Review Summary: We’re in danger of losing who Tupac actually was in favour of who his albums tell us he is
Tupac Shakur has always been notable for his vocal dexterity. His quintessentially ‘gangster’ tirades and imagery were backed up by an impressive depth and fittingly important morals, which renders the majority of his material as just the right mixture of street vibes and intelligence. Unfortunately for Pac, the majority of his posthumous releases have been rather dry in certain aspects. A number of them misunderstood the whole appeal of Pac's venomous delivery, emphasizing updated aspects in terms of music in a misguided attempt to keep the releases relevant. Others have heavily relied on a more mainstream sound to launch interest. Others have allowed an ungodly amount of attention paid to remixes. Whilst studio executives, put-upon DJs, and big name 'producers' beaver away at producing the next album to stamp with the Pac seal, the purple haze of misinformation they produce is baffling. They have created a musical smog that has clouded who Tupac was in life and replaced it with a romanticized impersonation courtesy of a balding man in an expensive tie. Pac was a voice of reason for so many people, and an inspiration in his own right; is it not demeaning to his legacy to continue releasing woefully subpar material just for the sake of spinning a quick buck?
Both disks of Until The End Of Time
lack a sense of cohesion, mostly owing to the fact that the album is better referred to as a ‘collection’ than an album. Obvious misfires sit shoulder to shoulder with the better moments, and when it’s 2Pac, the misfires are at least splendidly ambitious. Rather regrettably though, both disks have a overproduced sound to the music, making them difficult to be taken seriously. As usual, though, the one thing that is not in question is 2Pac's rapping ability, which is, as per usual, top notch. The usual topics of street life, gang life, and life in general are covered heartily and with the streetwise eloquence Pac is famous for. Certain tracks, such as ‘Ballad Of A Dead Soulja’ and ‘Lil’ Homies’ highlight the silky combination of Pac’s delivery and striking but minimalist beats. ‘Lil’ Homies’ in particular is very soulful and funky, but the chorus isn’t as streamlined as it might be, introducing too many conflicting elements for too short a period of time. Other tracks such as ‘Let ’Em Have It’ and ‘Breathin’ serve as grassroots gangsta rap deals, with beefy basslines and enjoyable choruses on both. In particular, ‘Let ’Em Have It’ features a female vocal performance by Honey that affords the song a whole different sound. Unfortunately, both songs are functional but are ultimately just filler material, featuring little memorable facets aside from the rhymes themselves.
Somewhat carelessly, the release’s track order highlights the album’s many mundane tracks, whereas the more impressive moments on the release are exaggerated by their inclusion alongside such lesser material. Such an example is the whimsical ‘Letter 2 My Unborn’, which features a sample from Michael Jackson’s 'Liberian Girl' as the main backbeat. In the hands of a different rapper, this could have ended up the most unholy and volatile collaboration in hip-hop since Anthrax and Public Enemy decided to ‘Bring The Noise’. Unsurprisingly, though, Pac’s lyricism and vocal tone construct an impressively sentimental and emotive rap ballad that has a feel of genuine vehemence coupled with a touching melancholy to its’ cutting sound. A female vocal has also been implemented but if anything, this feels like a little of an overcompensation, as if to say, ‘look, we used ‘Liberian Girl’, but we didn’t just change the words…..we put a woman singing in it too!’ Similarly, there are a few tracks that attempt to alter the stylistic mood of the release, with such rebellious anthemic tracks as ‘All Out’, ‘When Thugz Cry’ and the chilled summer strains of ‘***in’ With The Wrong Nigga’. Both of these tracks attempt to try a different musical style, and both work admirably given their context on an album of such vanilla hip-hop. Despite this, the catchy beats and repetitive bass patterns do lose their edge roughly halfway into the first CD, and although the seasoned hip-hop listener understands that these trademarks are all part of the package, the fundamental truth is, the interest in hip-hop lies in the variety. Pac’s established style ensured that it was always his rhymes that were the main talking point, not the beats. On Until The End Of Time
, and indeed, various posthumous albums that preceeded it, the uninventive and insipid nature of the music becomes more and more noticeable through the constant need to tart it up and revitalise it.
The most lamentable aspect of the release it most definitely the baffling production. Tracks that would otherwise be relatively standard are hashed with bizarre production choices, particularly in relation to motifs and auditory quirks. On ‘Everything They Owe’, for instance, which is a well written venture into traditional Pac lyrical themes, a tone trills repetitively in the background throughout. At the beginning, it feels like a standard hip-hop motif, but as the track continues, it becomes more and more monotonous, and feels increasingly out of place. It is not woven in with the texture of the music, and as a result, it stands out as an idiosyncrasy that has no business being present on the track. ‘This Ain’t Livin’ and ‘Thug N You, Thug N Me’ are especially guilty of this, as is ‘M.O.B’, which features a monstrously overproduced tune that relies on a tedious piano hook and an oversaturated instrumental tone that simply does not work smoothly with Pac’s rhymes. Even the title track, which features a sample from the notorious ‘Broken Wings’ by Mr. Mister manages to mar Pac’s delivery through a grossly overstated ‘commercial’ feel. The initial hilarity at the fact the sample has been used at all is won over by the fact the rest of the song feels quite cohesive. Unfortunately, little can redeem the song for the moment when ‘Take……these broken wings!’ echoes around the eardrum of the listener like some hideously unironic joke.
2Pac is one of the greatest rappers of all time. His ability was beyond question, eventually proving to be so popular that he would be resurrected for a post-humonous stage performance with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. The albums that were recorded and released in his lifetime are now viewed has hip-hop masterpieces; vicious street poetry that is most definitely raw and uncompromising but also genuinely skilful. The same, however, cannot be said for the many albums released after his death. Pac was an idealist, who loved his art and poured his heart and soul into it. It is understandable that people would assume that after he died, Pac would want his fans to appreciate his unreleased material, collaborations with artists that never happened, and remixes of songs that never needed remixes. In releasing this number of albums after the unfortunate death of Shakur, the effect is one of cold money-spinning. All of the overproduced, updated and thoroughly gimmicky releases appear legitimate but are ultimately vacuous, the warmth of creative input from the man whose name just happens to be on the cover noticeably absent. Even in death, the rhymes he recorded in life continue to live on, and some of what can be found on here can be enjoyed with the right frame of mind. Ultimately, though, Until The End Of Time
is an album that is caught in the biased holographic perception of Pac subsequent to his death. It’s not bland enough to be poor, not innovative enough to be good; It’s just a disappointment.