2Pac- "Me Against the World" Classic Album Review
Today, September 13th, 2016 marks an unfortunate anniversary in Hip-Hop. It is today where one of the most influential figures in modern history, Tupac Amaru Shakur, passed away due to internal bleeding on the strength of multiple gunshot wounds.
A complex man with a storied career mingled in a maelstrom of controversy, Pac was no stranger to the spotlight. The gun and sexual assault charges, the attempt on his life in 1994, his stint in jail, multiple platinum selling records and subsequent superstardom all occurred within the first half of the 1990s. Pac always seemed to know all of it was coming. He always seemed to be a step ahead of most people. That remained true all the way back on March 14th, 1995 with the release of what many consider to be his magnum opus, Me Against the World.
2Pac's third studio album dropped while he was incarcerated for the aforementioned sexual assault charge and debuted at number one on the billboard charts, the first album to achieve this feat while the artist was imprisoned. It would eventually become one of Pac’s many Platinum albums.
The “Intro” fades in steady drums, an unhurried bass, low woodwinds, high anxious keys, and a mournful electric guitar. Spliced over the instrumental are oral excerpts from multiple news outlets that were reporting the high profile incidences in Pac’s life up to that point: the 1994 shooting in Manhattan, the ensuing checking out of the hospital after receiving death threats, and his altercation with two police officers in Atlanta in 1993. This leads seamlessly into the second track, “If I Die 2Nite”.
“A coward dies a thousand deaths. A soldier dies but once”. These words, an allusion to the William Shakespeare tragedy Julius Caesar, precedes a haunting alliterative attack over the Easy Mo Bee-produced beat. Pac conveys his paranoia and describes just the many ways that he could die. He covers most bases, speaking of suicide, police led homicide, death by the hands of his enemies, and most chilling, the betrayal, and subsequent assassination by his friends.
This ties into the Julius Caesar allusion that opens “If I Die 2Nite”, as Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times by sixty or more senators, the people who were supposed to assist him running the government. But unlike Julius Caesar, who was unable to foresee the plot to murder him, Pac sees it clearly and is prepared, so much so, that he’s “plotting on murdering motherfuckers ‘fore they get you”.
Songs like “Temptations” and “Can U Get Away” are “the songs for the ladies” as it was referred to back in the day. But they’re immersed with nuance here as Pac is struggling with sexual temptations in the former and extracting a woman (rumored to be Left-Eye) from an abusive relationship in the latter. “Young Niggaz” serves as a stern warning to the inner city youth that are just growing up too fast.
“Heavy in the Game” is a track about Pac’s success while “It Ain’t Easy” details the struggle that ensues when one reaches the unforgiving catapult of fame. He responds to critics, following his sexual assault trial in the apropos titled “Fuck the World” and displays unhinging paranoia on “Death Around the Corner” one of the album’s darker cuts that unfortunately gets dragged down some by the uninspired sounding hook, sampled from the 1992 film American Me.
The title track, “Me Against the World” is filled with multiple internal rhymes with an addicting flow that never relents. This is 2Pac at his best; feeding the listener with a captivating cadence while hammering the austere realities of inner city life and its unfortunate contents. The track is assisted by Yaki Kadafi and E.D.I. Mean of Dramacydal (later known as The Outlawz) who do a more than solid job covering the themes of the song and as a result, they sound great in their brief appearance. Puff Johnson sings the hook beautifully and becomes a very memorable piece in this mechanism.
Even after all of this, there’s still more room left for one more Pac verse on this song. This is where 2Pac delivers one of the most poignant and absolute best Rap verses of all time. “With all this extra stressin’/The question I wonder after death, after my last breath/When will I finally get to rest through this oppression/They punish the people that’s asking questions/And those that possess steal from the ones without possessions/The message I stress: to make it stop, study your lessons/Don’t settle for less, even the genius asks his questions/Be grateful for blessings/Don’t ever change, keep your essence/The power is in the people and politics we address”.
This message isn’t new; it’s been reiterated for many decades now. It just happens to continue happening. “those that possess” take from the ones “without possessions” and while it seems to get more difficult to believe by the day, “the power is in the people and politics we address”. This verse is a scrawny, but an incredibly powerful ray of light amid the abundant gloom that surrounds this track.
The declaration at the end of this verse is, once again, a powerful one. A brief but to-the-point self-analysis of his own metamorphosis: “If I’m insane, it’s the fame made a brother change/It wasn’t nothing like the game, it’s just me against the world”.
“Old School”, a magnificent standout from Me Against the World, has Pac reminisce on block parties, Italian Ices, and weak weed. More notably, Pac pays homage to the figures in Hip-Hop before him: The KRS-One’s, the Slick Rick’s, the Eric B & Rakim’s, and that’s just scratching the surface. It serves as an interesting track to listen to twenty years later, as the perception of Hip-Hop Elders has changed drastically since then; Hip-Hop is the only genre that collectively forgets its forefathers. In Rock, for example, figures like Bob Dylan or even recently deceased great, David Bowie, are forever revered in life and in death. People anticipate an album from Bruce Springsteen to this day. I haven’t heard anyone mention Kool G Rap in years.
The closest we have to that level of reverence is with the “The Old Era’s Holy Trinity” if you want to call it that. I am referring to Nas, Jay Z, and Eminem. People still care about them, but most people seem to be waiting for them to retire, especially the latter two, in order to make way for the new trinity of Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole who have since arrived and have since made their mark in history. The hook in “Old School” probably elaborates itself and this argument best: “What more could I say/I wouldn’t be here today/If the old school didn’t pave the way”.
The death-themed “So Many Tears” is a reflection of Pac’s losses aided by an excellent harmonica derived from Stevie Wonder’s “That Girl” and one of the album’s more memorable grooves and choruses. The depressive “Lord Knows” tackles more loss due to senselessness and begins in a memorable manner: “I smoke a blunt to take the pain out/And if I wasn’t high, I’d probably try to blow my brains out”. He includes a grisly account of a friend’s passing “Homie died in my arms with his brains hanging, fucked up/I had to tell him it was alright, and that’s a lie/And he knew when he shook and died, my God”. Something interesting to note about this track and its theme of depression. The last verse ends how the first one begins, displaying a common trait in depression: repetitive and self-destructive behavior.
“Dear Mama”, the album’s most known song is an ode to his mother Afeni Shakur, who passed away back in May of this year. Honestly, there’s really not much to say about this song; it’s just an absolutely beautiful dedication. A brutally honest recollection of his relationship with his mother and what made her special. It would go on to become only the third Hip-Hop work to enter the Library of Congress. “Outlaw” serves well as the album closer, encompassing the album’s themes: paranoia, inner city problems, and prophecies of his death.
Me Against the World alludes to things that would happen to him the following year, and on the whole, alludes to many things that continue to happen now. More than two decades later, issues like police brutality and crime from inner city youth are still prevalent. Me Against the World is an irrefutably classic record, one whose influence will be felt twenty more years from now. 2Pac has forged himself into Rap’s biggest icon, an artist who the question of “what if?” is the only phantom that can potentially haunt his legacy. But it doesn’t. Pac was an artist quite like no other who always seemed destined for martyrdom. Tupac Shakur always seemed to know when he would die, but he never seemed to know exactly who would kill him. Twenty years later, we don’t know either.
Me Against the World serves as a reflection what is, and while it doesn’t have the production of All Eyez On Me nor the aggression of The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, it is a record mired in darkness and uncertainty for a man who seemed aware of his impending demise. Me Against the World is a record that stands the test of time and quality in any year, in any genre.