dre was probably already contemplating leaving the label at this point. Simply put, no one was seeing Pac as far as the West was concerned, not even Snoop. Very good song.
*5 out of 5*




2. "Shorty Wanna Be A Thug"
Produced by Johnny "J"

This one could be looked at in a few ways. Either Pac was telling the story of a 16 year old boy would was willing to do any and everything in his power to be a "thug" during the first verse while the second verse was talking about his own upbringing and why he labelled himself as a thug in the first place. Could it also be looked at as Pac describing himself at the age of 16? Again, quite a few ways you could view this song, another good one.
*4 out of 5*




3. "Holla At Me"
Produced by Bobby "Bobcat" Ervin

This song is (very) notable for apparent being directed at Stretch from the Live Squad, who collaborated with Pac on the "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z." album, with Pac referencing some type of double cross from years back (just listen to that first verse). I don't know if this was talking the shooting in New York back in '94 in which Pac got shot 5 times or what, but Pac was definitely calling out someone. History has shown that Pac was the last MC you would want to face the lyrical, vicious wrath of.
*4 out of 5*




4. "Wonda Why They Call You U Bitch"
Produced by Johnny "J" and Pac

Let's get something out of the way right quick: I don't recall HOW the hell this rumor got started, but in no way was the female vocalist on the hook, who wasn't credited, Faith Evans. Faith had her own voice, like most female R&B artists did and whoever this was on the hook sounded NOTHING like Faith, just thought I'd mention that.

Continuing on, for C. Delores Tucker, whom this song was made for, and others in the government, media, etc, who continuously wondered why rappers called women bitches, this song was for them. As mentioned by rappers for years, especially during the 90s, they weren't referring to all women as bitches, only those who ACTIONS warranted such a term. Without quoting any specific lines, I'll just say it must be heard to get the full account of what Pac is trying to say and of course he makes his points.
*4 out of 5*




5. "When We Ride"
Featuring Outlaw Immortalz
Produced by DJ Pooh

This was nothing but a showcase for the Outlaw Immortalz, nothing more or less. It was cool that Pac put his homies on, but I was never really impressed with these guys.
*3 out of 5*


6. "Thug Passion"
Featuring Jewell, Dramacydal and Storm
Produced by Johnny "J" and Pac

"Thug passion" could be interpreted in many ways on this joint, more often referring to Alize, Cristal and the like, lol. This joint was likely for the ladies (I don't even think they would've been too crazy about this one), and even though Pac comes with the last verse, this seemed to be another showcase for the guests.
*3 out of 5*


7. "Picture Me Rollin"
Featuring Danny Boy, Big Syke and CPO
Produced by Johnny "J"

Post-prison, Pac was just living the life and after being locked down, who could blame him? With all due respect to Big Syke an CPO, this really should've been Pac by himself because their verses added nothing to this song. Johnny's production and the verses from Pac justify the "4 out of 5" rating.



8. "Check Out Time"
Featuring Kurupt and Big Syke
Background Vocals by Natasha Walker
Produced by Johnny "J" and Pac

I liked the smooth, California styled interpolation of Soul IV Real's "Candy Rain." In addition, I'll let you genius.com describe this song:

"2Pac and his crew woke up in a hotel after a late night - probably in Las Vegas - and recap the night in this song."


That says it all right there and with check out time drawing near, Pac, Kurupt and Syke weren't trying to be in that hotel longer than they had to be, lol (hence the hook, "we gotta go"). Skye was ok on this one, but Daz should've been in that spot, considering how they kept asking for him, lol.
*4 out of 5*




9. "Ratha Be Ya Nigga"
Featuring Richie Rich
Background Vocals by Puff Johnson and Ebony
Produced by Doug Rasheed 

This is another one for the ladies. Pac makes the case, "even if you're lonely, you need a thug in ya life/these bustas ain't lovin' you right." Richie Rich comes along for this Bootsy Collins sampled ride ("I'd Rather Be With You"). Normally I would complain about multiple songs for the ladies on a hip hop album, but in this case, Pac makes it work and as mentioned, I'll have more to say about that as we continue.
*4 out of 5*




10. "All Eyez On Me"
Featuring Big Syke
Produced by Johnny "J"

Aside from this being a pretty good song, it's notable for the pre-dated sampling of the Linda Clifford's "Never Gonna Stop" 5 months before Nas would do the same for "Street Dreams" off the "It Was Written" album, and yes, Nas' song was better but that's another story, lol. This was certainly and apply and appropriately title track, because all eyes were on Pac at this point. Honestly, Pac had been in the public (and media) eye from the very moment he became famous, for the right and wrong reasons, and I bet rappers today would kill to have that type of publicity. I am going to deduct .5 from the rating because this was clearly a song that didn't need a guest appearance from Syke. Other than that, it's a very good song.
*4.5 out of 5*




