After the release of his debut album 2pacalypse Now, a lot of things begin to change for 2pac. With one solo album under his belt and a starring role in the 1992 hood classic movie Juice, Pac was quickly becoming a celebrity. Unfortunately, with his new-found fame came problems, to which many credit to his metamorphosis from the conscious black militant emcee to the real life heartless character Bishop that he played in the movie. Whatever the case, 2pac would return in 1993 with his sophomore effort Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…
Pac would pretty much rely on the same group of dudes to handle the production on Strictly that worked on 2pacalypse Now. The album received solid reviews and many consider it Pac’s breakout album, as it would be the first album to earn him a gold plaque (it would eventually go on to earn him a platinum plaque as well).
Random factoid: Pac’s second album was originally supposed to be titled Troublesome 21 and released in the fall of ’92, but Interscope did not want to release it due to Pac’s violent content on several of the songs. The album was scrapped and only a few of the songs from that album survived to make it to Strictly. Most of the songs from Troublesome 21 would be released later on any one of the million 2pac posthumous albums, but you can easily track down the album in its entirety on the web.
Holler If Ya Hear Me – Strictly opens with the lead single from the album. Pac’s roadie Stretch from Live Squad hooks up a busy up-tempo backdrop that Pac brings plenty of energy to as he attempts to get an amen from the congregation for his politically charged black militant content. I never really cared much for this song. Stretch’s instrumental is blah and Pac’s lyrics are sub par, plus his cadence on this one becomes annoying after the first verse.
Pac’s Theme (Interlude) – Interlude that features 2pac sounds bites (and an oddly placed Speech from Arrested Development sound bite) over a pleasant Underground Railroad produced instrumental.
Point The Finga – By 1993, 2pac was fastly becoming a polarizing figure, as controversy begin to swirl over his head and meet him at every turn. On this one Pac addresses some of the things people were accusing him of at the time (including a man who shot and killed a cop after being pulled over and ridiculously tried to blame it on the lyrics from 2pacalypse Now’s Violent”). Big D The Impossible hooks up a bouncy bass lined backdrop (tongue twister much!), which I never really cared for, but it would probably sound impressive in a boomin’ system. I’m just sayin’.
Something 2 Die 4 (Interlude) – Big D The Impossible gets another production credit on this one (with a co-production credit going to Pac), hooking up a somber and emotional backdrop that Pac uses his distorted chopped and screwed voice (i.e. the older brother from 2pacalypse Now’s “Soulja’s Story”) on to drop a few jewels for the listener’s ear. This interlude will definitely leaving you reflecting on Pac and his brief life.
Last Wordz – Pac invites the legendary Ice’s (no, not Isis. Ice’s as in Ice Cube and Ice T) to join him on this cipher joint. Bobcat’s instrumental sounds like a poor man’s DJ Muggs beat, and while none of the three emcees sound impressive, if I had to pick a winner on this one, the title would definitely go to Pac. That said, I’m not a fan of this one.
Souljah’s Revenge – The title is in reference to 2pacalypse Now’s “Soulja’s Story” (not sure why he decided to add an “h” to the end of “Soulja” this time around, but whatever). The brothers from that song are back at it (apparently the younger brother who died in a shootout with the cops on that song got his Lazarus on), as they take turns firing verbal shots at the police (it’s also the third consecutive song that Pac uses his “one nigga, teach two niggas” line…enough!). Bobcat redeems himself from the last track and hooks up a hard backdrop (that sounds a lot like the instrumental from Death Certificate’s “Wrong Nigga To Fuck Wit”) for Pac to spark the revolution over. This would have been dope to hear live back in the day, especially when he goes into the chant at the midway point of the song.
Peep Game – This is a song I completely forgot existed. Pac invites Deadly Threat to join him on this duet, as the two share the mic like a joint. Unfortunately, neither one of them smoke it properly and just end up choking all over it. Pac and Threat are only part of the problem, considering Bobcat’s instrumental is garbage as well. By the way, this is the third consecutive Bobcat produced track and concludes his contribution to Strictly, leaving him with a .333 batting average. One out of three is pretty good for hitters in baseball, not so much for a hip-hop producer. The blandness of this song must have forced me subconsciously to block it from my memory.
