In February of 1996, 2Pac made history becoming the first rapper to release a double album in All Eyez On Me. The historic project would go on to reach diamond status and the streets and critics would hail the project one of the greatest hip-hip albums of all time, like they have with every other 2Pac album that is not 2Pacalypse Now. After his well-documented prison stent and Death Row assisted release, All Eyez On Me seemed like it would be the spark to cause a resurgence in Pac’s career. But things would take a tragic turn, when on September 7, 1996, after leaving the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight, he would get shot four times in a drive by shooting and sadly, six days later, on September 13, die from his wounds. But prior to that fateful night, in between shooting movies (Gridlock’d and Gang Related), Pac was recording new music, and some of those songs would become his first posthumously released album under his new alias, Makaveli, titled: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.
Pac’s new alias (Makaveli) was taken from the name of the16th century Italian philosopher/author/ diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, who was one of the first political writers to separate politics from morality and would coin the saying: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Killuminati is a combination of kill and illuminati, and I’ll let you make of that what you’d like. The 7 Day Theory references the amount of time it allegedly took to complete the album; three days for Pac to write and record his rhymes and four days to mix it (there is also an easily accessible demo tape referred to as The 3 Day Theory, which only accounts for Pac’s writing and recording time, and it has a slightly different track list than the final project). While the infamous cover artwork for 7 Day Theory (which displays an image of 2Pac being crucified on a cross like Jesus) has become legendary, it’s also worth noting that the original back album cover featured animated artwork poking fun at Biggie, Puffy and Dr. Dre. Suge Knight and Death Row Records decided to remove it after Pac’s death, but like everything else in the world, you can find it on the internet with a quick Google search. 7 Day Theory would become certified platinum just two months after its release, and to date it has sold over four million copies domestically. Most of the critics showered 7 Day Theory with heaps of praise, and like his two previous albums (Me Against The World and All Eyez On Me), many proclaimed it Pac’s best work and one of the greatest albums of all-time.
As an author, Niccolò Machiavelli’s most renowned work was his politically charged book titled, The Prince (which is where the “Better to be feared” quote comes from). It wouldn’t get published until five years after his death. I’ll leave that right here.
Intro – The album opens with a fake music news reporter announcing 2pac’s new alias (Makaveli), the release of 7 Day Theory and a conspiracy theory that a bunch of New York rappers (led by Nas, Mobb Sleep, Notorious P.I.G. and Jay-Z of Hawaiian Sophie fame) are out to assassinate he and Death Row’s character, followed by a passionate statement from our thugged out host.
Bomb First (My Second Reply) – Darryl “Big D” Harper supplies a haunting melody over quiet riot drums and a devious bass line (borrowed from Fred Wesley’s often sampled, “More Peas”) that Pac uses to pledge his allegiance to the West Coast and Death Row and declares war, specifically taking aim at Bad Boy, Jay-Z and Mobb Deep on this one. Pac invites a few of his Outlawz foot soldiers, E.D.I Mean and Young Noble, to bust shots (which includes E.D.I. taking a random shot at Xzibit, referring to him as “that nigga that made “Paparazzi,”” and questions why he’s in the game if it isn’t for the money) and the energy quickly plummets. But Pac, I mean, Makaveli, resurfaces at the end of the song, rescuing the track after his cronies’ pedestrian performance with a classic battle-ready war chant to close things out.
Hail Mary – This was the third and final single released from 7 Day Theory. Hurt-M-Badd sets the tone with a darkly moody backdrop, accented by a cloudy bass line, and Pac starts it off sounding like a Baptist preacher, while his spooky melodic prayer refrain plays underneath his short sermon. Pac gets off two verses full of his signature rhetoric (i.e., hood psalms, enemy paranoia, violence, and just an overall “fuck the world” mentality), which also includes Pac’s classic opening line: “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me, revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin’ pussy.” Once again, our gracious host yields and let’s his Outlawz bredrin (Kastro, Young Noble, and Kadafi) spit a few feeble bars full of run of the mill street shit. This one ends with a spoken word piece from Ital Joe fused into Pac’s hook, making Joe’s poem nearly impossible to understand. Even with its flaws, this record still sounds great. The music and Pac’s classic hook (which might be the catchiest hook in hip-hip history) make for the perfect soundtrack for a seance.