11. "Run Tha Streetz"
Featuring Michel'le, Mutah and Storm
Produced by Johnny "J" and Pac

Yep, another cut for the ladies, and with the recognizable Guy sample courtesy of "Piece Of My Love", I'm sure they would really like this one. In true Pac fashion, he tries his best to make the case that if a woman lets her man "run the streets", when he does come home, "he will love you better." Ok then, lol, he may have a point there. To her credit, Storm comes with some very slick lines, "now me and you was cool, but I ain't the one to play the fool/can't make no money in bed, so ain't no future fuckin' you!" Ooohhh, lol. The song was flowing kinda nicely, until Mutah's verse, which added nothing to this.
*3 out of 5*


12. "Ain't Hard To Find"
Featuring E-40, B-Legit, D-Shot, C-Bo and Richie Rich
Produced by Mike Mosley and Rick Rock

A true collection of California talent on one song. I'm sure it was no thang for Pac to get these men for a collaboration because he bonded with them so well.
*4 out of 5*




13. "Heaven Ain't Hard To Find"
Background Vocals by Danny Boy
Produced by QD3

When you look at a title like this, the assumption, at least in my view, is that it's going to be something deep, probably coming with a religious tone, but that's not the case with this song. Closing "Book 2", this is another one the ladies would love. Pac is rather clever here, telling the ladies that heaven ain't hard to find, and without being blasphemous, he's not talking about God, he's talking about himself. Looking for a good man, heaven/Pac ain't hard to find in this life. This was an anti-climatic way to close the album, but the song itself wasn't bad at all.
*3 out of 5*




Ok, I have A LOT to say about this double album, so let me break it down by starting with the album's success.

All of the released singles were hits. "2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted" and "I Ain't Mad At Cha" enjoyed respectable amounts of radio and TV play, but "How Do You Want It" and "California Love" were even bigger successes. The former reached #1 on the "Billboard Hot 100" chart (#17 in the UK) and the latter also hit #1 on that same chart and remained for 2 weeks, also being nominated for two Grammy awards, "Best Rap Solo Performance" and "Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group", respectively. To say that the overall album was a huge success is a complete understatement. I'm not sure how many units it moved in its first week, but in addition to staying on the "Billboard 200" chart for an impressive 105 weeks, as of July 23, 2014, it's one of few hip hop albums to achieve a DIAMOND certification, and it's a shame that Pac wasn't alive to enjoy the success, just like Biggie with the "Life After Death" (double) album.


And now my thoughts on the album overall.


With the exception of "What'z Ya Phone #", "Book 1" is FILLED with excellence, definitely some of Pac's most memorable work. There's a SLIGHT dip in quality in terms of Book 2, but it's still largely good, and in my opinion, it still justifies its length. And remember, this is the first thing Pac dropped when he was released from prison, so everything you heard from him was a combination of the "ambitionz" and thoughts while locked down, or his own words, the album was more "celebratory of life, fun, upbeat, energetic and harsher in terms of the language cause I was in jail for 11 1/2 months", so it's because of this where I do give him a pass in terms of the multiple songs for the ladies, something I'm not so quick to do in other cases. He didn't have to create a double album FULL of his experiences in jail, and after being locked down for that long, who wants to talk about it? I mean some certainly would, but every man is free to make his own decisions right?? So, from an overall standpoint, this very review may seem like an obvious 4.5 star rating, but due to the supreme historical context, him being bailed out of prison, signing with Death Row, the immediate success, the hype/buzz surrounding him and this album, the hit singles and his charisma, I'm sticking with my 5 star rating and that will remain until I change it, which is unlikely. 


Post-All Eyez On Me, Pac would continue to enjoy, or at least try to enjoy his new home in Death Row. I've often heard stories from both sides, in that Pac was not happy at the label and wanted to leave, which is why the Makaveli album and other material was recorded so fast, others, mostly Suge, said he loved it and would've cussed you out for even asking the question. I'll say I do believe if he did want to leave, it was to keep things moving and possibly start Makaveli Records with Tha Outlawz being the first signed act. And of course all roads led to the unfortunate events in September of 1996 which I won't rehash here. As it stands, when it comes to hip hop double albums, this one from Pac, Biggie's "Life After Death" and Wu-Tang's "Wu-Tang Forever" ultimately set the standards for what a hip hop double album is supposed to sound like (more quality, less filler) and any time I talk about them, I'll continue to defend their justified lengths. 


There may be another Pac revisit in the future, but this was a tribute to him and his 4th album that will stand the test of time. Rest in peace Pac! Thank you!

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