I had a feeling this would painful to write. It has been over nine years since Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas. The death of the young intellectual-turned-thug-turned-revolutionary created a dark cloud over the hip-hop world out of which it has yet to emerge.
p. Luckily for the loyal Tupac fan, or any fan of music in general, Shakur’s extensive studio sessions in the months leading up to his death allowed for an abundance of unreleased material. Over the last nine years, collaborations between various producers and family members have produced a handful of posthumous albums which include Pac’s old verses, often remixed over newer beats, combined with the work of contemporary rappers and singers. It is undeniably admirable and beneficial to ensure that his memory and his words are sustained, even after his untimely death.
p. But enough is enough. The most recent of these posthumous albums, “Pac’s Life,” was released on Nov. 21 and includes contributions from a slew of artists and producers including Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Swizz Beatz and Ashanti, just to name a few. Although this album, yet another attempt at resurrecting the slain poet, is a commendable pursuit, it is borderline unbearable to listen to.
p. It is important to understand that this is not a new 2Pac album. The album’s only bright spots are the one or two verses of his lyrics in each song. The shoddy background vocals and horrendous attempts at rhyming by the likes of Chamillionaire and TI kill this CD before it is even born.
p. The album begins with “Untouchable Remix,” a mind-numbing experience of listening to Pac’s clever lyrics flow over a remix composed by Swizz Beatz. Beatz has often exhibited great strengths as a producer, but creating a beat for a legitimate hip-hop artist whose lyrics address things other than champagne and satin panties is certainly not one of them. Rather than exhibit Tupac’s incredible talents on the Mic, this song merely serves as further evidence that Swizz has joined the list of Americans who should not have a job, a list which currently includes Bill O’Reilly, Tim McCarver, David Banner and Mel Gibson.
p. Despite sub-par production, perhaps in an attempt to make the songs more upbeat and appealing in an era where pop sells, several of the songs start off fairly well, reminding one of the 2Pac from albums “All Eyez on Me” or “Me Against the World.” On the track “Sleep,” Pac delivers an inspiring first verse over a beat which, in contrast to the majority of the album, sounds like one Tupac would have enjoyed rocking when he was alive. Luckily, Pac’s verse is enough to make up for less than stellar, contributions by Young Buck and Chamillionaire.
p. The title track features two excellent verses by Tupac, as it is essentially a remix of a complete song that Shakur recorded before his death. Sadly, Ashanti’s attempt to make the song more melodious is painfully bland, and, rather than improving the song, her cliched vocals and TI’s awful, off-beat southern drawl overshadow the grit and sincerity of Pac’s lyrics.
p. “Soon As I Get Home” is a pleasurable trip down memory lane for any fan of Shakur’s music. Written from the point of view of a man incarcerated, the song is heartbreakingly passionate and, like the majority of Shakur’s music, is an honest reflection of the social ills that plagued both himself as an artist and the environment which nurtured and facilitated his development as a cultural icon.
p. A pleasant surprise on “Pac’s Life” is an appearance by Ludacris on “Playa Cardz Right (Male).” A good friend recently observed that Ludacris is every hip-hop fan’s guilty pleasure. I don’t know if I would go that far, but he certainly has his moments. On “Playa Cardz Right,” a smooth and mellow love song dedicated to women who have been victims of domestic turbulence, Luda’s verse is even more memorable than Pac’s, as he carries on a clever metaphor about a card game as a means of reassuring his female companion.
p. What is so unbelievably frustrating about this album is that Shakur himself appears for a fraction of each song. The focus is taken off the artist himself and instead placed on an unnecessarily complex production and feeble, though noble, attempts by mediocre rappers to aid in the continuation of Shakur’s memory. Even the Outlawz, a group of emcees who were Pac’s close friends in life and appeared on several of his later records, clearly cannot achieve any level of notoriety on the mic without their mentor.
p. The bright side to this album is that Tupac’s verses tend to appear at the very beginning of each song, so one can quickly change the track before a poor man’s Ludacris or Nelly shows up to rain on the parade. Listening to a single song in its entirety, much less the entire album, is not only a waste of time, but excruciatingly painful.