CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
Even the most casual rap fan knows the story:
In late 1995, Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight bailed embattled rapper Tupac Shakur out of prison. Shakur, who'd been serving time at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York after he'd been convicted of sexual abuse in late 1994, was immediately signed to Death Row and set to work on his first album for the high-profile record label.
Embittered by his conviction, the November 1994 shooting that almost killed him, and feeling betrayed by former associates in the music business and beyond, 2Pac unleashed a torrent of songs during marathon recording sessions for the album. In February of 1996, he released his fourth album, a double LP called All Eyez On Me, that announced him as Death Row's newest star and Hip-Hop's most notorious anti-hero.
With the world's scrutiny appropriately fixed on him, 2Pac delivered his most infamous work. Stereo Williams and Jacinta Howard look back at the blockbuster double album All Eyez On Me.
Ambitionz Az A Ridah
Stereo: It was like his middle finger. It's coming after his sorta "Malcolm in prison" phase with Me Against The World and the jail time. And this was like "Fuck yall. I'm back and worse than I was."
Jacinta: This is a hard-ass opener. It's creepy. The beat is, like, sinister.
All About U feat. Nate Dogg
Jacinta: This is definitely a 2Pac-is-on-Death-Row moment.
Stereo: Yeah, it kind of turned me off at the time, but I'm more into it now. Nate Dogg's hook is classic. We used to ride out to this.
Stereo: I was always really resistant to stuff like this, even though "Scandalouz" was a song we played a lot. It's funny how you can listen to stuff later and not have the same hangups you had at the time.
Jacinta: This is not a bad song. I don't remember this being my favorite song, but this is another one of those tracks that sounds like "Death Row song." Like he was just with the homies in the studio and they just did this.
Got My Mind Made Up
Jacinta: Redman and Method Man were always down to work with anybody who was dope. They would be like "If the shit's dope, we'll be on it. It doesn't matter." That's why you can go anywhere and people had love for Wu-Tang Clan.
Stereo: Even though in a lot of ways, Wu-Tang epitomized "Real Hip-Hop, Son, Nah Mean?" they weren't snobs. They collaborated with people outside of that hardcore East Coast "purist" world. This is one of those songs I always play when people get into their "Pac wasn't a lyricist" thing. You didn't listen to him for Black Thought-level bars but he wasn't a scrub on the mic. Sidebar: shout-out to Inspektah Deck.
How Do U Want It
Jacinta: Even when I loved 2Pac, I never liked that song. It sounded really watered down to me. Pac could always have a cool, radio, party-sounding track. "I Get Around" is a cool track. But I never liked this song. This was when everybody was grabbing K-Ci and Jo-Jo for their records.
Stereo: Johnny J is a super underrated producer, but this is another one of those songs that I can tell they knew it was a single. But it's kind of generic. The most remarkable thing I remember is the video. At least it's better than "Toss It Up."
2 Of Amerika's Most Wanted w/Snoop Dogg
Jacinta: I feel so predictable! This song, I did not like it all when it first came out. But as year's have gone by, I've started liking it more. I actually appreciate it. When it first came out? I did not like this song at all.
Stereo: You had to buy "2 of Amerika's Most Wanted" to get "Hit 'Em Up" on the B-side. And I always felt like "Hit 'Em Up" pushed that single. As big as Pac and Snoop on a track together was, it was helped by the controversy. It sounds very Dogg Pound, too.
No More Pain
Jacinta: This is another one of those songs that you can play for people who say Pac can't rap. When he goes to that "Evil Pac" place it doesn't sound like he's posturing. It's not even evil, it's just very raw.
Stereo: When Pac goes to that "Evil Pac" place, it's really effective. Whatever place he went to play Bishop in Juice, this is that place. And you can't tell me Timbaland didn't ghostproduce on this track. The only song I ever heard with drums like this before this song, was on the Nutty Professor soundtrack and it was by Da Bassment, which was also Devante-affiliated and featured Timbaland.
Heartz Of Men
Stereo: I love that saxophone. This is just a dopeass beat to me.
Jacinta: I just wish DJ Quik got more credit more consistently. His sound is so good.
Life Goes On
Jacinta: This one was always kinda corny for me. It's very sappy. Too sappy for my taste.
Stereo: It is one of Pac's "thug funeral" type songs. I remember at the time somebody saying that was Brandy on the hook but that doesn't sound like her. I've never actually looked to see who it is. Sad thug music.
Only God Can Judge Me
Stereo: My only complaint about this song was that I wasn't a Rappin-4-Tay fan. People showed him serious love, though. This was another song that really captured that moment. And a really dope flip of "Top Billin.'"
Jacinta: He must be a coolass dude. He got a lot of love. People really mess with him, he must be a nice guy. But we used to listen to this song all the time. It was like a statement song for 2Pac. And I love the beat. Pac seemed like the kind of guy who would rap over a beat if he fucked with it, regardless of who the producer was.
Tradin' War Stories feat. C-Bo, CPO, Outlawz, The Storm
Jacinta: I love C-Bo! These are the kind of songs that I love on this album. That's the stuff I like. People are always like "You like C-Bo?" And I'm like "Yeah!" C-Bo is dope.
