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Rap - Released January 1, 1995 | Interscope

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Recorded following his near-fatal shooting in New York, and released while he was in prison, Me Against the World is the point where 2Pac really became a legendary figure. Having stared death in the face and survived, he was a changed man on record, displaying a new confessional bent and a consistent emotional depth. By and large, this isn't the sort of material that made him a gangsta icon; this is 2Pac the soul-baring artist, the foundation of the immense respect he commanded in the hip-hop community. It's his most thematically consistent, least-self-contradicting work, full of genuine reflection about how he's gotten where he is -- and dread of the consequences. Even the more combative tracks ("Me Against the World," "Fuck the World") acknowledge the high-risk life he's living, and pause to wonder how things ever went this far. He battles occasional self-loathing, is haunted by the friends he's already lost to violence, and can't escape the desperate paranoia that his own death isn't far in the future. These tracks -- most notably "So Many Tears," "Lord Knows," and "Death Around the Corner" -- are all the more powerful in hindsight with the chilling knowledge that he was right. Even romance takes on a new meaning as an escape from the hellish pressure of everyday life ("Temptations," "Can U Get Away"), and when that's not available, getting high or drunk is almost a necessity. He longs for the innocence of childhood ("Young Niggaz," "Old School"), and remembers how quickly it disappeared, yet he still pays loving, clear-eyed tribute to his drug-addicted mother on the touching "Dear Mama." Overall, Me Against the World paints a bleak, nihilistic picture, but there's such an honest, self-revealing quality to it that it can't help conveying a certain hope simply through its humanity. It's the best place to go to understand why 2Pac is so revered; it may not be his definitive album, but it just might be his best. ~ Steve Huey

Rap - Released January 1, 2004 | Interscope

Loyal to the Game, the ninth 2Pac album released by his enterprising mother-turned-executive producer, Afeni Shakur, is one of the more unique entries in the martyred rap legend's extensive catalog. Produced entirely by Eminem, it carries on with the approach the man otherwise known as Marshall Mathers took with his production contributions to the preceding year's Tupac: Resurrection. Eminem had produced a few songs on that soundtrack, most notably the landmark 2Pac-Biggie duet "Runnin' (Dying to Live)," and his work here on Loyal to the Game isn't too much of a departure from the style of that song. In the wake of the song's popularity, Afeni gave Eminem some old tapes, and he went to work, stripping them of their productions, giving them his own trademark backing (characterized by his style of punchy, syncopated, unfunky beatmaking), incorporating some guest raps for secondary verses, and polishing them off with various sorts of hooks. Eminem's efforts here work, yet aren't ideal. On the one hand, there's no questioning Em's integrity. He pens some reverent liner notes, explaining his position (or justifying it, depending on your viewpoint), and Afeni also pens some touching liners, likewise explaining why Eminem of all people gets the green light to produce this album in its entirety. And Em doesn't take his job here lightly. His beats hit hard and are well crafted, most similar to his more hardcore self-productions like "Mosh" or "Lose Yourself." His hooks are also well crafted: he takes the hook himself on "Soldier Like Me"; brings in 50 Cent and Nate Dogg for "Loyal to the Game" and "Thugs Get Lonely Too," respectively; samples Elton John ("Indian Sunset"), Curtis Mayfield ("If There's a Hell Below"), and Dido ("Do You Have a Little Time") for other songs; and lets 2Pac handle his own hooks elsewhere. On the other, more cynical hand, Eminem simply isn't a good fit, and the four bonus tracks here testify to what could have been. Produced by Scott Storch, Red Spyda, Raphael Saadiq, and DJ Quik, these bonus track "remixes" are clearly the highlights of the album (and quite fantastic highlights at that, perhaps alone reason enough to pick up this album). These guys produce beats much more fitting to 2Pac's rhyme style. Sure, Eminem is a great producer, but he produces these 2Pac tracks as if he were producing himself, and 2Pac is a much different breed of rapper than Slim Shady, especially in terms of cadence and delivery. This is all the more evident because the source tapes of these tracks date back to the early '90s, when 2Pac was at his funkiest and least hardcore. (While the dates aren't provided in the credits, the original producers are credited: Randy "Stretch" Walker, DJ Daryl, Live Squad, and Deon Evans, all of whom worked with Pac during his early years, namely the early '90s, just as he was leaving Digital Underground and getting his career off the ground. Various time-specific references within Pac's lyrics are further evidence of this, such as passing references to the L.A. riots.) How much Loyal to the Game ultimately appeals to you will likely depend on how much you like Eminem. After all, this is as much his album as 2Pac's -- a labor of love, no doubt. If you're fond of his lock-step beatmaking and big hooks, you'll find much to like here, for Pac's rhymes are undoubtedly fascinating in any context, even at this early stage of his career. But if you're not down with Marshall Mathers, you'll probably want to pass this one by, though the four bonus tracks alone might make this a worthwhile venture regardless. ~ Jason Birchmeier

