Review Summary: Exit 2Pac, Enter Makaveli.
Owing to human nature’s incapability to resist anything shrouded in mystery, the 1996 death of Tupac Shakur set off a colossal wave of paranoia. Denial was masked with intrigue, morbid curiosity supplanted logical thought, and no one wanted to admit Tupac was as dead as Kennedy. When ‘Pac got shot (for the second time), fans (like the 16 year old me), patiently waited for his return while tearing his discography apart for clues, grasping for unattainable straws of hope, worshipping at the desperate altar of denial. We scoured the morbidly prophetic songs “Death Around The Corner,” “If I Die Tonight,” “Bury Me a G,” “Life Goes On,” and “How Long Will They Mourn Me” from past releases, bargaining that Tupac’s obsession with death was really all part of his evil plot to either avoid the law, or lull “enemies” like Mobb Deep, Nas, and Biggie Smalls into a false sense of security before an unpredictable and triumphant return to extract revenge. In the 13 year fallout and with the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to assume that Pac is no more, regardless if Suge Knight, a couple of Crips from Los Angeles, or Bugs Bunny was the evil genius behind his ghastly demise, but we didn’t want to believe it at the time.
Admittedly the fact two months before his murder Tupac decided to record an album under the pseudonym Makaveli, an ode to a scheming political writer who advocated faking one’s death to beguile enemies is a notable coincidence and didn’t exactly quell the hysteria. The fact this recording incorporated numerous ideologies to the number seven, and seven days as a concept, an idea that is rooted in the notion of resurrection, is also a substantial coincidental quagmire. When Death Row decided to wait all of two months to release “The Don Killuminati,” a shameless act of contrived exploitation, great attention was paid to the depiction of Tupac plastered on the cross, and the inclusion of the eerie “exit Tupac, enter Makaveli” statement in the liner notes was viewed by some as Nostradamus-esque ponderings. The record was an event, and the four million units moved inside of a year proved our insurmountable thirst for conspiracy. What we failed to recognize at the time however, is “The Don Killuminati” was not a prophetic road map awash in clues of Tupac’s demise; that distinction belongs to his masterpiece “Me Against the World.” When all hyperbole is removed and coincidences ignored, Tupac’s episode as Makaveli can be taken for what it truly is, a straight forward, above average hip hop album whose packaging and timeliness led us to believe it was something it ultimately was not.
Looking back, it seems that Tupac’s obsession with resurrection and metamorphosis had a lot more to do with altering his artistic direction than an elaborate hoax to fake his own demise. From an atmospheric standpoint, “The Don Killuminati” is a far cry from the bombastic, West Coast Rap defining party romp that was his previous release, “All Eyez On Me.” With the exception of stereotypical sex romp “Toss it Up” and the overtly nostalgic “To Live and Die in L.A.,” the album is awash in morose melodies, foregoing the sunny beats of the “California Love’s” “All About You’s” and “How Do You Want It’s” of yore. Daz, Dre, Snoop, and Nate Dogg weren’t walking through the door this time around, and the result is a dark, stripped down, at times introspective, at times attacking album that perfectly showcases Tupac’s bipolar duality.
Tupac had several distinct lyrical personas, but the most consistent and prevalent are the chest puffing, live-by-the-sword thug, the introspective, nostalgic gentleman who wrote songs about the old school, the plight of young women, his mama, and the soothsaying, death obsessed paranoid. It’s difficult to decide which side truly encapsulated his personality, the most logical idea is that he was torn between all, yet his greatest successes were achieved when he jettisoned volatility in exchange for either sentimentality or vulnerably questioning his own demise. Most of Tupac’s worst efforts showcased his desire to be all things gangsta, and this album is no different, with the exception of the rollicking outlaw anthem “Me and My Girlfriend,” a version that destroys Jay-Z’s sampling, (a curious event in itself as Jay-Z is referred to as a “corny sounding mother***er” on this record). Just like “Me Against the World” and “All Eyez On Me,” the weakest links here are the volatile ones, like opener “Bomb First” and closer “Against All Odds,” both of which are nothing more than “shoot before you get shot” assaults upon his aforementioned enemies. When he channels his foreboding side, like on the beautifully ominous “Hail Mary,” the results are substantially more gratifying. As typical, the album’s greatest moments are when Tupac summons his greatest redemptive aspect; sentimental, honest commentary. The gorgeous, soul searching ballad “Krazy” is probably the record's ultimate standout, channeling the introspection mastered on past classics “Dear Mama” and “Changes.” The whimsical, self lamenting, female uplifting “White Man’z World” showcases ‘Pac admonishing his own arrogance, recalling the redemption seeking overtones of “Keep Ya Head Up” and “It Ain’t Easy.”
As was proven on this record as in the past, Tupac excelled more when he supplanted the lambasting of his enemies in exchange for self lamentation. Despite the eerie moods of the album, “The Don Killuminati” is more about redemption and soul searching than anything else, especially a metaphorical roadmap or allusion to the conspiracy of death. Tupac was part thug, part martyr, part poet, and clearly his tortured nature is what drew people to him. It can be difficult to glorify someone who unabashedly at times had little concern for morality, but more so than any other hip hop artist, Tupac let us in to all sides of him. He was a complicated man, but he provided every angle and opportunity to analyze both his madness and genius. He instilled a fervent passion for trying to figure out who the hell he was, and the madness surrounding his death proved this. Thirteen years later, “The Don Killuminati” is unequivocally not a conspiracy roadmap; it is simply the penultimate aspect of his legacy, and ultimately one of his finer recordings.
Me & My Girlfriend
To Live & Die In L.A.
Toss It Up
White Man’z World