Thursday, 19 June 2014

2Pac - 2Pacalypse Now (1991)

This one didn't make much sense to me the first time I heard it - picked up from the library out of curiosity - although I'm still not entirely sure why. Possibly it was simply a case of a perfectly respectable debut album unable to live up to the hype which came in its wake. More recently I bought the thing, recalling how I'd found it initially underwhelming, but suspecting I probably just needed to give it more time on the grounds that I'd been unable to prise 1993's Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. out of the CD player for about six months.

There's been so much bollocks surrounding the posthumous legend of Tupac Shakur that reasonable persons could be forgiven for shrugging and walking off in the opposite direction in search of something which isn't surrounded by a cloud of angry nutters each claiming to be the only one to truly understand what He was trying to say. Firstly, in case it isn't obvious, he was principally a rapper rather than a messiah. He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy, as Mrs. Shakur probably never bothered pointing out to anyone. Additionally, much has been made of Tupac's revolutionary and intellectual credentials, the former coming from having been raised amongst various Panther types and representatives of the Black Consciousness Movement, the latter from apparent possession of a library card. Tupac's bedside reading lists can be found all over the internet, and whilst it's smashing that he loved to curl up with a good book, it's probably wise to not get too carried away on that score, given that at least some of what he read was pure crap, Linda Goodman's Sun Signs for example. Whilst we're here, I never thought his poetry was that amazing either; for instance, the N word as an acronym for Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished - seriously?

Nevertheless, as rapper and storyteller, the lad clearly had something, an effortless and athletic way with words and a compelling, punchy delivery that was a bit like having someone poking you in the chest with a finger for three minutes. His rhyme schemes were massive great colourful cat's cradles of images at a time when at least half of the rap world was still asking us to put our hands in the air and wave them like we just didn't care over some pingy cowbell laden children's TV theme tune; and whilst he may not quite have been amongst the first rappers to just come right out and say it, he was in there somewhere, and as such ended up as a founding father of gangsta rap, if we really must call it that. Typically, following the whole genre back to this particular source - which isn't such a stretch given how many careers have been spun from variations on the bald, angry, black man theme - 2pac, as with NWA and Above the Law, never really sounded quite like everyone seems to remember, and certainly had a lot more going on than guns, money, and hoes. Such gangsta staples turn up on 2Pacalypse Now as you would expect, but not to the exclusion of anything else he felt he needed to address, and you would have to be an idiot to mistake the angle for anything other than what it is. The don't try this at home, kids disclaimer is absent due to an assumption of the audience having at least half a brain and being able to tell the difference between reportage, protest, general complaints registered and an idiot waving a gun around exclaiming awesome! Chuck D's comment about rap being the black CNN strongly applies.

Musically this album was perched on the cusp of sampling and all the wicky-wicky DJ stuff, or at least the point at which sampling technology ceased sounding quite so corny as it had done at the close of the previous decade. So there are some nice chunky beats here, and very little cheese, and a palpable sense of the excitement of creating this sort of stuff and of hearing it for the first time, which has, against all odds, prevented its sounding particularly dated.

2Pacalypse Now wasn't his greatest album by some way, but it was a good one, and if he must be remembered as the voice of a generation, he is admittedly well chosen.

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