When I was young, I would eat up everything I thought I should like and this included double albums which, in the LP days, meant a maximum approximately 90 minutes of music. (Usually 88 or less, but often much less, such as Exile on Main St.), which is not much more than an hour.) But the older I get, the less I can handle a double album – not matter how well rated – especially the CD version, which the format lets get to approximately 150 minutes (or somewhere between a triple and quadruple LP, depending on the era of vinyl technology).
As I have said many times, I don’t like hip hop. But, as I have listened to 50+ hip hop albums over the last 5 years, I’ve come to be able to tell, to at least some extent, what’s good versus what’s less good. and the first time I heard a 2Pac record, I was seriously underwhelmed. I actually had to ask a friend why it was great. And he spent time telling me about 2Pac’s upbringing, but not necessarily way 2Pac was a particularly exceptional rapper.
This thing is long. It is 25 minutes longer than George Harrison’s infamous triple LP. It is over 10 minutes longer than Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It is mercifully shorter than Sandinista! (by 12 minutes or so…). And it is over 20 minutes shorter than User Your Illusion, though at least that was released as two separate albums. (Sorry for the rock references, but that’s where I come from. I’ve never heard another hip hop double CD, as far as I know.) This makes All Eyez on Me among the longest albums I’ve ever heard (excluding box sets, of course). That’s relevant to how much I can attempt to appreciate it.
2Pac remains a very west coast performer and this thing is a slick production, like so much west coast stuff. Basically everything is a slick groove, with very few exceptions. And there are plenty of hooks, some of which are from preexisting songs I know, some of which may be I don’t know. But this kind of production always reminds me a smooth soul from the ’70s and ’80s, and I’ve always been mystified why so much gangsta rap uses it.
On the other 2Pac record I’ve heard, I didn’t understand why some people consider him such a great rapper. I don’t mean this as a criticism – he seems fine to me. But the idea that he is one of the best ever still strikes me as a little odd. He seems better than average, for sure. Good, sure. But one of the best ever? I don’t hear it. Now, I still don’t know what I’m talking about, but the rhythmic invention and clever wordplay I associate with the very best rappers I’ve ever heard are not really that present in 2Pac’s rhymes, at least to the degree that I would associate with someone with is reputation.
As others have pointed out, he really does seem to want to be seen in two different ways: as extremely tough (he’s been to jail, he’ll tell you) and a player, and as sensitive. He jumps around between these two personas, sometimes even on the same song. He doesn’t seem interested in reconciling them. I get that some people appreciate artists who revel in contradiction. I might if I liked the music more, or if the thing was shorter.
There’s way too much material here and some of it is insulting. Imagine releasing a double album that supposedly contains the biggest hit of your career and then your fans get to it and it’s a remix that isn’t actually the song they love. Yes, this was standard music industry practice in the UK in the 1960s. But I don’t know why it should be the same in the ’90s in the US.
Another example is the “song” on which 2Pac tells a woman over the phone he’s going to fuck her. Who is this for? I know it’s not for me, but do fans like this track? How is this any different than the pandering performers have done to their fans since the beginning of time? (“Maybe one day, you, yes you, could be the one for me”)
There’s plenty of other stuff that’s annoying (why do I care about “Picture Me Rollin'”?) , but those are the two that I remember most when the album finally ends.
And that’s the point: I wouldn’t love this as a single CD (traditional double album length) but I might be able to “appreciate it” to an extent and attempt to give it its due. But I can’t with something like this that just never ends, that has remarkably little musical variation, and which keeps changing in terms of how we’re supposed to perceive our hero. It was sexual assault, dude. We’re supposed to think you’re tough and sensitive?
PS Also, he laughs a lot. Both at his guest’s rhymes and, um, his own. It’s like a tic or something.