“2Pacalypse Now was a protest album,” says the provocative 2Pac of his controversial 1991 solo debut. “I was a reporter, questioning what’s going on and saying, ‘If things don’t change, this is what’s gonna happen.’ Look at what I said and look at the news since then. Now Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.AZ. . .• says, ‘We’re not gonna stop until they do change.’”
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.AZ. . . (Interscope Records) is just as hard, just as angry, and just as real as his first album. From “Last Wordz,” a scorching duet with Ice Cube, who also co-wrote the track with Ice-T and 2Pac, to “Holler If Ya Hear Me” (the first single), “Point The Finga” and “The Streetz R Deathrow,” 2Pac proves to be in the ranks of the most socially significant and credible of underground rappers.
If anyone thought being publicly castigated by the then Vice-president of the United States, being sued for having recorded a song, and being beat up by police would force 2Pac into backing down from his principles, they don’t know this intense 21-year-old. Success (2Pacalypse Now boasted the rap chart hits “Trapped” and “Brenda’s Got A Baby”) and fame (last year he starred in the film Juice and in the upcoming Poetic Justice, directed by Boyz ‘N The Hood’s John Singleton, he stars opposite Janet Jackson) haven’t turned his head either. On “Pac’s Theme,” he not only samples Dan Quayle’s damning speech but answers back for the first time in public.
2Pac acknowledges he’s paying a price for his outspokenness. “I don’t advocate senseless violence on any human being. I’m the one who’s been beat down. But I will not be a victim again.”
For 2Pac (pronounced two-pock, whose full name is Tupac Amaru Shakur), there’s no compromise: When there’s no justice, there’s no peace. “I didn’t branch out into songs about love or basketball. I write about struggle and oppression. If it was a different world, I’d write different songs. But I fight the case given me.”
Despite the media’s overemphasis on violence in 2Pac’s lyrics, there’s purpose and still a hope for the future in his raps. On Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.AZ … , he encourages education, respect and unity, and positive messages abound, including the futility of violence without meaning (“Something 2 Die 4”), the glories of African-American women (“Keep Ya Head Up”), and fatherhood (“Papa’z Song”). N.I.G.G.A., incidentally, means Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.
This upbeat side of 2Pac, which may surprise critics, is partly courtesy of Lucky, the character he plays in Poetic Justice. Lucky has a daughter; responsibility, principles, and a concern for the future are significant aspects of his life. He also falls in love with the character played by Janet Jackson. Lucky stayed with 2Pac even in the studio as he recorded the album on weekends while he was filming during the week. “For 2Pacalypse Now, I was Bishop,” he says of the best-friend-turned murderer in Juice. “This time I’m Bishop, 2Pac and Lucky, three different characters, showing all sides of a human being.”
His method was to write each song in the studio and record it in a single day. The result is an urgent, from-the-heart explosion of emotion. “To me, hardcore is hip hop. My raps are a discussion, rabble-rousing, spiritual, like gospel music. I don’t want to dance. We have so many things to deal with, we need to talk straight up and down.”
This no-nonsense attitude is a reflection of his heroes, Ice Cube and Ice-T. Collaborating with them, he says, was a fantasy come true.
“As a kid, I’d dream of doing a song with Ice Cube and here I am sitting with him and Ice-T. Man, that’s a bug-out. It’s like John Lennon saying, ‘Hey, you and me, let’s make a record!’ I just wanna scream, ‘Look who I’m down with!'”
In fact, when Ice Cube heard about the controversies surrounding 2Pac, he came to him first. “He said, ‘Welcome to the terrordome,'” recalls 2Pac.
2Pac’s revolutionary credentials are in his blood. His mother, a high-ranking member of the Black Panthers, was pregnant with him when she was sent to jail and his godfather was famed Panther Geronimo Pratt, who remains in prison. The rap sheet also includes his father, who died the day after he got out of jail, and his stepfather, who was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. “I’m a Gemini,” he says, explaining why one side of the album is called The Dark Side and the other The Black Side.
“Those are my two sides, the black is political, the dark is the criminal–my mom was a Panther, my dad was a gangster.”
After being born and raised in the Bronx, New York, he moved with his mother to Baltimore, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts to become an actor. But when a friend was killed while playing with guns, he was inspired to write and perform his first rap. The gun control rhyme quickly spread his name around the city and he decided to find his future in music. Dropping out (later earning his G.E.D.), he set out for Northern California, where he found himself homeless and hungry, sleeping on a public bench in Marin City, just outside of Oakland.
When he pulled himself up, he began making tapes of his raps and performing. His break came when he was invited to audition for Shock G from Digital Underground. Shock liked what he heard but 2Pac would have to earn his way onto the stage, starting as a roadie. Then, after a few months, someone tried to kill him: Following a solo appearance at a Martin Luther King, Jr. festival, a 12-gauge was shoved in his face. The incident convinced 2Pac that now was the time to go for it. He told Shock what had happened and, he adds, “Shock came through. He put me on stage and let me rap. If not for him, I would’ve gone down.”
