January 1, 2010

2Pac - Me Against The World (March 14, 1995)


So here's the deal. Housed behind this overly dramatic, Calvin Klein ad-esque album cover is what the many fans of the late Lesane Parish Crooks refer to as the greatest 2Pac album ever released. It hit store shelves while he was serving a prison sentence for sexual assault, making him the first, but most certainly not the last, rapper to hit the top of the Billboard charts while doing a bid.

Me Against The World was recorded in approximately three to four weeks, during the short period of time between 2Pac's sentencing and entering prison. As he was facing a four-and-a-half year jail term, which is an awful long time to not be in the public eye, his rhymes turned inward, revealing the thoughts of a man who knew he wasn't living the greatest life, but has the insight to realize that every passing moment was an opportunity to turn it all around.

But Me Against The World isn't Vanilla Sky, and 2Pac doesn't spend the duration of the album exploring the nature of his celebrity and the power it yields. Instead, he talks up the stupid shit that littered his first two solo albums. This is an aspect of Pac's third effort that most fans conveniently gloss over: Me Against The World has, for the most part, the exact same subject matter as 2Pacalypse Now and Strictly 4 My N.*.*.*.*.Z.; Tupac Shakur was now just more cognizant of his influence, and he tried to take the high road as often as he could, at least whenever he wasn't bragging about killing people and shit.

Me Against The World is considered the man's best work because of songs such as "Dear Mama", 2Pac's Mother's Day card set to wax, which is actually really fucking depressing when you actually listen to the lyrics, and "So Many Tears", an ode to fallen comrades that wears its heart on its sleeve. While there are also songs that focus on the power of the female body, old school hip hop, and Scandinavian bread pudding recipes, the overwhelming theme of Me Against The World was that 2Pac was afraid of death, which I suppose is always a very real possibility whenever you're sentenced to prison, especially when you live a life such as Pac's: it's been well-documented that the man did not live anywhere close to the "Thug Life" that he praises so highly, but was instead just a really good, classically trained actor. Of course, the fear of the Grim Reaper also stemmed from five gunshots he took in 1994 when trying to visit his friend, The Notorious B.I.G., in a Manhattan recording studio; this unfortunate event turned out to be the tipping point of one of the most ridiculous, useless, and ultimately deadliest hip hop beefs, the East Coast-versus-West Coast war. (Pac's close friend Stretch, a rapper in his own right, was suspected of setting him up, and probably not-so-coincidentally, was murdered execution-style exactly one year after Pac's life-and-career-altering event. This is a shame: I quite liked his performance alongside his famous running mate on "Pain", a song from the cassette-tape version of the Above The Rim soundtrack.)

Of course, 2Pac's career would go off of the deep end during the time he actually spent in prison, but I'll get to that story at a later date.

Me Against The World wasn't Pac's most successful album, but it is the one every hip hop fan seems to look to whenever they need some proof that 2Pac was a much better rapper than whoever their conversation is supposed to be about. Truth be told, I fall into the same category: I actually count this as my favorite 2Pac disc, but I look to this project whenever I'm trying to remember that Tupac Shakur wasn't always about recording eleventy billion versions of the same fucking song: at one point in time, he was a goddamn artist.

I will admit that I haven't heard this in a while, though, so who the fuck knows how I'm going to feel about this. All I can say is that the comments section is below for a reason.

1. INTRO (ME AGAINST THE WORLD)
This intro proves that, at this point in his career, 2Pac was a huge media presence. This new bit of information does not mean that this is a good rap album intro, but it does inform the listener that the Pac on Me Against The World is a more, well, world-weary one than the guy who brought us “I Get Around”.

2. IF I DIE 2NITE
I actually love this dark and dreary song. I've always felt that this was a really effective way to reintroduce 2Pac to his fans, while also proving that there would be nothing on Me Against The World that would sound like either of his first two albums. Easy Mo Bee's production perfectly complements Pac's paranoia, although I will say that he should have taken things to a whole new level and gone batshit crazy on the track, but I love it regardless. This is probably my favorite track on the entire album, which does not bode well, as I now have to sit through thirteen more songs. The Dr. Dre vocal sample (taken from “Deep Cover”) also subtly hints at Pac's future with Death Row Records, although that was nowhere near finalized at the time “If I Die 2Nite” was recorded.