Stereo: I like when Pac leans into his Bay-ness. I think a lot of people casually associate him with L.A. He was from Marin County. When he moved to the West Coast as a kid, he moved to Marin County. I always felt like he claimed The Bay and vice versa.
California Love (Remix) feat. Dr. Dre, Roger Troutman
Stereo: This is the kind of song where, if I heard it for the first time, I could tell you, "yeah, this is gonna be a huge hit." But it would not be the first song I played for anybody who'd never heard Pac. And it was so overplayed back then. This is like Pac's "This Is How We Do It."
Jacinta: [laughs] People hate "This Is How We Do It" and I still jam to that song!
I Ain't Mad Atcha feat. Danny Boy
Stereo: This was the best of the singles to me.
Jacinta: I agree. It was a little cheesy but just cool enough. It was definitely the strongest of the singles. In the video, he was in heaven and that's when people started thinking he was really alive! It was just way too coincidental. That added to the mythologizing.
What's Ya Phone #?
Stereo: Another dope Prince sample. And another song where he's rapping his ass off. To me, "What's Ya Phone #" comes off way better than "How Do U Want it."
Jacinta: It really is about sincerity. It seems like there's a Pac that raps with all his homeboys egging him on, and because he's a showman and a showoff, he could dip into that; and there's another Pac that sounds like him writing in a room just because he wants to write it.
Can't C Me
Stereo: This was an interesting song. Very Death Row. You can tell Dre did this. It actually sounds like The Chronic. You can hear the Parliament in it. It sounds like an earlier Dre. Like this was a track he had in the can.
Jacinta: This definitely sounds like Chronic Dre. It sounds like leftover Chronic.
Shorty Wanna Be A Thug
Jacinta: I love this song. This used to be one of my songs!
Stereo: Yeah this was such a 2Pac song.
Holla At Me
Stereo: Another one that showed he was open to working with all kinds of producers.
Jacinta: This is not a bad song at all. I like "Holla At Me." I wonder if cats were just submitting tracks.
Wonda Why They Call U Bytch
Stereo: If you wanna talk misogyny in 90s rap, just forget about it. But I would use this song and "Jazzy Belle" by OutKast as examples of the double standard. I've never been a fan of "she s a ho because she fucks a lot of people" songs.
Jacinta: This is the song people always reference like "he was a misogynist!" He was expressing what was standard at the time. It was not considered cool for women to have control of their bodies and sexuality in that way. And that was across-the-board. That just started changing.
When We Ride feat. Outlawz
Jacinta: See, this was my favorite side of album because it just sounded more Bay-ish. I'm just noticing the second half of All Eyez... didn't have any radio music, really.
Stereo: The second disc definitely feels less radio. Back then, I used to like the first disc better. That's weird. I'm usually not the radio guy.
Thug Passion feat. Jewell, Outlawz, The Storm
Stereo: A lot of people liked this song but for me it was like another "How Do You Want It." Another song that sounded generic.
Jacinta: "We're gonna just throw this in there..."
Picture Me Rollin'
Jacinta: I used to love Big Syke's voice. Anything he was on, I enjoyed. He had presence. This would be one of my go-to songs to show someone a full view of Pac. This was hard.
Stereo: If someone needed a representative of Death Row 2Pac, this is one of the song's I'd play. It's almost like "Ambitionz As A Ridah" but after Pac takes a nap or you give him a juice box or something. Same spirit, but not quite as venomous.
Check Out Time
Stereo: I liked it better than "Thug Passion" but it was another throwaway to me.
Jacinta: I liked this song at the time. But it sounds like another "just around with the homies" song.
Rather Be Ya N____
Jacinta: I loved it and I loved Richie Rich. He just made things better. This whole second side just sounds more Bay Area-ish.
Stereo: There are some days when I'd sing along from the depths of my soul to my song. And some days when it felt like another Pac-is-on-Death-Row song.
Only God Can Judge Me
Stereo: Very much of the time. In his life and in all the drama going on around rappers in 96.
Jacinta: It was such a statement song that represents who he was at that moment.
All Eyez On Me
Stereo: Such a Pac classic, but somehow seems to get sorta overlooked when people talk about this album. You almost forget about it.
Jacinta: I just like songs where he starts off shouting out people on the track. I feel like that was usually a sign that the song was about to be good.
Run The Streetz
Stereo: One of the worst trends of that era was the 90s gangsta-fying of 80s R&B songs. "Pop Goes My Nine" and shit like that.
Jacinta: This was a no-go.
Ain't Hard 2 Find feat. C-Bo, B-Legit, E-40
Jacinta: I love this song!
Stereo: I'll never understand why they put these two songs next to each other.
Heaven Ain't Hard 2 Find
Jacinta: This was another one of his sappier songs but I still liked this one.
Stereo: It was always a really good cruising song. I don't really know why I used to like the first disc of this more?
All Eyez On Me
Label: Death Row Records
Producer: Daz, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Johnny J, DeVante Swing