2Pacalypse Now marks the beginning of the solo career of arguably the most influential rapper in the history of hip-hop. Tupac Shakur. I’m not going to write an in-depth bio on his life as there is already a movie and gazillions of articles, books, websites, etc. readily available at your fingertips with that info. So, here’s a brief recap.
Born June 6, 1971 in Brooklyn, NY, 2pac was the son of Black Panther Party member, Afeni Shakur. Pac’s birth name was Lesane Parish Crooks. It’s believed his mother gave him this name to avoid her son being targeted by the many enemies of the Black Panther Party movement at the time. Before he turned two, Afeni would legally change his name to Tupac Amaru Shakur, after Amaru II, who was a 18th century Peruvian revolutionary who was executed after leading an uprise against the Spanish rule.
2pac and his family moved from New York to Baltimore, and during Pac’s high school years they moved to Oakland, which is where he linked up with Digital Underground. By joining DU Pac was able to travel the world, primarily as a back up dancer and made a few cameos on their records, most notably on “Same Song” off the This Is An EP Release record. Pac would eventually ink a solo deal with Interscope (side note: after 2pac’s death Afeni Shakur was granted the right to re-release all of Pac’s Interscope releases on her label Amaru Records, distributed through Jive. So if you purchased any of his first 5 albums after 1997 they may have the Amaru Records imprint on them instead of Interscope), and released his solo debut in late ’91 2Pacalypse Now. The liner notes give credit to The Underground Railroad, Big D The Impossible, Shock G, Pee Wee, Jeremy, Raw Fusion, and Live Squad for the production, though it doesn’t say who worked on which songs specifically. So, whatever.
Upon it’s release 2Pacalypse Now received pretty solid reviews. The album is now 5 times platinum but I’m sure those numbers exploded after his death in ’96. During the 2Pacalypse Now days I don’t think any one thought he would become the mega star he became in the next five and sadly, final years of his short life.
Young Black Male – Pac starts of his solo career with a less than spectacular opening track. His flow sounds sloppy and rushed, which makes it difficult to make out most of his rhymes as he describes the attributes that make up a young black male. Luckily it’s only one verse, so you don’t have to strain your ears too long trying to make sense of his lines. To add insult to injury, the instrumental was pretty boring as well. It was kind of funny to hear Pac diss St ides and shoutout 8 Ball, considering he would later do a St. Ides commercial. Remember the St Ides hip-hop campaign in the early nineties? They had everybody from Rakim to Warren G in their commercials. And I’ve still never bought a bottle of the crooked I.
Trapped – This was the lead single from 2Pacalypse Now. Over a bangin’ bass line and an organ sample that gives the song a bit of a reggae feel, Pac discusses how the Amerikkka system is set up to trap young black males in the hood, a life of violence and crime, and prison. He slows down his rhyming pace and sounds 100 time better than he did on the opening song. It’s kind of sad when you reflect on the fact that Pac was wise enough to see the snare but unable to avoid the trap during his 25 years on earth.
Soulja’s Story – This is one of my favorite 2pac songs of all time. Pac tells a story from the perspective of two brothers trapped in the hood. The older brother ends up doing a bid after he’s busted for selling dope. Then the younger brother is instructed by his mother to go and break his older brother out of prison. As you would probably expect, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. His production team samples a classic Isaac Hayes record for the instrumental under his verses and revamps the classic Bill Wither’s record “No Sunshine” on the intro, hooks, and outro, which works perfectly with Pac’s emotional tale. Well done.
I Don’t Give A Fuck – Pac lightens up the mood a bit after the darkness brought on by the last track. Over a smoothed out instrumental our host invites Money B (from Digital Underground and later, Raw Fusion) to join him as they give the middle finger to the police and any other racist piece of shit hating on brothers because of their color. Pac affectionately closes the song with: “They can kiss my ass, and suck my dick, and lick my Uncle Tommy’s balls.” Hi-larious.