Strugglin’ – The brother duo of Stretch and Majesty (better known as Live Squad) join Pac on this one. Stretch and Maj sound almost identical with their raspy and muffled flows, that put a strain on the ear when trying to understand what the hell they’re saying. Their influence must have rubbed off on Pac for this one, as his rhymes sound like they were sanded into and lost in the instrumental. I do like the Live Squad’s up-tempo backdrop, though.
Guess Who’s Back – Here’s an unlikely collabo: Special Ed and his DJ Akshun, get the production credit for this laid back slightly drunken, but nice, instrumental. Once again, Pac’s rhymes are overpowered by the backdrop, and it was kind of sad to hear him rhyme “I went from hustling dicks to making hits, busting flicks, now I’m sure to be rich by ’96”, knowing now that he would die the same year.
Representin’ 93 – Truman Jefferson (who’s great-grandfather was Thomas Jefferson’s second cousin’s great grandmother’s brother’s first cousin’s brother’s slave) gets the production credit and hooks up a nasty chopped and screwed backdrop (with an ill slowed down Scarface sound bite on the hook) built around a random Joe Public (remember them?) loop. Pac’s rhymes range from mediocre to cheesy with lines like “how you gonna play me like a sucka Dunkin Donut?”. I did like his second verse, which sounds like a shout out freestyle. And Pac invites the elder brother from “Soulja’s Story” back to spit the final verse. Again, Truman Jefferson’s instrumental is sick.
Keep Ya Head Up – This is easily one of the top five biggest hits in Pac’s storied catalog. D.J. Daryl rips Zapp’s “Be Alright” instrumental at wholesale, and Pac stands up for his Nubian sisters (because “2pac cares, if don’t nobody else care”) and delivers some of his strongest bars on Strictly. Dave Hollister (credited as Dark Angel in the liner notes) drops by to provide adlibs and sings the hook. This is one of those songs that will always make the legendary rapper beloved, regardless of his many contradictions.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… – Laylaw’s (yes, the same Laylaw that was a founding member of Above The Law) instrumental sounds like its playing in slow-motion and makes me want to take a nap when I hear it (I actually just yawned thinking about it). Pac does his best to work with what he’s given, but his bars aren’t potent enough to bring energy to the title track’s sleepy backdrop.
The Streetz R Deathrow – Stretch hooks up an emotional and soulful backdrop that Pac uses to confront the demons he’s faced since his youth coming up in the hood. And we all know Pac was at his best when confronting demons and paranoia in his songs. This one would have fit in perfectly on Me Against The World.
I Get Around – This was the third single from Strictly and is easily my favorite song on the album. Shock G (who is pretty much the D-Flow Production Squad that the liner notes give the production credit to) hooks up a beautiful instrumental for Pac, himself and Money B to remind the ladies that “the Underground just don’t stop for hoes”. It would have been nice to hear Humpty make an appearance on this one, but regardless it’s a hip-hop classic that never gets old.
Papa’z Song – Big D The Impossible returns and hooks up an emotional instrumental that Pac and his stepbrother Wycked (who you may know as Mopreme from Thug Life or as Komani from The Outlawz, or by his government name, Maurice Williams) use to fire verbal darts at their Pops for being a dead beat. Interestingly, Pac raps as the absentee father on the final verse (in his “Soulja’s Story” older brother vocal), giving an explanation for his absence and asking his sons for forgiveness. I love the funky guitar licks the song fades out with. This is a well orchestrated and executed Pac jewel that is heavily slept on.
5 Deadly Venomz – Strictly ends with Pac, Stretch, Majesty, Treach and the wildcard, Apache taking part in the cipher, and surprisingly, Apache delivers the strongest verse. It’s pretty sad to think that three of the five emcees on this song are now dead (Pac, Stretch and Apache). I’m not a fan of Stretch’s instrumental or the song, for that matter.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… marks the end of the revolutionary Pac and the birth of the gangster Pac, as both personas are at war throughout the album. I’ve never thought of Pac as a great lyricist, but an emcees who’s strongest when he draws from his emotion, so it’s no surprise that he’s at his best on Strictly‘s more emotional songs. My biggest issue with Strictly is the mix, as the music tends to drown out the vocals throughout the album (it definitely sounds better when listening to it through headphones). But even a good mix wouldn’t have helped some of the lackluster production on Strictly, which tends to miss more often than it hits. Strictly is my least favorite 2pac album and the most inconsistent project in his catalog (and no, I’m not including the billion posthumous albums that came later in that statement).