Well this is pretty damn eerie. I knew I was gonna write about Tupac today. I was listening to Me Against The World this morning… I log in to my computer and I see that today is the 20th anniversary of his death. Talk about Divine Inspiration.
Tupac is in my top 5 dead or alive, easily. Pac’s influence is unparalleled in hip hop, and I don’t care if you can’t recite more than 5 songs from him, he was great, you should listen to his albums. I think there was a period were it became cliche to be a fan of Tupac, sort of the way that junior high kids thought they were experts of rock music because their older brother introduced them to Stairway To Heaven. In some ways that cliche still lives on, but now enough time has passed that you can meet a kid who’s never listened to a single one of his albums.
The funny thing about Pac though, is that he’s not necessarily known as being one of the best lyricists ever. I mean you’ve got Nas, Biggie, Jay, Em, 3 Stacks, they’re all better lyricists than 2Pac. When I see lyricist, I’m talking about a wordsmith, one who prides himself in the nuances and technicalities of lyric writing. But Pac has his moments. His finest moment, in my opinion is his song “If I Die 2Night”
It’s a hell of an intro to his album “Me Against The World.” In the song, Pac spits the best verse of his entire career. Period. It encapsulates everything about him while showing a dexterity in his lyricism that should shut up anyone who claims he wasn’t a great writer.
"They say p*ssy and paper is poetry power and pistols
Plottin on murderin motherf****s 'fore they get you
Picturin pitiful punk niggaz coppin pleas
Puffin weed as I position myself to clock G's
My enemies scatter in suicidal situations
Never to witness the wicked shit that they was facin
Pockets is packed with presidents, pursue your riches
Evadin the playa hatin tricks, while hittin switches
Bi***s is bad-mouth, cause brawlin motherf***ers is bold
But y'all some hoes, the game should be sewed
I'm sick of psychotic society somebody save me
Addicted to drama so even mama couldn't raise me
Even the preacher and all my teachers couldn't reach me
I run in the streets and puffin weed wit my peeps
I'm duckin the cop, I hit the weed as I'm clutchin my glock
Niggaz is hot when I hit the block, what if I die tonight?"
2Pac would be right at home in today’s landscape of music. His style of rapping was more musical than most at the time of his reign, and there were many times in which you could tell he was more concerned with executing a better melodic structure than a technical syllabic rhyming structure. For example, Biggie had an impeccable flow with internal rhyme but without much melody, The delivery was more staccato and on the beat with heavy punch on the end of lines
From “Juicy” (caps to signal syllable emphasis)
“Super Nintendo, Sega GeneSIS!
When I was dead broke man I couldn’t picture THIS!”
Compared to Pac (extra letters to match flow style)
From “So Many Tears”
"Back in elementary, I thrived on misery
Left me alone I grew up amongst a dyin breed
Inside my mind couldn't find a place to rest
until I got that Thuuug Life tatted on my chest
Tell me can you feeel me? I'm not livin in the past, you wanna laaast
Be tha first to blaast, remember Kato"
A lot of times Pac would stretch the middle of lines almost like he was lightly pushing on a vocal whammy bar. The change in pitch would exclusively be used for emphasis on words to drive the point home and bring deeper emotion to the song.
But his verse on If I Die 2Nite marries his technicality and emotional navigation of his lyrics the best. The most impressive part about it is how long he sustains consistent alliteration throughout the verse. All of the lines easily roll off the tongue this way and make the very harsh subject matter of the words sound even more rhythmic and easier to stomach.
My favorite line “I’m sick of psychotic society, somebody save me,” embodies the song for me. The entire thesis of the song can be found in the line. We witness the paranoia beginning to build as it became a constant theme of his music. It also sheds light on the cynicism he directs towards the world at large, while still trying to enlighten the listener to accept that there is something wrong with society. He calls for someone to save him, acknowledging that the injustices of the world are drowning him and no matter what his image may say about him, he is not above succumbing to it. It was only the first of many songs foretelling his imminent death, but none of the others strive to dazzle you as much as this one. This is acrobatics on a tight rope without a net, as he beckons us to nod our head and smile at his skill, while calling us to empathize with his fears.