Violent – The tension is brought back up to a fever pitch with this one. Pac’s production team hooks up a dark reggae tinged instrumental, complete with a bass line that if played in a booming system is bound to make spectators mistake the rattling noise for an incoming tremor. Pac uses the first verse to discuss the hypocrisies of America. He questions why they make young black men out as the violent ones when America was founded and built on violence and murder. Pause. The second and third verses cover a story of a shootout between Pac and his homie with a few crooked cops attempting to frame them. Back in the day I remember reading a story about a guy who killed a cop after being pulled over and said this song was the reason for his actions, and it became propaganda for the “ban rap” movement when authorities discovered a copy of 2Pacalypse Now in his tape deck at the time of the shooting. How ridiculous is that? Regardless, this one is a certified banger.
Words Of Wisdom – Over the course of three verses Pac discussed the injustices in America, encourages black America to unite and fight for change and also coins one of the most
ridiculous unique acronyms for nigga that I’ve ever heard (never ignorant getting goals accomplished). I’ve always loved this instrumental. It has an up-tempo pace but still manages to maintain a mellow feel with a breezy flute sample (I think?) sprinkled throughout for good measure. Solid.
Something Wicked – I never cared much for this one in the past, but today it doesn’t sound as bad as it did in ’91. Pac resurrects the frantic flow he used on “Young Black Male” but he doesn’t sound as rushed and the lyrics are delivered in a cleaner manner. The funk instrumental is decent, and the song is only one verse, so it’s not too much of a burden to listen to.
Crooked Ass Nigga – The bass line underneath this funky instrumental (which if you’ve listened to enough hip-hop you’ve heard it used before) is infectious. Pac invites his homie Stretch to the session as they discuss what the title suggest. Be aware: crooked ass niggas come in all shapes and sizes, they were disguises, back stabs is what they specialize in”. In hindsight, it’s kind of depressing to think that both emcees would be gunned down within 5 years of this songs release.
If My Homie Calls – I believe this was the second single released from 2Pacalypse Now. Over a moody mid-tempo groove Pac proclaims his loyalty to his real partners. I’ve always loved this song and it still sounds nice 20 plus years later.
Brenda’s Got A Baby – This was the third and final single from 2Pacalypse Now, and probably the most popular song on the album. Over a somber r&b instrumental, Pac tells the story of a young pregnant teen named Brenda and the events that lead up to her getting pregnant and the decisions that would ultimately lead to her own demise. Dave Hollister (who the liner notes simply credits as “Dave”), who sounds like a poor man’s K-Ci from Jodeci (who I always assumed was singing on the outro of this song until today), and Roniece sing the hook and final minutes of the song. Props on the intent but this one always sounded a bit cheesy to me and still does today.
Tha Lunatic – Our host seeks to prove he can lyrically throw those thangs with the best of them on this one and does a decent job over the frantic instrumental.
Rebel Of The Underground – This is the closest thing resembling a DU record on 2Pacalypse Now, and I don’t only say that because Shock G drops by to do some chanting during the chorus. Over a deep bass line and a laid back funk groove Pac tells the world why he’s the rebel. Of the underground that is. Not the strongest song on the album, but I’ve always enjoyed its understated feel.
Part Time Mutha – Pac choses to close 2Pacalypse Now in a somber mood as he and guest Angelique, split the first two verses and come from the perspectives of two different kids being neglect and mistreated by their drug abusing mothers. Be prepared to tear up a bit after listening to Angelique’s verse. Pac’s final verse is from the perspective of a dude who thought he was pulling off a successful one night stand but winds up getting the chick pregnant and now has to take care of his responsibility. This verse should have been left on the cutting room floor as a wanna-be-player-turned-daddy-on-accident doesn’t compare to a kid neglected by his crackhead momma. The instrumental is an emotional remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover”, which fits the depressing subject matter perfectly.
2Pacalypse Now is definitely Pac’s most conscious album as he would gradually become more and more gangsta with each of his next 4 releases. Pac spends the majority of 2Pacalypse Now tackling the injustices in America and addressing the social ills that ail the black community. Pac’s flow was definitely still a work in progress as it sounds sloppy and underdeveloped for a large portion of the album, but he still manages to maintain the listener’s attention. His production team hooks up a pretty decent batch of backdrops, with a few excellent joints and some forgettable ones mixed in along the way. 2Pacalypse Now is a solid debut from the hip-hop legend. Unfortunately, it came out in a year filled with classic releases, so it pales in comparison.