Tupac Amaru Shakur was an artist. Many people may scoff that he was “just another rapper who got shot.” This, however, could not be further from the truth. Was Tupac a rapper? Yes. Does this detract from his achievements as a poet and songwriter? No, not in the slightest. Now, there are also people who will scoff that “rap isn’t music.” Well, I hope those people aren’t reading this review. They may not be happy with its contents. It’s unfortunate that people have to let ridiculous stereotypes and racial tensions influence their taste in music. Now, this humble reviewer isn’t hinting at anything. I just want to write some words in tribute to a man who is quite possibly the greatest hip-hop artist of all time.
Even if you look past all of the controversy surrounding Mr. Shakur and his music, there’s no doubting that the main was a commercial success. His fourteen albums (released both during his lifetime and posthumously ) have sold a combined 73 million copies worldwide, 44.5 million of those being in the United States alone. He has had seventeen top singles in the U.S. Consistently, he is mentioned by both those in and outside of the hip-hop industry as being one of the greatest rappers of all time. A 2006 poll conducted on MTV.com, ranked him the second greatest MC (mic controller) of all time (after Jay-Z
). On top of this, Tupac released several live accapella albums and collections of poetry. In 1997, the Shakur Family Foundation (now known as the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation or TASF) was founded, in the interests of “providing training and support for students who aspire to enhance their creative talents." The TASF sponsors essay contests, charity events, a performing arts day camp, and undergraduate scholarships. Needless to say, Tupac’s legacy is one of aiding young artists and poets, as well as one of helping the underprivileged. That’s more than I can say about the posterity of most rappers.
But all that is aside the point. The point of a music review, after all, is the music. Tupac’s Greatest Hits
album features the best of Mr. Shakur as a gangsta rapper, poet, and ghetto prophet. Songs that range from being messages about violence and poverty, to anecdotes about life on the street, speak verses that have far deeper meanings than what you hear or read into the lyrics. Of course, this compilation has plenty of lighthearted, straight-up hip-hop moments. Naturally, like any good disc from this genre, Tupac’s Greatest Hits
features an all-star cast of guests. Said cast consists of: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Dru Down, Top Dogg, Syke, CPO, The Outlawz, Val Young, Nate Dogg, The Black Angel, Danny Boy, K-Ci & JoJo, Dave, Roniece, Roger Troutman, Eric "Kenya" Baker (guitar); The Piano Man (keyboards); Puff Johnson, Thug Life, Digital Underground, Stretch, Stacey Smallie, and Shock-G. It seems as though quite a few people contributed to 2pac’s career.
features twenty-one of 2pac’s top tracks (many being slightly edited due to legality issues), as well as four previously unreleased songs. The songs were placed in nonchronological across two discs, thus to better capture the changes in view and attitude that 2pac went through during the trials and tribulations of his life. The compilation delivers exactly what it promises: a collection of fantastic song, as well as excellent unreleased tracks. It’s as simple as that. Posthumous songs, albums, etc. are usually released simply as marketing schemes for record companies to pocket just a little extra money off of an artist’s legacy. That’s just not the case with 2pac’s Greatest Hits
While listening to either of these two compact discs, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll feel a sense of regret. The music contained here is going to make you wish that the world hadn’t been robbed of such a fantastic performer so early. Throughout each of the songs, 2pac’s deep, distinctive growl overlays fun, groove infused beats, as he raps, sings, and talks his way through a variety of subjects. The two discs shift from just songs about happiness and general debauchery, to dark, oftentimes extremely violent tunes. This helps to accentuate the nonchronological feel of the complication: it’s the perfect way to experience just how moody 2pac could be.
You’ve got pop classics such as “California Love,” “All About You,” and “How Do You Want,” among others. These are songs that represent the lighter side of 2pac’s rapping. Tracks like this don’t really feel as deep, or seem to have a message to them, but they are more accessible, and therefore are an easier listen. This is the 2pac that you blast out of you car’s stereo while driving through the country. Conversely, both discs have their own selections of dark, brutal content, that may shock and appall…well, almost anyone. Perhaps the most evident example of these tunes would be “Hit ‘Em Up.” A song previously unreleased before this compilation, “Hit ‘Em UP” is pure, unadulterated rage focused into a song. Still, it’s extremely impassioned, coercive work, even if it is wrapped in a package of pure hatred.
You also find yourself with a variety of songs that showcase Tupac Amaru Shakur, the poet. “Dear Moma,” a tribute to his mother [Afeni Shakur] is a very emotive, powerful song, that features 2pac’s ability to channel life events into excellently written poems or songs. “Keep Ya Head” up is something of a fusion between the poppier aspects of 2pac’s music and the soulful verses that he had a knack for writing. Then, you have selections like “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” [ft. Snoop Dogg], which are good examples of 2pac’s relationship with fellow Death Row Records rappers. This bond would be furthered strengthened due to Death Row’s “war” with its East Coast counterpart, Bad Boy Records. Many of 2pac’s songs were based off of experiences in this feud (most notable among these being the aforementioned “Hit ‘Em Up”).
Of course, there’s also the mystical “God Bless The Dead.” For a long time, this song was believed to eulogize longtime enemy of 2pac’s, rapper Biggie Smalls aka Notorious B.I.G.
. However, the song is dedicated to another rapper of the same name (its especially outlandish to consider the former as a possibility, as that Biggie Smalls passed away six months after 2pac; however, this is also a minor stalwart in the debate that 2pac is actually alive, and in recluse). “Brenda’s Got A Baby” is a prophetic song about the decline of a young girl from a ghetto, who 2pac believes could have grown to be something, had she not been tied down by pregnancy at the tender age of twelve.
The highlight of 2pac’s Greatest Hits
is by far his most successful posthumous release (and one of his most successful releases period): the heart-rending “Changes.” If ever there was a pinnacle of 2pac’s monstrous talent, it was somewhere in-between the writing and recording of this song. “Changes” is a wonderful song, combining fantastic piano and backing vocals, with 2pac’s excellent vocal work and lyrics. “Changes” has become one of 2pac’s most famous songs, and rightfully so. If you only ever decide to listen to one song from this man, make sure it’s “Changes.” I say this only because I can almost guarantee
that this track will entice you to listen to more of 2pac’s works.
2pac was hardly a saint, though. Throughout his Greatest Hits
you’ll hear plenty of profanity and detestably suggestive themes. Also, as well-structured as his songs could be at times, on occasion, production values and overall instrumentation are rather poor, which detracts from the overall immersiveness of this experience. Needless to say, his Greatest Hits
I’m forced to admit, though, when prompted for suggestions about rap, I usually respond with three artists/groups: NWA
, Deltron 3030
, and 2pac. If inquired further about 2pac, I usually recommend that the person check out his Greatest Hits
first and foremost. While this compilation isn’t perfect, I believe that it is the greatest example of the varying spheres of 2pac’s life and career. The overall feeling of the album is simply incredible. If you love rap, poetry, or even music in general, you owe it to yourself to give the late Tupac Amaru Shakur a listen. You might just be surprised at what you hear.