2Pac was subsequently featured on Digital Underground’s “Same Song” from the gold This Is An EP Release (1991) project. He also appeared on that Grammy-nominated group’s gold album Sons Of The P (1991). (On “I Get Around” from Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.AZ . . ., 2Pac again performs with Digital Underground.)
It was in October, after the summer release of 2Pacalypse Now, that 2Pac was beaten by police in downtown Oakland. “I felt like a slave, a white man on me and beating my face into the concrete. For what? Jaywalking! I asked for justice and I haven’t gotten any yet.”
The following spring, a Texas state trooper was gunned down by a teenager who allegedly was listening to the album. Quayle demanded that Time Warner withdraw it from the market but Interscope and Time Warner refused to do so.
2Pac says we ought to be doing more than talking about freedom and principles. “We talk a lot about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s time to be like them, as strong as them. They were mortal men like us and every one of us can be like them. I don’t want to be a role model. I just want to be someone who says, ‘This is who I am and this is what I do.’ I say what’s on my mind. I have dreams where I see Tawana, I see Rodney, I see burned-up bodies from when they lynched us. If God wanted me to be quiet He never would’ve showed me what He does.”
He understands that others have revolted before him, only to have their messages corrupted by money and success. “I never had shit so I won’t miss anything,” says 2Pac. “Though our hands are chained like they are, they haven’t taken music from us yet. So that’s how I’ll fight. People tell me, ‘Don’t quit like everyone else.’ I won’t. I have no fear.”
2Pac recently talked about the tracks on Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.AZ. . . , his second album on Interscope Records. coproduced by 2Pac, the album was recorded in Northern and Southern California in 1992. “Holler If Ya Hear Me” is the first single.
“Holler If Ya Hear Me”: “My rally call about brothers rising up. No negotiation, straight revolution. The only thing America respects is power and power concedes nothing. After the L.A. riots, they tried to calm us down–and not a damn thing has changed since.”
“Pac’s Theme”: “Quayle’s speech–and my answer taken from interviews. I used his own words to show how ignorant he is. And now he’s going to help me sell my record. Thanks, Dan.”
“Point The Finga”: “It’s easy to point your finger at a villain, which is what people are doing to me, rather than admit the villain in yourself. Fuck that. I have so much anger inside, I’m pointing the finger back.”
“Something 2 Die 411 : “A 6-year-old boy riding his bike last summer after an outdoor festival in Marin City where I was performing was shot and killed by a stray bullet. I wasn’t responsible but it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t giving a concert. Someone was jealous that I had made it and there was a shootout. That was not something for him to die for. A bottle of juice was not something for Latasha Harlins to die for. Freedom is something to die for–not jealousy or drugs or a bottle of juice. When I cry, that’s what I cry about.”
“Last Wordz”: “For me and Ice Cube and Ice-T, these are our last words on censorship.”
“Souljah’s Revenge”: “The follow-up to ‘Soulja’s Story’ from 2Pacalypse Now. Some people tried to have the song banned. This is my answer to the censors. This is how I talk to them: The biggest gang isn’t the Bloods or the Crips, it’s the police! They wear colors, they stick together and they lie together. I’m going to talk about that and they can’t stop me.”
“Peep Game”: “Peep how everything doesn’t have to be black and white. But you can’t fuck around with hip hop.”
“Strugglin'”: “People like to hear niggaz talking about struggling so I wrote a rap everyone could relate to. It got so that was the answer when anyone around me was asked, ‘How ya doin’?’ ‘Strugglin. ‘”
“Guess Who’s Back”: “They want me to go away. I won’t. I’m back, motherfuckers.”
“Representin’ 93” : “I’m representing the Young Black Male, representing my race. I’m standing up for what I believe in.”
“Keep Ya Head Up”: “This is for the women who related to ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby.’ I have not forgotten them.”
“Strictly 4 My Niggaz”: “A song to my fans, my niggaz-whether they’re black or white or Puerto Rican doesn’t matter. This is a token of my appreciation. They respect me and I respect them.”
“The Streetz R Deathrow”: “Wonder why it’s hard to get niggaz to chill? We’re trapped in the ghetto, the streets are jail to us. It’s like when you’re on deathrow and there’s no hope. Niggaz are on the street and they know they’re dying. So they will do anything.”
“I Get Around”: “I’m not trying to be a loverboy. But as entertainers, we get around, do as many women as possible. The song’s not about what people should do but it’s about what we do –town after town, condom after condom.”
“Papa’z Song”: “For my daddy and all those who left and came back. My daddy broke out on me. I don’t know what a daddy does.”
“5 Deadly Venomz”: “The title was inspired by this Chinese martial arts movie, The Five Deadly Venoms. With such raw shit from Treach, Apache, Pee Wee, Stretch, and Majesty, they’re like these five deadly hardcore sounds.”
Sal Manna, a journalist, interviewed 2Pac and wrote the press biographies for many of his albums during his lifetime. Sal penned the following tribute which until today was unpublished:
“Tupac never strayed from one message: Be somebody. No matter the obstacles, be somebody, and be proud. It was a message that 2Pac represented for everyone, no matter their race, creed or color … In the end, too much has been made of his dying, and not enough of his living. His death was the tragedy, not his life. Today, it is in his work, in his art, that 2Pac still lives.”