In the ten years since Tupac Shakur's unsolved murder, fans have hardly had a chance to miss his presence due to the abundance of unfinished and unreleased material left in the vaults. Combined with his mother's plan to have all of this work released and label execs that see dollar signs, this has led to 11 records in since 1996, using a variety of producers and guests, many unexpected. Meanwhile, a divide has developed between heads who are still eagerly awaiting any Pac material they can get their hands on, and those who believe all the posthumous releases are doing very little besides tarnishing the legacy of one of the greatest poets ever to embody Hip Hop. Much of this seemingly stems from the "Tupac would have never worked with him" school of thought, despite Afeni Shakur's espoused belief that Pac sends the people he wants involved toward these projects. Personally, I'm always a little apprehensive when I hear there's a new 2Pac record, mainly because of the widely varying end results of each project.
One of the first things you notice about the latest outing is the plethora of artists selected from south of the Mason-Dixon. Verses from Ludacris, Chamillionaire, G-Unit's Young Buck, and repeated appearances from T.I. serve to lend the album a certain southern vibe that comes the closest to cohesiveness of any of Pac's posthumous releases thus far. Previous collaborators Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony appear on the Swizz Beatz-produced "Untouchable(Remix)" while two members of Pac's notorious Outlawz crew hold it down on the original version. In fact, Outlawz appear on five of the thirteen tracks included, a welcome sight for many of Pac's fans. Perhaps the most exciting guest on this record is Snoop Dogg, who brings a familiar element many people feel has been missing, spitting fire while reminiscing about the real life and times of Tupac Shakur with lines like "Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre, now we got Pac it felt like a drizzeam, remember when I told Suge to put you on the tizzeam / and you know that I was true, cause I took the focus off me and put All Eyez on You". As usual though, this record is brought down a little by the fact that there are guests on every track, with only one joint, "Playa Cardz Right(Female)," featuring Pac holding down the emceeing for dolo. Little to my surprise, this is one of the albums strongest tracks, featuring a single verse of Pac's emotional lyrics over an understated piano and Keyshia Cole's wailing vocals. The only downside of this song is that heartbreaking lyrics such as "Broken promises, a sacred bond broken, I know I'll die alone but yet and still I'm hopin' / visions of prisons, maybe I'll be forgiven, I know it's better in Heaven cause bein' here ain't livin'" will bring back those same thoughts of "what if?" that always haunt the careers of those who die so young.
In the end, the usual missteps on production and guest appearances do bring this album down a little. It would also have been nice to hear thirteen completely original tracks, as three tracks are remixes of songs that are actually on this album. However, the high points of this album come courtesy of the standout pair of the aforementioned "Playa Cardz Right," Male and Female versions, really contribute some strength and emotion to this album in my eyes. Ludacris and Pac somehow manage an eerie chemistry on the Male version that really helps lift this album up as it nears its end. But the fact is beyond this the only redeeming quality of this record is that I feel it features some of the strongest Pac material to be released since his death, and this helps to look past the patchwork feel of single Pac verses interlaced with the multitude of guests. Another thing I feel is important to remember is that one of the things that made Pac so great was his social relevance, and when you're listening to songs that were recorded over a decade ago you lose a little of that.