Rap - Released January 1, 2007 | Interscope

The separately packaged two-part Best of 2Pac series released in 2007 absolutely pales in comparison to the double-disc Greatest Hits collection previously released in 1998. Whereas that first collection had been fairly definitive, featuring 25 songs from the late rapper's prime, including all the key hits as well as the non-album favorite "Hit 'Em Up," The Best of 2Pac features four fewer songs, and of the 21 songs spread across two packages (less than an hour of music per disc), about a quarter are posthumous productions or remixes. For every classic like "California Love," there's a latter-day remix such as the newly produced version of "Dear Mama" on the Thug release or the "previously unreleased" song "Dopefiend's Diner" on the Life release. This posthumous material may be worthy of release, but a "best-of" collection sure isn't the place for it, especially one as skimpy as this, where the two separately packaged Thug/Life CDs could easily be combined into one single-disc collection if the latter-day productions and remixes were cut. Truth be told, The Best of 2Pac is yet another in a long line of posthumous cash-ins apparently overseen by 2Pac's mother. With the well-compiled Greatest Hits double disc still on the market, there's no need for a lesser collection such as this (though a single-disc definitive best-of collection would have been welcome). The Best of 2Pac is simply more product to stock at your local big-box retailer (two separately sold products, in this case), and it's no wonder that, like many of its posthumous predecessors, it was released during the holiday shopping season. Clearly, 2Pac has become a cash cow for those who control his catalog; too bad the product being milked annually is almost without exception of poor quality and appears to be hastily or indifferently assembled. ~ Jason Birchmeier

Rap - Released January 1, 2007 | Interscope

The separately packaged two-part Best of 2Pac series released in 2007 absolutely pales in comparison to the double-disc Greatest Hits collection previously released in 1998. Whereas that first collection had been fairly definitive, featuring 25 songs from the late rapper's prime, including all the key hits as well as the non-album favorite "Hit 'Em Up," The Best of 2Pac features four fewer songs, and of the 21 songs spread across two packages (less than an hour of music per disc), about a quarter are posthumous productions or remixes. For every classic like "California Love," there's a latter-day remix such as the newly produced version of "Dear Mama" on the Thug release or the "previously unreleased" song "Dopefiend's Diner" on the Life release. This posthumous material may be worthy of release, but a "best-of" collection sure isn't the place for it, especially one as skimpy as this, where the two separately packaged Thug/Life CDs could easily be combined into one single-disc collection if the latter-day productions and remixes were cut. Truth be told, The Best of 2Pac is yet another in a long line of posthumous cash-ins apparently overseen by 2Pac's mother. With the well-compiled Greatest Hits double disc still on the market, there's no need for a lesser collection such as this (though a single-disc definitive best-of collection would have been welcome). The Best of 2Pac is simply more product to stock at your local big-box retailer (two separately sold products, in this case), and it's no wonder that, like many of its posthumous predecessors, it was released during the holiday shopping season. Clearly, 2Pac has become a cash cow for those who control his catalog; too bad the product being milked annually is almost without exception of poor quality and appears to be hastily or indifferently assembled. ~ Jason Birchmeier