3. ME AGAINST THE WORLD (FEAT DRAMACYDAL)
I've never actually liked this title track. The production sounds too poppy for me, and the female vocals on the hook don't exactly scream out “this song is about taking on the world as an adversary”: instead, it hollers out radio airplay. 2Pac's lyrics on here are essentially exactly the same as they are on ninety percent of his catalog, but this time around, his heart doesn't appear to be in it.

4. SO MANY TEARS
Unlike on here, where his verses are so filled with heart that Pac almost drowns in freshly-pumped blood. I've always thought this song was the shit, and not just because Shock G.'s beat made it sound like Pac was marching through a graveyard while performing. (Although that image in my mind may have been informed by this track's video.) Anybody else completely surprised that fucking Humpty Hump provided Pac with such a dark, dank instrumental? Show of hands?

5. TEMPTATIONS
2Pac shows his love for the East Coast by getting Easy Mo Bee to produce this not-at-all-reminiscent-of-the-West Coast three-verse attempt to not cheat on his girl while out performing, but it works because the song still sounds great today, even if it does sample Erick Sermon on the chorus (a singing E-Double, no less). Its accompanying video, starring Coolio as a fucking bellhop, featured tons of Pac's celebrity friends, since the man himself was unable to attend the shoot, but the only image I can clearly remember is Jada Pinkett (prior to her marriage to Will Smith) in a red dress being spied on through a keyhole. Does anybody else remember that shit? Anyone? Bueller?

6. YOUNG N----Z
This was typically the point on Me Against The World where I stopped listening. The instrumental is West Coast lite, but it doesn't fit into what is, in my mind, a much darker 2Pac effort, so I always skipped this shit. Pac's reflections of his childhood (or, more appropriately, his memories of being a “young n---a”) are good, but the beat fails him.

7. HEAVY IN THE GAME (FEAT LADY LEVI & RICHIE RICH)
It doesn't even matter that I found the beat mechanical and paint-by-numbers. I couldn't look past the use of “Just Be Good To Me” by The SOS Band, which was as corny and distracting as when Bay Area rapper B-Legit jacked “Sara Smile” from Hall & Oates.

8. LORD KNOWS
2Pac has always been one of the best rappers around who could convey a very real sense of paranoia and a fear of death into his rhymes (even if I don't like the guy as much as I do some other rappers, I do admit that, in this particular field, the man has no equal). The Brian G. beat doesn't mesh well with Pac's lyrics, but when taken separately, they both sound decent.

9. DEAR MAMA
Everybody knows this song already, up to and including your mother, because you played it for her on Mother's Day instead of buying her a gift, just like the cheap bastard that you are. I'm not even going to bother reviewing it, as it is essentially critic-proof, but I will say that I liked the alternative, bouncier remix that got some radio spins a bit more.

10. IT AIN'T EASY
Meh.

11. CAN U GET AWAY
I first heard this song on the radio, and even though I understood why rappers write songs for the ladies, I was still surprised at how horrible and unappealing this sounded. Not just because of why 2Pac was locked up in the first place (that's just a poor coincidence), but because of Mike Mosley's awful instrumental and Pac's unconvincing lyrics. Bleh.

12. OLD SCHOOL
I first heard Pac's homage to the old school rappers who influenced him on the local college radio station, and I liked it a lot, mainly because 2Pac is talking about something entirely different from that "Thug Life" bullshit that always seems to pop off. This entire track is the perfect complement to Biggie's “Juicy”, and hopefully Pac's praise and palpable love of hip hop rubbed off on a few of his millions of so-called fans, leading them to actually discover some of the rappers that were name-dropped. This shit still feels nice today.

13. FUCK THE WORLD
Starts off as if Pac is directly addressing the charges against him specifically, but quickly loses its focus, as Pac begins to speak in generalities again, keeping his personal life, feelings, and views mysteriously hidden. I didn't care much for this generic track, but I, just like everybody else in the world, have used the title phrase in retaliation against life's ills.

14. DEATH AROUND THE CORNER
Takes 2Pac's paranoia to an entirely different plane of existence, but the track itself is derailed by a corny “hook” that consists solely of sampled dialogue. So, yeah, this sounds far too art house for most heads, and as for me, the chorus murders the song's momentum, which sucks, because I'm a fan of art house. Could have been a good idea, though.

