Album of the Week: 2Pac’s 2Pacalypse Now (1991)

I’d like to dedicate this post to De La Soul’s Dave, AKA Trugoy, who passed away recently. On 2Pac’s 1995 track “Old School”, Pac reminisces on the incomparable times and artists who shaped him, and De La are namedropped in the first verse. I think that begins to illustrate how important and influential De La are, and Dave was a core part of that.

Rewind to 1991: Despite the goofy title, 2Pacalypse Now is a remarkably mature and political debut album from a 19-turning-on-20 year old soon-to-be-superstar, one that laid the groundwork for music like Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

As exemplified in Kendrick’s “Mortal Man”, 2Pac was incredibly prescient. His first single, “Trapped”, is a 5-minute story of racial profiling. Although it lacks some of the more profoundly emotional delivery of his later work, “Trapped” is a strong and unified lyrical display. It serves as not only a strong start to Pac’s rap career but a signpost of what may be his most overtly political full-length. You can hear the roots of Kendrick’s style on “Words of Wisdom”: it’s a jazzy interlude which finds Pac rewriting the etymology of the n-word and fast-paced rapping about America’s racial suppression.

During these nascent stages of Pac’s rap career, he was in the Bay area recording this album in Richmond. As he would go on to rap on the title track of his second album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., “I’m comin’ out of O-Town, bitch, fuck around”. That album would find Tupac at his most aggressive, whereas 2Pacalypse is more relaxed in production and delivery. “Soulja’s Story” employs the same smoky Isaac Hayes sample (“No Name Bar”) as Tommy Wright and DJ Paul would (separately) employ later for some defining Memphis atmosphere.

“I Don’t Give a Fuck” finds Pac with couplets that set 2Pacalypse firmly in the early 90s, rap’s Golden Age: “And now they tryna send me to Kuwait? / Give me a break… Who’s that behind the trigger? / A motherfuckin’ 90s ni**a.” It’s a blueprint for the young Shakur, one that he would re-shape and transcend until his death.

“Brenda’s Got a Baby” is probably the most popular song from 2Pacalypse, but in its intensely melodramatic presentation is also one of the most dated. Still, it’s a classic storytelling rap in the conscious style. This one and the Stevie Wonder quoting “Part Time Mutha”, with its strange placement as an album closer, are probably the only 2 tracks here I would skip.

For the amount of music he recorded and the impact he has on pop culture, it’s still mind-boggling how short 2Pac’s career was. Killed in 1996 less than 3 months after his 25th birthday, Pac had spent nearly all of 1995 in prison, a superstar missing in action. Listening to 2Pacalypse today is like watching a fuse get lit. It’s a reminder that even in the beginning, 2Pac was something special.

Listen to 2Pacalypse Now here.

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