So I guess the first thing I have to talk about with this record is expectations, which is often a problem for me when I first encounter someone about which an absolute ton of ink (both literal and proverbial) has been spilt. 2Pac is one of the most lionized rappers in history as far as I can, or at least one of the most lionized of the ’90s. Now, some of that is due to his untimely death. (As happens with any famous creative person who dies young.)
But some of that is, at least ostensibly, due to his actual talent. I have heard more than a few people refer to him as a “poet”. (Though I am pretty sure nearly everyone one of those people was making that public claim after he died, but anyway…) And of course I couldn’t reconcile this with the very limited exposure I had to him, specifically “California Love”. (I’ve probably heard a few other tracks over the years but I don’t know any of the hits from this record and I couldn’t name a 2Pac song off the top of my head.) But I held out hope that, once I encountered a 2Pac album I would encounter the lionized poet.
But my first listen, you guys, well I was really, really underwhelmed. A lot of that has to do with the expectations, and a good deal of it has to do with my dislike of G-Funk and the broad subgenre of Hip Hop which relies on samples from the smoother side of the R&B spectrum. (As I have mentioned in a review of a more strictly G-Funk record: you want me to believe you’re really tough while you singer over music this smooth? Um, okay.) And some of it has to do with his flow.
Now, I am not connoisseur of flow or really any other aspect of hip hop or rap. I don’t know shit. But I am starting to get some idea of what I like more than I don’t, I guess, and 2Pac’s delivery did not immediately strike me as something exceptional. And because the delivery didn’t strike me as exceptional it’s safe to say the lyrics didn’t work as well. (Though I generally don’t agree with the “singer not the song” approach, I do grant it has some merit and apparently has a lot of merit for me when it comes to rappers.)
I’m sure I’m missing something. And I will say that my initial impression of “This is what 2Pac sounds like?!?!” has lessened/softened as I’ve listened to it again. To the extent that I have any preferences for hip hop, I don’t like this style, so I’m the wrong person for this in so many ways. And I’m willing to assume that these lyrics are better than average for Gangsta Rap (of which I’ve heard relatively little). So I think I’m just going to throw up my hands and say “I assume this is good in ways I do not understand.