15. OUTLAW (FEAT DRAMACYDAL)
I'm sorry, but this shit didn't do anything for me. How is somebody who portray himself as an outlaw going to give the greenlight to rhyming over such a slow-paced R&B instrumental? The only acceptable answer to that is when said outlaw is repenting for his sins, but as Pac mass-murders every single person in the courthouse on here, he is clearly relishing the role (at least, he was during this point in his career). Notable as being the source of a 2Pac vocal sample used on Eminem's early “Murda Murda”, but that's really all.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Me Against The World is, actually, the best 2Pac album he ever released. Some of the tracks on here are abso-fucking-lutely brilliant, a perfect marriage of music and 2Pac's fiery passion behind the mic. However, that beautiful partnership only occurs for approximately half of the album's running time: the other half is the same old shit Pac was known for. I personally love the songs listed below, but I will probably never listen to this entire album by choice ever again, because for an album that was intended to be darker and more mature, representative of a man who was about to enter prison, a lot of this is boring as shit. Maybe I expected too much from the album cover? Perhaps. How is it possible that 2Pac's Me Against The World is still a good album even with my above comments? That is a true testament to the power of the songs listed below: they are that fucking good. And I'm not saying all of this because I am a well-documented supporter of The Notorious B.I.G., I'm saying that as a fan of music in general. This disc is simply not consistent enough to be great all the way through. Crucify me in the comments all you want, but it is what it is.

BUY OR BURN? As I already mentioned, the great songs on here are fucking fantastic, so much so that they override Pac's missteps, so you should still pick this one up as soon as possible. And no, this statement is not contradictory to what I just wrote above. Just don't expect to be able to sit through it from start to finish.

BEST TRACKS: “If I Die 2Nite”; “Temptations”; “So Many Tears”; “Old School”

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now
2Pac – Strictly 4 My N.*.*.*.*.Z.

16 comments:

  1. Yung SouljahJanuary 01, 2010

    I shed tears for my peers who came and went
    Pour a lil liquor for the pioneers of same descent
    But it's sad to say we all trapped in hell
    So many black males making crack sales
    Packed jails getting larger everyday
    Because we can't find jobs with steady pay
    So we turn to the dope game with no shame
    Get right then get greedy with no aim
    Til we six feet in the cemetary
    Young soldier mama cries as he gets buried
    Homies reminisce as they pop hennesey
    Take a swig then it's time to ride on enemies
    I'm hopelesssssss

    - 2Pac "85% of my songs"

    MATW was a cool album though. 4/5

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  2. You called this one right, Max. This is clearly Pac's best album.

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  3. Wow, you actually reviewed it! Didn't expect it so soon, so big ups. Now for your actual review:

    I agree with your statement about the beat in Young N----z, personally I think it was way overdone. It starts out really good, the dusty drums kick in and for a few seconds the expectations are really high...until just a few moments later it turns into a hot mess of an overproduced beat. I think it would have been way better if the beat just continued as it started with no changes(dark, dusty drums with a few of those haunting hollowing noises). Also, the chorus really sucked, an R&B singer had no right to be on that song.

    I fucking love If I Die 2Nite, the beat was awesome, nice use of the Dr. Dre sample, very simple and effective chorus(as if the words "If I die tonight" are just stuck in his head), hardly any filler lines(unlike many of his later songs), and the whispering:"kill, kill, kill, murder, murder, murder", as the beat runs its course towards the end is just fucking beautiful(in a suicidal/homicidal paranoid way).

    I also liked Shed so Many Tears(particulary the nice harmonica touch in the chorus), Old School kinda stood out as a more uplifting song celebrating the older generation of rappers, Temptations is ok(at first I thought it was kinda annoying but I it grew on me a bit).

    Dear Mama is a beatiful song, no doubt about it, but it got overplayed.

    I liked Outlaw but listening to it again I can hear the R&B influence in the instrumental, a few minor tweaks in that department and that could have been a really good song.

    It ain't Easy isn't bad, but not really memorable.

    Your assessment of Lord Knows is on point, but I would like to add that the beat should have been something really dark and the chorus sucked(no suprise there).

