Tupac Shakur is a monolithic figure, and one of the most well-known rappers ever. A dude revered for not just for his music, but his intelligence, charisma, and outspoken personality. Pac’s untimely death in 1996 at the age of 25 cemented him as something of a god-like figure in rap and decades after his passing, he’s still fondly remembered. People celebrate his life and music worldwide, constantly debate and examine his impact within the realms of hip-hop, art, and pop culture, and take guesses on when he’ll return from the grave (He’s chilling with Hoffa in the Maldives, by the way).
All that being said…damn, his music really can be hit or miss, especially his early output. Emerging on the scene with ’91’s 2Pacalypse Now, the record was an interesting debut from the NY-born, Cali-raised, former backup dancer who was the son of a Black Panther and gifted in the arts. The record didn’t blow up, but it did turn heads, and by ’93’s Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (I miss the era where rappers would sneak swears and slurs into their song and album titles) Pac was a rising star in music and film.
I listened to Strictly… in its entirety for the first time recently (yeah, I know I’m hella late, but I really got into his later records first) and it’s…okay. Real talk, it’s a 7/10. The album has some of Pac’s biggest and most enduring listens with “Keep Your Head Up” and “I Get Around,” two really good songs which couldn’t be further from each other in message…but also has tracks that are just not good. There are listens here which aren’t mixed well, or have weak verses from weed-carriers in Pac’s circle, or just feel dated. Overall, the album feels more like an East Coast record (fitting since Pac is from there) than a West Coast one, with more aggressive performances, less synthesizers, and more samples (especially from big influences PE and Cube). Despite all that though, Pac brings a ton of energy and heart, and he’s determined to buck the powers that be as hard as he can. Plus there’s some great guests here and there too.
There’s so many Pac tracks from across his career that I could’ve posted, but thisssssssss one, the opener from Strictly, has been on constant repeat for me for weeks now. I really cannot get enough of this damn song. I think a lot of the reason why I love it so much is because of the sample of “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” the 1976 hit from the Philly funk band People’s Choice. Pac’s producer Stretch took a ridiculously funky track then amped it up and made it harder than a motherfucker, and Pac just runs wild on it. It’s aggressive, confrontational, and damned empowering as Pac goes on the warpath, calling up his brothers and getting ready for the revolution. I’m completely with it.