Rap - Released January 1, 2001 | Interscope

The fourth album released in the wake of 2Pac's 1996 death, Until the End of Time certainly offers plenty of music, two discs' worth to be precise, yet doesn't offer too many highlights besides the chilling title track. As with many of 2Pac's posthumous recordings, the songs here seem overdone, too often dressed up with layers upon layers of production, choruses of background vocals, and a seemingly endless parade of guests. All of this over-production obscures 2Pac's performances, which somehow remain remarkable no matter how deep into the vault Afeni Shakur and Suge Knight have dug. Songs like "Letter 2 My Unborn," "When Thugz Cry," and the title track are just as heartfelt as "Keep Ya Head Up," "Dear Mama," and "I Ain't Mad at Cha" had been, but unfortunately they're marred by radio-oriented production that's too glossy for such stark, literate lyrics. The title track is somewhat of an exception, though. It's one of 2Pac's most desperate, spirited performances ever -- the voice of a man face to face with his own fate -- and it's accompanied by an anxious yet lulling interpolation of Mr. Mister's 1985 pop hit "Broken Wings" that is far more affective than you'd imagine. Note, however, that there are two versions here of the title track (the best one being the original one, which features RL on the hook), as there are also two versions of a few other songs. These nearly interchangeable remixes function as little more than filler, particularly since the production throughout Until the End of Time is rarely noteworthy. What at first seems like an epic recording, offering 19 tracks in total, consequently seems as overdone as the production. Had this album been pared down to the length of a single disc, it could be an exhilarating listen; as it stands, though, Until the End of Time is a mishmash -- too short on standouts like the title track and too loaded with dressed-up, guest-laden over-production -- that you'll find yourself fast-forwarding through far more often than you'd prefer. ~ Jason Birchmeier

Rap - Released August 14, 2007 | eOne Music

Rap - Released August 14, 2007 | eOne Music

Rap - Released August 14, 2007 | eOne Music

Rap - Released September 20, 2005 | eOne Music

Rap - Released September 20, 2005 | eOne Music

Rap - Released March 8, 2005 | eOne Music

Maybe it was his time in prison, or maybe it was simply his signing with Suge Knight's Death Row label. Whatever the case, 2Pac re-emerged hardened and hungry with All Eyez on Me, the first double-disc album of original material in hip-hop history. With all the controversy surrounding him, 2Pac seemingly wanted to throw down a monumental epic whose sheer scope would make it an achievement of itself. But more than that, it's also an unabashed embrace of the gangsta lifestyle, backing off the sober self-recognition of Me Against the World. Sure, there are a few reflective numbers and dead-homiez tributes, but they're much more romanticized this time around. All Eyez on Me is 2Pac the thug icon in all his brazen excess, throwing off all self-control and letting it all hang out -- even if some of it would have been better kept to himself. In that sense, it's an accurate depiction of what made him such a volatile and compelling personality, despite some undeniable filler. On the plus side, this is easily the best production he's ever had on record, handled mostly by Johnny J (notably on the smash "How Do U Want It") and Dat Nigga Daz; Dr. Dre also contributes another surefire single in "California Love" (which, unfortunately, is present only as a remix, not the original hit version). Both hits are on the front-loaded first disc, which would be a gangsta classic in itself; other highlights include the anthemic Snoop Dogg duet "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted," "All About U" (with the required Nate Dogg-sung hook), and "I Ain't Mad at Cha," a tribute to old friends who've gotten off the streets. Despite some good moments, the second disc is slowed by filler and countless guest appearances, plus a few too many thug-lovin' divas crooning their loyalty. Erratic though it may be, All Eyez on Me is nonetheless carried off with the assurance of a legend in his own time, and it stands as 2Pac's magnum opus. ~ Steve Huey

Rap - Released March 8, 2005 | eOne Music

Rap - Released August 6, 2004 | eOne Music

Rap - Released August 6, 2004 | eOne Music

Miscellaneous - Released January 1, 2004 | Amaru Entertainment, Inc.