Toss It Up – This was the lead single from 7 Day Theory. It starts out sounding like it’s just going to be a sex song with Pac’s lusty opening verse, followed by a couple of verses, a bridge and a hook of corny lines and cliche-filled crooning from Danny Boy, K-Ci, JoJo and Aaron Hall (with the cheesiest line coming from K-Ci: “Oh, don’t act so shady, baby, your taste is fine as gravy”). Then Pac comes back with a random verse, dissing Dr. Dre for leaving Death Row, and just like that, all the vagina that was previously soaking wet due to the singing from Pac’s legendary R&B guests (and Danny Boy) turns as dry as a desert. The instrumental (which is credited to Demetrius Shipp, who is also the father of Demetrius Shipp Jr., who played Pac in the 2017 biopic, All Eyez On Me (How’s that for a full circle moment?)) is a knock off of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” that uses the classic “Playa, playa, playa, playa” bridge and substitutes the Bill Withers’ moan with an annoying posse said “Ooh!” (The original version of “Toss It Up” was a complete jack of Teddy Riley’s “No Diggity” instrumental (and it didn’t include the Dre dis verse), until TR made a call to then Interscope head, Jimmy Iovine along with a cease-and-desist letter to get it removed from radio rotation, which is why if you listen closely, you can hear Pac dissing Mr. Riley, along with a host of others, during his song closing rant) I didn’t care for this track back in ‘96 and it sounds even worst today.
To Live & Die In L.A. – This was the second single released from 7 Day Theory. It opens with a short radio snippet that implies their discussing Pac’s Biggie diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up.” Then QDIII gets his lone production credit of the evening, hooking up a feel-good mid-tempo summertime appropriate bop. But don’t let the sunshine endorsing music confuse you, as Pac’s ode to Los Angeles is full of cold and callous content: “Everybody got their own thing, currency chasin’, worldwide through the hard times, worrying faces, shed tears as we bury niggas close to heart, was a friend, now a ghost in the dark, cold part about it, nigga got smoked by a fiend, tryna floss on him, blind to a broken man’s dream.” Val Young (who Pac refers to as his angel) lends her gritty soulful vocals to the beautiful instrumental, bringing some contrasting light to Pac’s dark decorum. And of course, Dre had to catch a stray at the end of the record.
Blasphemy – This one starts with a skit of a preacher preaching a sermon in a distorted voice, as horror movie like notes play behind him. Then Hurt-M-Badd’s spooky and pensive backdrop comes in and Pac kicks it off discussing his family tree (which according to him, “Consists of drug dealers, thugs and killas”) and shares some of the game his Pops gave him as young whippersnapper (but just the first two rules of the game; I’m dying to know what his dad’s other eight hood commandments are). The rest of the song finds Pac contemplating life, death, religion and the afterlife. Ital Joe returns, and this time he provides a meaningful chant for the hook. I completely forgot about this record, and ironically, it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Life Of An Outlaw – Pac and the Outlawz (this time it’s Young Noble, E.D.I. Mean, Kastro and Napoleon) celebrate thug life on this one. The sultry instrumental (which Pac receives a production credit for, along with Big D) was dope, but the true star on this record are the uncredited human fingers that played the ridiculously funky bass guitar licks all over the track.
Just Like Daddy – Pac and his goons (E.D.I. Mean, Yaki Kadafi and Young Noble) sound a little creepy on this one. What’s supposed to be a thug love song sounds more like the fellas are preying on young women with daddy issues, using the ladies’ insecurities and desire for a strong male figure in their lives as a way to get the draws. The content is cringe worthy, the hook is lazy and redundant, and the instrumental feels aimless.
Krazy – This one finds our host in a deep “woe is me” funk, and since misery loves company, Bad Azz joins his friend, adding to the gloomy mood. The bluesy music sounds appropriate backing Pac and his guest’s melancholy content, but it’s boring as hell, and Bad Azz’ whispering monotone voice almost put me to sleep.
White Man’z World – The track opens with a distorted clip from the Spike Lee Joint, Malcom X (the scene where crooked-ass Baines is trying to get Malcom to convert to the Nation of Islam while they’re both in prison), setting the premise for the song that Pac uses to address the struggle of the Black man and woman in America. I appreciate Pac’s intent, but the rhymes feel rushed, the instrumental’s uninteresting, and Danny Boy’s overly wordy hook sounds strained and quickly begins to grate on the ears.