    Death Around the Corner has a similar theme as If I Die 2Nite, and yes the samples(the ones in the chorus and the ones toward the end) kinda detract from the overall listening experience but not enough to stop me from enjoying this song.

    Me against the World and Fuck the World should have had a much more confrontational feel to them, and mostly they fail on the production note. The rest of the songs I usually ignore, so I'll keep on doing just that.

    All in all, Me Against the World is the best album 2Pac ever released, not without it's hiccups but well worth the money.

    Good review, Max. For your next review I would really like to see an album that you've liked and you think is underrated(or a so-called classic you haven't had a chance to do yet). As much fun as it is to read your bashing of inferior albums(or your opinions on my favorite albums), my favorite reviews are when you recommend a lot of songs.

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  4. tha anonymous opinionJanuary 01, 2010

    whenever i pop this one in, i try to look past the lackluster production and focus entirely on the lyrics.. the results are pretty effective. this is that one album everybody may go to when feeling stressed/pissed. always made me feel better to listen to this one when things got rough and rug

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  5. Shit album, shit artist.

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  6. I'm glad most of you agree, If I Die 2Nite is fucking great. And I agree with the review, only a handful of songs knock, but they fucking KNOCK which is why I bought the album. And for Dear Mama, I used it as part of my home made Mother's Day card cause I had no money. It's the thought that counts :D

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  7. Good review, great blog
    Thanks Max keep up the good work

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  8. I bought this album in '95 while kickin it in NY for about a week. While the album has some weak spots, it is Pac's most introspective album and that makes it his best work in my opinion. Not taking anything away from All Eyez or Makeveli, but this dude was on a creative and emotional high at this time.

    Max, if you can work in a review for the critically acclaimed All Eyez within the next two months, it would be great. Happy New Year!

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  9. i always though all eyes on me was his best album

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  10. Killuminati is his best in my opinion.
    I loved this album though.

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  11. Hey Max, first time reading your site and wanted to say that you've got a ton of great articles and reviews... I just wanted to make a suggestion that you buy a domain name (e.g. hiphopisntdead.com) for $10 per year, get hosting (e.g. HostMonster/HostGator, etc), and you'll get a TON more traffic than you do from a blogger blog. If you are satisfied with what you have, then great, just wanted to make a suggestion because you clearly put a lot of time into your work.

    Props on all the work man!

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  12. I just love Old School, awesome song.

    And try to review Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Live and Let Die".

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  13. well... East Coast heads always said Pac's beats wern't good.
    the music here is pretty much a PERFECT blend of Hip Hop, R&B & Funk. people who know other music than Hip Hop would appericiate that. but "Hip Hop Headz" won't appericiate anything that doesn't have a Premo scratch/Dilla claps on it, so it's "weak".

    BULLSHIT
    no one could touch emotions like Pac did, that's what puts him above his peers in the league of the Bob Marley's and Kurt Cobain's of the world.

    it ain't easy has a perfect, breezy flow to it.
    can u get away is a beautiful heartfelt song about a foul situation. dude always knew how to talk to the ladies... his game was endless.
    Outlaw is an great "i don't give a fuck" track. the beat is slow, SO FUCKING WHAT?!?! he rides it with a confident pace. you can hear where Eminem took some of his "i'mma shoot everybody in the room" attitude we grew to love. and it's a great way to end the album.

    still, i think Pac reached his peak on "Makaveli", which was the most complete picture of an incomplete man.

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  14. As the youngins would say.. "I co-sign that" above lol. This album is my personal favorite and i think one of the best hip-hop albums ever! I really like "It ain't easy" because it's got that REAL emotional vibe to it even tho some people consider to find it boring.. "Me against the World" always sounded like a radio hit which it was... hey i thought i co-signed all of that above lol anyway peace max.. good reviews. Hopefully we get to see "All Eyes On Me" on it's 14th anniversary!

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  15. This is pretty accurate. I love how dark some of the songs in this album here, and If I Die 2nite has some good alliteration.

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  16. AnonymousMay 13, 2014

    2Pac fucking sucks. Poor lyricism and crap pop beats that don't know what vibe they are shooting for. Can't sit through this whole album either. Although I like Easy Mo Bee's "if I Die 2nite" but that kind of goes without saying.

    Blake

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