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Tupac Shakur’s life may have been cut short due to his murder in a drive-by shooting on the Vegas strip on September 6, 1996; but his impact and influence on the rap game and other facets of culture remains everlasting. A prolific recording artist and impassioned performer, All Eyez on Me, Shakur’s last release prior to his death, was an unexpected, yet appropriate swan song that encompassed the many sides of the rapper’s persona that the public had come to love. Released on February 13, 1996; the album gave the star his second consecutive chart-topping album, and quickly achieved multi-platinum certification and the rare distinction of being hailed by many as an instant classic.
To celebrate the anniversary of this iconic body of work, here are 11 memorable lyrics from the album decoded to give context and take a glimpse into the mind state of rap royalty.
1. “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”
“So many battlefield scars while driven in plush cars/This life as a rap star is nothin’ without guard/Was born rough and rugged, addressin’ the mass public/My attitude was “fuck it,” ‘cause motherfuckers love it/To be a soldier, must maintain composure at ease/Though life is complicated, only what you make it to be”
A fiery figure with a propensity for creating controversy through his actions and statements, 2Pac acknowledges his combustible ways and the impact they’ve had on helping cultivate his image as a rebel without a pause. Taking inventory of road travel and the lessons learned upon that journey, he weighs the benefits of the public hysteria surrounding his antics against being destined for leadership and the amount of composure that responsibility calls for. A true Gemini, 2Pac is caught between these conflicting roles, a testament to the duality that sets him a part as an artist.
2. “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”
“Can’t trust a bitch in the business so I got with Death Row/Now these money-hungry bitches gettin’ suspicious/Started plottin’ and plannin’ on a scheme to come and twist us/But thug niggas be on point and game tight (Yeah)/Me, Syke and Bogart strapped up the same night”
Having been crossed by friends and foes alike on both sides of the gender spectrum, this double entendre is a warning to anyone attempting to make a come up off of 2Pac and his inner circle. Whether its women looking to get a piece of his riches and/or set him up for a fall, or men looking to wage war upon his kingdom and relieve him of his wealth, status and power, Pac makes it known that he and his constituents are ready for any and all challengers shall that day ever come.
3. “How Do U Want It”
“C. Delores Tucker, you’s a motherfucker/Instead of tryin’ to help a nigga, you destroy a brother/Worse than the others; Bill Clinton, Mister Bob Dole/You’re too old to understand the way the game’s told/You’re lame so I gotta hit you with the hot facts/Once I’m released, I’m makin’ millions, nigga, top that/They wanna censor me; they’d rather see me in a cell/Livin’ in hell, only a few of us’ll live to tell”
During the early ‘90s, politician and civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker, and presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Bob Dole were at the forefront of the attempt to censor and demonize rap artists’ music, which ruffled the feathers of 2Pac, who was no stranger to sending barbs directed at the powers that be on wax. Deeming Tucker and company as “out of touch,” Pac gloats about his influence and wealth while lamenting the overt attempts at enslaving young Black men physically, mentally, and spiritually.
4. “Life Goes On”
“Me and you, no truer two/While schemin’ on hits and gettin’ tricks that maybe we can slide into/But now you buried — rest, nigga, ‘cause I ain’t worried/Eyes blurry, sayin’ goodbye at the cemetery/Though memories fade/I got your name tatted on my arm, so we both ball ‘til my dyin’ days/Before I say goodbye/Kato and Mental, rest in peace! Thug ‘til I die”
Pac pains the somber scene of a home-going service for close friends, Thug Life affiliates Big Kato and Mental Illness, whom Pac grew close to after forging a relationship with rapper Big Syke during the early ‘90s, on this track. Kato and Mental Illness would both pass away prior to the release of Me Against the World, and were memorialized in song by Pac on multiple occasions, most notably “How Long Will They Mourn Me” and “So Many Tears.”
5. “U Can’t C Me”
“My adversaries cry like hoes, open and shut like doors/Is you a friend or foe? Nigga, you ain’t know?/They got me stressed out on Death Row/I’ve seen money, but baby, I’ve gots to get mo’/You screamin’, ‘Go 2Pac,’ and I ain’t stoppin’ till I’m well-paid/Bail’s paid now, nigga, look what hell made”
2Pac draws a line in the sand, forcing all on the fence’s hand to pick a side by getting down with his campaign or facing the force of his wrath. Feeding off the energy of his backers, he has the eye of the tiger and is focused on parlaying his newfound freedom into a fortune and unprecedented levels of success in his career.