Me And My Girlfriend – Pac steps out of his comfort zone and gets into his metaphor bag, painting his gun as his ride or die chick. The song idea was obviously influenced by Pac’s alleged conspirator’s record (Nas’ “I Gave You Power”), but while Nas painted the gun’s perspective, Pac comes from the point of view of the manic gun owner: “My girlfriend, darker than the darkest night, when niggas act bitch made she got the heart to fight, Nigga, my girlfriend, though we separated at times, I knew deep inside baby girl would always be mine, picked you up when you was nine, started out my life a crime with you, bought you some shells when you turned twenty-two.” The seductive Latin strings in the instrumental (that Pac receives a credit for, along with Big D Harper and Hurt-M-Badd) and the chilling hook and refrain are the perfect accomplices for Pac’s well-executed concept. This is easily the strongest record on 7 Day Theory, and it holds a place on my imaginary top ten Pac song list.
Hold Ya Head – Over Hurt-M-Badd’s somberly emotional instrumental, Pac gets into more of his morbid death talk and depressing hood politics, all in an unorthodox effort to encourage the listener to stay strong. This is a decent record, but it definitely should have been sequenced before the electric “Me And My Girlfriend.”
Against All Odds – 7 Day Theory ends with a slick instrumental with subdued somber vibes, led by a quiet rumbling bass line, as our host loads the clip one last time to buck shots at some of his adversaries. The first verse takes aim at a few of the usual suspects: Nas, Dr. Dre, Mobb Deep and Puffy. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Pac closes the verse by dissing…De La Soul: “Niggas lookin’ like Larry Holmes (look at De La Soul!), flabby and sick, tryna playa hate on my shit, you eat a fat dick” (Apparently, Pac was upset about their “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)” video that parodied his “I Get Around” video). The second verse it dedicated to Haitian Jack (who Pac believed set him up for the rape conviction he would serve time for), Jimmy Henchmen and Tut (both of whom Pac believed set him up during the 1994 Quad Studios robbery and shooting), and the third verse goes back at Puffy, throws a quick jab at Big Stretch (“And that nigga that was down for me, restin’ dead, switched sides, I guess his new friends wanted him dead”; you may remember Stretch as part of the group and production team, Live Squad, but he also collabed with Pac on a few records, dating back to the 2Pacalypse Now album. Pac felt Stretch was also involved in setting him up during the Quad Studio incident, and coincidently (or on purpose?), Stretch would be murdered in a drive-by shooting on November 30, 1995, exactly a year to the date of the Quad Studios incident), but it’s mainly dedicated to Nas: “Lord, listen to me, God don’t like ugly, it was written, Ayo, Nas, your whole damn style is bitten, you heard my melody (this nigga sound like Rakim!), read about my life in the papers, all my run-ins with authorities, felonious capers.” Pac definitely leaves us with some intriguing content (or as he calls it during the hook, “the truest shit I ever spoke”), which gives me goosebumps when I think about how things went down at the end of his life.
7 Day Theory starts out pretty strong. With the exception of “Toss It Up,” the production on the first six tracks is vibeable, matched by viable output from Pac, who repeatedly saves tracks when his band of Outlawz try their damnedest to sabotage songs every chance they get. But things get dicey around the midway point. “Just Like Daddy,” “Krazy,” and “White Man’z World” might be the trifecta for most boring consecutive songs on a hip-hop album. Sometimes you can listen to an album repeatedly and certain songs you didn’t enjoy the first few times through start to grow on you, but that’s not the case with these three records. They’re just as painful to listen to for the hundredth time as they were the first. Pac closes out 7 Day Theory strong with the album’s crown jewel (“Me And My Girlfriend”), followed by two more solid tracks, wisely leaving his cronies on the bench for the album’s home stretch.
It’s fair to say that Pac was never a top-tier lyricist, but what he lacked in lyricism he more than made up for with captivating cadences, compelling voice inflections, irresistible haunting hooks, and raw emotion; and the combination of these attributes gave him the uncanny ability to tap into the emotions of his listeners. The cadences, inflections and hooks are alive and well throughout 7 Day Theory, but most of Pac’s rhymes, while technically sound, ring hollow and lack that emotional connection that made Pac one of the (if not the most) beloved emcee in the history of hip-hop.
The circumstances, conditions and mystique surrounding 7 Day Theory (mainly it being released just two months after Pac’s death) has made many a fan and critic proclaim the album a classic and Pac’s magnum opus (which is actually Me Against The World, if you ask me). But I ask you, if Ben Simmons were the shooter and Pac survived that fateful night in Vegas, would the album garner the same admiration and praise? Despite an overabundance of underwhelming cameos, the lulling midway point and Pac’s somewhat soulless content, 7 Day Theory is still a decent album. And it proves the theory that you can make a hip-hop masterpiece in just seven days is false.
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