10 Years Ago: All Eyez On Me Revisited
Released ten years ago this month, All Eyez On Me has proven to be Pacs most definitive work. The bloated double disc is far from perfect; easily a dozen songs could have been chopped off. All About U, Thug Passion, Skandalouz, Run Tha Streetz and a few others were easily expendable. That doesnt really matter though. What matters is the two things that this album represents; it marked the downward spiral leading to his murder, and it became the standard for all the modern day greats.
No rapper had ever put out a solo double album before; it was a bold move for Pac. Consider that he recorded the album in less than two months and it looks like a pretty insane one. But since his youth Pac was never one for boundaries, and now that he was on Death Row, he clearly felt unstoppable. It was enough to make his arch-nemesis follow suit the following year, and his one time enemies to do the same in the new millennium. If you think Jay and Nas didnt consider the company they were putting themselves in when doing those double discs than you are sadly mistaken.
More importantly than any of that, All Eyez On Me showed changes in Pac as a man and as an artist that would lead to his death in less than a year. The angry, socially conscious, son of a black panther was largely absent on All Eyez On Me (save a handful incredible songs like Only God Can Judge Me and I Aint Mad At Cha). In place was gangsta bravado that was very much in the mold of Death Rows legacy. Suges fingerprints were all over the album, and as the coming months would prove, Pac was being manipulated into a puppet for Mr. Knight. The events that surrounded Pacs life in the following 7 months need not be tread over again; the escalating beef with Biggie and Bad Boy, the recording of 100s and 100s of songs, his supposed secret plans to leave Death Row to start his own label and his reported ever increasing paranoia of his death.
I still remember the first time I heard All Eyez On Me, I loved it. There were certainly tracks I didnt like but joints like Got My Mind Made Up, Ambitionz As A Ridah, California Love, I Aint Mad At Cha, Only God Can Judge Me, How Do You Want It and Cant C Me got endless burn for months. Yet there was always something missing, or at least something strange about the feeling of the album. It wasnt anything new for Pac to be on some thug shit, but he had never been so careless and ignorant. There was always a method to his madness. But many songs made him sounding very out of control. Yet in the midst of it all he spit some of the best lines of his career:
I'd rather die like a man, than live like a coward/
There's a ghetto up in Heaven and it's ours, Black Power/
is what we scream as we dream in a paranoid state/
and our fate, is a lifetime of hate/
Dear Mama, can you save me?/
And fuck peace cause the streets got our babies, we gotta eat/
No more hesitation each and every black male's trapped/
And they wonder why we suicidal runnin round strapped/
Mista Po-lice, please try to see/
that theres a million motherfuckers dressin just like me
Only God can judge me
More than any of his other efforts, Pac contradicted himself like crazy here. But it was those contradictions within himself that made him the icon that he is today. Hip-hop has always been about the good, the bad and the ugly and Pac showed us the full the spectrum here. To this day is remains his definitive work.