December 18, 2015

2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)

All Eyez On Me is one of the most influential and imitated hip hop albums ever made and despite being a chart-topping, diamond-status album and regarded as a classic by nearly everyone, I still don't think it really gets the credit that it deserves from my generation.

After exploding onto the scene with his fiery debut, 2Pacalypse now, Pac was in the fast lane to an insane level of success, controversy, and his death. The world's most influential rapper had already made headlines with both furious and inspiring lyrics on his first two albums. He then got shot 5 times, lived, and checked himself out of the hospital a day later with a grudge against Bad Boy records (including Notorious B.I.G.) and then went on to release his most transparent album yet, Me Against The World. 2Pac was collecting even more publicity through these years with his supreme acting performances in movies such as Juice, Above The Rim, and Bullet as well as criminal charges like shooting at corrupt police beating down an innocent man, inspiring teens to revolt against police with his lyrics, and sexual assault, which he was ultimately imprisoned for. Death Row emperor Suge Knight paid 2Pac's million and a half dollar bail under the agreement that he would record 4 albums for the record company. Now 2Pac, arguably the biggest rapper in the world at that point, had joined the most popular hip hop label which was scorching after the success of four multi-platinum albums; The Chronic, Doggystyle, Dogg Food, and the Above The Rim soundtrack plus affiliates like Nate Dogg and Warren G making huge names for themselves elsewhere. Not only this, but Suge had already developed his own beef with Bad Boy Records' executive, P. Diddy following his insults at the 1995 Source awards and Tha Dogg Pound were set off to turn their New York homage track into a diss to the entire city after being shot at when shooting the video in Queens. 2Pac had now joined his personal vendetta with Bad Boy with Suge's and further involved himself in the East coast-West coast beef by backing up labelmates Daz and Kurupt when Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga, Kool G Rap, and Nas returned fire after the New York, New York video.

Even though the nuclear bomb of a diss track, Hit 'Em Up, was left off All Eyez On Me, 2Pac's voice and lyrical content should easily show you how he was working harder than ever in his career; I mean literally writing and recording 10 songs a day, most of which would go on his what seems like thousands of posthumous collections. Each of his albums before this had a more or less unique lyrical style to it, but all of that was being put together for All Eyez On Me. He had the love songs, the dance songs, the political songs, the diss songs, and the gangsta songs all on here. With a fuckload of source material, producers, and engineers somebody only 2Pac and peak-year Death Row would have been able to put together presented by an ultra-charismatic and genius emcee who had gone close to insane with the speed at which all the drama had been happening, you get one of the most intimate looks at gangsta rap ever, and that's All Eyez On Me. After this, rappers like Notorious B.I.G., Krayzie Bone, Kurupt, UGK, Wu-Tang Clan, Eightball, and OutKast released massive double albums with intimidating lists of producers and styles, more or less trying to do what 2Pac did on All Eyez On Me. Even though most of these other epic double-discs were great albums, none can hold a torch to All Eyez On Me because they didn't have the vital force only a completely crazy 2Pac could provide to put behind a 2 hour album.

Let's talk about the music now; which I can only say so much about. Death Row's crown jewel and production/mastering genius, Dr. Dre is missing from this album. He was caught up in legal trouble and was trying to find a way out of Death Row at this time, feeling the impending doom of Suge Knight's increasing involvement and secretly disliking the addition of 2Pac. With the exception of Can't C Me and California Love, the beats were primarily handled by DJ Quik (who mixed the album) and Daz Dillinger, who proved to be just as much of beat making geniuses, if not more than Dr. Dre. Other production spots are filled by Johnny J, Bobcat, who had once produced certain tracks on Eazy's It's On EP, DeVante Swing of Jodeci, and King Tee and Ice Cube's producer, DJ Pooh. What you'll notice most, however, are the amazing drum collapse and isolation techniques from Quik to make the g-funk just that much smoother and piercing and of course the classic Death Row sound coming from Daz. The pacing for a 2+ hour long epic is exceptional; having looser chilled out G tracks like Got My Mind Made Up and Picture Me Rollin' evenly placed among the denser tracks like California Love, How Do U Want It, or What'z Ya Phone #, is awesome, especially when Pac is no less energetic on whatever speed the track was. Career defining features from hit-makers like Snoop, Method Man, Nate Dogg, C-Bo, E-40, Jodeci, and more makes this long album just that much more digestible and memorable. Even Dr. Dre's verse on California Love, while corny as usual, fits the theme of the song, pace of the album, doesn't take the spotlight, and lets Pac adapt to the semi-cheesy feature and make it actually dope. Only 2Pac could change up his flow this often and give this much heart, soul, and stomach to every dope beat. I'd take his stressed words, yells, and convincing advice over the same stale, calculated flow and wordplay that Biggie uses on every single song. The urban feel of this album immaculately comes together, all 27 songs were instantly hits, and the album throws so much at you and makes you enjoy it all on the spot, what else can I say...? This is not only 2Pac's magnum opus, but the best work to ever come out of the West coast, possibly my favorite album of the 90s, and my favorite rap album of all time.

Sample 1

Sample 2

All Eyez On Me