Review Summary: A Coward Dies a Thousand Deaths, a Soldier Dies But Once.
It has been said that truly great madness cannot be achieved without significant intelligence. When analyzing the life of Tupac Shakur, it’s fairly safe to assume he was more than just a little f*cked in the head. The depth of 2Pac’s glaring lack of consistent serenity, or more astutely, his tendency to revel in bi-polar madness is not entirely clear, but there remains nary a shred of doubt the man was constantly torn in a whirlwind of multiple personalities. 2Pac, a byproduct of growing up in the streets yet surrounded by political and influential people, was the personification of the mythological angel on one shoulder, devil on the other persona. The same mind that opined on one of the most touching, soul searching songs in Hip Hop history in “Dear Mama” also conjured “Hit Em Up,” an over the top, scathing clinic of vindictive fire that, if you listen to the rumors, could have gotten him killed. The same man who plastered gangsta mantras like “Thug Life” and “Live By the Sword, Die By the Sword” in ink across his body rarely faltered in demanding young people choose a better path. It’s clear 2pac himself couldn’t figure out just who the f*ck he really was, and never before was this internal conflict more blatant and surfaced during the time he recorded his one true masterpiece, the self-reflective canvas “Me Against the World.”
“Me Against the World” is more than a 90’s hip hop album. Sure, the presence of a gangsta anthem (If I Die 2Night), a few hooky sex romps (Temptations, Can U Get Away), and the quintessential ballad (Dear Mama) are present, yet the record tramples pure formula, flows, and beats. The surface of “Me Against the World” resembles a somewhat formulaic, yet stellar hip hop album, yet when the layers are pulled away and the events of 2pac’s personal life during the recording are examined, it transcends its peers and becomes something a hell of a lot more. “Me Against the World” is the straight-up baring of a tortured soul, the meanderings of a highly intelligent mind that has produced a f*ck up of a person, knows it, and attempts repair through lamentations of fear, wistful nostalgia, and consistent self-examination. When you get shot five times, stood trial for shooting at police officers, and are awaiting a jail sentence for sexual assault, chances are you’re either an a$$hole or are trying to figure yourself out. What separates 2Pac from the average thug, and make no mistake, at least 50% of this man was pure bastard, is he hated himself for it and tried (although ultimately in vain) to emerge from it, to let the angel beat the sh*t out of the devil. “Me Against the World” was this cathartic process laid to tape.
2Pac’s quest for redemption is plastered across almost every instance of the album. When “Dear Mama” is done thoroughly shredding anyone that grew up with a remotely competent maternal figure, “It Aint Easy” takes you for a ride through the shoes of someone growing up in hopeless conditions and trying to figure out how the f*ck to get out of it. Aside from it being one of his greater recordings, it also paints the best picture of perhaps what 2pac really wanted; a shred of hope, and a semblance of inner sanctity. When Pac positions himself to clock G’s on “if I Die 2Night,” the chest beating gangsta mentality embroils an overpowering sense of foreboding under the surface. This isn’t Dre pretending to be a killer on “The Chronic,” this is the nerve shattering fear of someone who knew they were going to die young positioned as a recording, a mantra that is even more clear on the eerily prophetic “Death Around the Corner.” Owing to his soul searching mantra here, 2Pac spends a great deal of time addressing the youth through the means of scolding in a “don’t do what I have done” mantra on “Young Niggaz,” preaching and warning of the immense stress Thug Life creates on the Title Track and “So Many Tears,” and finally through the embracement of overpowering nostalgia on “Old School,” a classic era hip-hop name dropping ride that carries the fortune of carrying a massively up beat and catchy hook. Aside from being at his most introspective on “Me Against the World,” the fact that it simply sounds phenomenal is more of an added bonus.
When taken in context of his entire life, “Me Against the World” doesn’t hold as much weight as when it is examined as a period in time. For all of his self-reflecting sensitivity here, the devil in 2Pac eventually won (signing with Death Row Records), ultimately leading to him paying the final price. Right about the time 2Pac fully embraced his inner Thug and sent the self-examining side packing, transforming into the personification of chest-beating West Coast Gangsta rap shortly after this, he went and got himself killed. Perhaps fitting, as everything about 2Pac was difficult to pinpoint, his death today is still shrouded in mystery. When examining “Me Against the World,” it’s difficult to accept the fact that it didn’t have to be this way, as Pac clearly had the capability of overcoming a parody of what he eventually became, but we probably wouldn’t be nearly as fascinated with him if he pulled it off.
It Aint Easy
Death Around The Corner
Me Against the World
If I Die 2Night