(Today, A.R. Marks provides a second take on 2Pac's Me Against The World, an album that took me forever to actually get to. In fact, it took me receiving this write-up in my inbox to finally get motivated to give it a spin. So, for those of you who are appalled that I haven't gotten to your favorite albums yet, let that be a lesson to you. Anyway, enjoy yet another Pac review.)
I don't necessarily always agree with Max when it comes to what sounds good and what doesn't (something he'll probably be quick to point out I don't have to do, and neither do either of the two readers out there [side note: I always picture the infamous “two readers” as the old heckling film critics in the balcony on The Muppet Show]). However, I did find empathy with his statement that he likes any 2Pac music that doesn't spout off at the mouth, like the types of "bitches" that thug-ass gangsters like to screw in their spare time. So I took it upon myself to throw Max a bone by reviewing a 2Pac album that doesn't suck, which may bring him more Shakur-fanatic readers who are otherwise turned off by his reviews of the man's material.
Which brings me to Me Against the World, the only (if you didn't hear it, I said only) 2Pac record that I have ever felt the need to own. The album came in the midst of a clusterfuck of bullets, media controversy, fan adoration, and imprisonment for a rape charge—and this wasn't even the most controversial point of his career. This was also at a time when he and the Bad Boy camp had been on friendly terms, a fact punctuated by Easy Mo Bee's inclusion and the overall Ready to Die-esque sound of the album. All the controversy shows its influence, especially considering that his former friend, Stretch, was completely removed from the final cut of the album. (Stretch was also murdered execution-style, exactly one year to the day of Shakur's 1995 shooting, but that must just be a coincidence, right?)
While this is slightly more impressive than most intros, it's mainly just the jaw-dropping effect of listening to media coverage of all the different shit the person formerly known as Parrish Crooks got himself into. That effect could get old after not too long.
2. IF I DIE 2NITE
Heads right into possibly my favorite song on the album, and the one I tend to point to when people say 2Pac couldn't rap very well. One of the two Easy Mo Bee-produced songs, and some of the producer's best work, I should say. Pac also rips the fuck out of the beat solo, which helps.
3. ME AGAINST THE WORLD (FEAT DRAMACYDAL)
A pleasant, jazzy instrumental, this is an appealing mix of east and west coast sounds from the time period. Pac goes on to rap more thought-provoking and (gasp!) technically impressive lyrics; it's also the first appearance on one of his albums of any of the rappers who would eventually make up the Outlawz; I always liked Yaki Kadafi (the first rapper after Pac) and Hussein Fatal (who doesn't make an appearance, as he was never in Dramacydal), but the rest were interchangeable to me.
4. SO MANY TEARS
Shock G, the guy that gave 2Pac his first shot in the industry, provides a pretty entertaining instrumental, but I always preferred Easy Mo Bee's original, which also featured Stretch.
The second of Mo Bee's contributions, this is another highlight of the record: 2Pac's honest appeal to the opposite sex about trying to be faithful while touring. (The sheer amount of women that 2Pac apparently fucked on the road makes one question why he would need to rape anybody, but I guess the jury didn't think of that). Makes better use of a singing Erick Sermon vocal sample than Sermon did in the first place.
6. YOUNG N----Z
A nice, cruising instrumental in step with the rest of the album so far; 2Pac takes the point of view of a young hustler trying to survive, although he did drop the "indo/window" couplet that would become repeated several million times throughout his catalog.
7. HEAVY IN THE GAME (FEAT LADY LEVI & RICHIE RICH)
The first misstep; over a forgettable pseudo-reggae beat, this is the exact song on this album where 2Pac begins to repeat his previous subject matter, a theme that would start to permeate his music later on. It also features Lady Levi, whose bombaclat bloodclot Jamaican talk wears thin, and Richie Rich, a completely forgettable West Coast rapper.
8. LORD KNOWS
Somewhat back in step, this song is pretty upbeat and entertaining, but not essential.
9. DEAR MAMA
Needless to say, a highlight, and one of 2Pac's most popular songs; this introspective song was the single that drove Me Against the World to number one on the charts and fueled claims by fans that 2Pac was one of the most down-to-earth, soulful rappers of the generation.
10. IT AIN'T EASY
A pretty low-key, repetitive song that could have benefited from some remixing by someone who knew what the fuck they were doing.
11. CAN U GET AWAY
A much, much less engaging version of “Temptations.”
12. OLD SCHOOL
Another Pac classic. Damn, this sequencing seems pretty random, doesn't it? Over a euphoric beat of the style that apparently only that time period of hip-hop could produce, Shakur waxes poetic about his influences and the rappers he loved growing up, sounding very genuine about his love of the art form.
13. FUCK THE WORLD
The other single that gripped the world's attention, although the reason for this one eludes me completely.
14. DEATH AROUND THE CORNER
And, true to form, comes another standout track. This one shows 2Pac's trademark paranoia had manifested in his music a full year and a half before his morbid instincts were proven right.
15. OUTLAW (FEAT DRAMACYDAL)
This song might be referred to as “the other song featuring Dramacydal,” and there might be a reason for it. That reason might be the boring-ass beat, the shitty-ass hook and the dumbed-down delivery from the main star of the album.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I tend to be a fan of 2Pac music where more than two bars work consecutively to relate a concept. Me Against The World does that and more: it recalls a time when 2Pac wasn't the egotistical asshole who beat up the Hughes brothers or claimed he'd fucked Biggie's wife. Dr. Dre's one-time right hand man Bruce Williams wrote a book about working at Death Row, in which he observed that 2Pac was a guy who could turn wack beats into hits; to an extent that holds true here, as some of the beats are truly forgettable, but not as bad as they had been before or would be again.
BUY OR BURN?: Definitely buy this record. It could have benefited from some editing, and the inclusion of some tracks that didn't make the cut, but overall it's one of the Pac fanatics' most beloved albums for a reason.
BEST SONGS: “If I Die 2nite,” “Me Against the World,” “Temptations,” “Dear Mama,” “Old School,” “Death Around the Corner.”
B-SIDES TO TRACK DOWN: Easy Mo Bee only contributed two tracks, but recorded several other songs for 2Pac in 1995 that didn't make the cut, including the original “Runnin' From the Police” with The Notorious B.I.G., Stretch, and Dramacydal; the original “So Many Tears,” featuring Stretch; and “God Bless the Dead”, which popped up on 2Pac's Greatest Hits CD (this song also starts off “Rest in peace to my motherfuckin' n---a Biggie Smalls,” which confused me to no end, until I realized he was talking about a deceased DJ whose nickname Biggie borrowed in tribute).
(Okay, including the b-sides was a pretty nice touch. Be sure to leave some comments for A.R. Marks below. And if you're interested, here's a link to my original write-up.)