6. “Shorty Wanna Be A Thug”
“No mother and father, you see, the nigga’s all alone/Old timers my role model, the war zone/Been laced with this game ‘til it’s a part of me/My heart don’t beat no fear, and that ain’t hard to see/The future is looking dim/I’m tryin’ to make a profit out of living in this sin/I’m in the dark, getting buzzed, looking for some love/Out with the homies, ‘cause shorty wanna be a thug”
Pac gleaned inspiration from his inner-circle on this occasion. Speaking from the perspective of Outlawz member Napoleon, who witnessed the murder of his parents as a youth, 2Pac gets psychoanalytical while using Napoleon’s backstory and mannerisms as a case study for young Black men across the globe.
7. “Holla At Me”
“When me and you was homies, no one informed me it was all a scheme/You infiltrated my team and sold a nigga’s dreams/How could you do me like that? I took ya family in/I put some cash in ya pocket, made you a man again/And now you let the fear put your ass in a place/Complicated to escape, it’s a fool’s fate”
Once close friends and frequent collaborators, 2Pac’s fallout with Randy “Stretch” Walker was the most personal, as he accused the Live Squad founder of being involved in the robbery that led to his 1994 shooting at Quad Studios. Initially letting his feelings be known off wax, Pac would implicate Stretch on multiple occasions in his music, alluding to his role in the plot while levying veiled threats against the Queens native. Recounting his loyalty toward Stretch and the opportunities he’d afforded him over the years, Pac made it clear that there was no chance for reconciliation between them. Stretch would be killed on November 30, 1995 in Queens. In 2018, Dexter Issacs, one of the two gunmen involved in the Quad shooting, would confirm 2Pac’s suspicions, accusing Stretch of helping hatch the ambush in exchange for drugs and cash.
8. “Holla At Me”
“So many brothas framed in this dirty game/It’s a shame, so much pressure on my brain/Why she blame me? Secrets in the dark, only her and I know/Now I’m sittin’ in the state pen’, doin’ time slow/Guess she made a bad decision that got me livin’/Just like an animal, I’m caged up in state prison/My niggas dissin’ ‘cause hell hath no fury like a woman scorned/A cemetery full of motherfuckers not knowin’”
Despite being convicted of the 1993 sexual assault of Ayanna Jackson in December 1994, 2Pac maintained his innocence in a vehement manner up until his death, pleading his case via the media, as well as his music. Written during his time behind bars, this couplet finds Pac pondering why the assault victim would allegedly fabricate a story accusing him of rape after having been intimate with him. Warning of the perils of becoming entangled in a compromising position that puts your reputation and freedom in question, Makaveli gets extremely personal while attempting to find wisdom out of a negative situation.
9. “Picture Me Rolling”
“Just picture me rollin’/Flossin’ a Benz on rims that isn’t stolen/My dreams is censored, my hopes are gone/I’m like a fiend that finally sees when all the dope is gone/My nerves is wrecked, heart beatin’ and my hands are swollen/Thinkin’ of the G’s I’ll be holdin’; picture me rollin’”
Being incarcerated can cause some prisoners to trap their mind, but for Tupac, that period unlocked his imagination even further, enabling him to paint pictures of himself pushing the latest in German engineering while in the belly of the beast. The stress and anxiety that comes as a byproduct of life within the correctional system is palpable, but never overrides Pac’s visions of life beyond the pen and a legal lifestyle of luxury.
10. “All Eyez On Me”
“Catchin’ cases at a fast rate, ballin’ in the fast lane/Hustle ‘til the mornin’, never stopped until the cash came/Live my life as a thug nigga until the day I die/Live my life as a boss player, ‘cause even gettin’ high/These niggas got me tossin’ shit/I put the top down, now it’s time to floss my shit/Keep your head up, nigga, make these motherfuckers suffer/Up in the Benz, burnin’ rubber”
Having survived the madness of the penitentiary, 2Pac is now back on the streets and full entrenched in the grind that constitutes life as a bonafide rap star on this cut. Basking in his street cred and giving the finger to his opposition, Pac is captured in a triumphant mode, ready and willing to bask in the life of a boss player.
11. “California Love”
“Only in Cali where we riot, not rally, to live and die/In L.A. we wearin’ Chucks, not Ballys (yeah, that’s right)/Dressed in Locs and Khaki suits, and ride is what we do/Flossin’ but have caution: we collide with other crews/Famous because we throw grams/Worldwide, let them recognize from Long Beach to Rosecrans/Bumpin’ and grindin’ like a slow jam/It’s Westside, so you know the Row won’t bow down to no man/Say what you say, but give me that bomb beat from Dre/Let me serenade the streets of L.A/From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and back down/Cali is where they put their mack down”
Embraced by the Bay Area during his stint with Digital Underground, 2Pac’s arrival on Death Row solidified his connection with SoCal, which he celebrated by displaying his love and respect for all that the Golden state had to offer. Wearing his pride for the region without shame, he found a home to plant his flag and a team to call his own.
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