Tupac's album "Me Against The World" turns 20 today
On March 14th, 1995, Tupac Shakur released some of his finest work in the form of Me Against The World. The album, which is considered by many as his magnum opus, is comprised of 15 tracks on which Shakur wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s always had a way of conveying his emotions in their rawest form, a rarity in a rap scene that is littered with superficial tall tales.
Me Against The World was written during a rough time in Tupac’s life. He was about to go to jail, having tons of trouble with the police, and apparently broke as well. He had his fair share of conspiracy theories regarding his legal troubles, saying, “I never had a [police] record until I made a [rap] record," insinuating that the police plainly couldn’t stand to see his success.
And of course, 2Pac would go on to die a year and a half later, and you can’t help but to notice that he sort of saw it coming. This album is covered in references to his death. It seems he contemplates his mortality every other song.
As the record kicks off with the aptly titled “If I Die 2Night,” the second line of the album is, “Plotting on murderin' motherfuckers 'fore they get you.” It’s extraordinarily eerie in hindsight, and lines like that have become circumstantial evidence to those who believe 2Pac is puffin’ loud out in Cuba.
“So Many Tears” sees Shakur speaking of suicide. “Now I'm lost and I'm weary, so many tears / I'm suicidal so don't stand near me / My every move is a calculated step, to bring me closer / To embrace an early death, now there's nothing left.” Tupac was clearly in a really rough place in the years leading up to his death, but that pain led to incredible art. This album is 2Pac at his rawest, emotionally. He isn’t on his gangster shit, he’s grown.
On “Young Niggaz” he speaks to the younger generation, urging them to bypass the street life in hopes to live a straight and happy existence. He spits positivity, backed by harsh reality, to skew his young listeners in a way that would make his mother, Afeni Shakur, happy.
“Now that I'm grown, I got my mind on bein' somethin'
Don't wanna be another statistic, out here doin' nuthin'
Tryin' to maintain in this dirty game, keep it real
And I will even if it kills me, my young niggas
Break away from these dumb niggas
Put down the guns and have some fun nigga, the rest'll come nigga
Fame is a fast thang, that gangbangin'
Puttin' niggas in a casket, murdered for hangin'
At the wrong place at the wrong time, no longer livin'
Cause he threw up the wrong sign, and every day
I watch the murder rate increases, and even worse
The epidemic and diseases, what is the future?
The projects lookin' hopeless, where
More and more brothers givin' up and don't care
Sometimes I hate when brothers act up, I hit the weed
And I proceed to blow the track up, for young niggas”
“Heavy in the Game” provides some historical context on the production side of things. The G-funk beat is as stanky as anything George Clinton influenced Dr. Dre to make, and the supporting cast of relatively unknown vocalists make this deep cut seem fresh in 2015.
“Lord Knows” sees our subject dive deeper in to the subjects of suicide, police paranoia, and drug dependency. It isn’t his most positive moment, but it’s a really heartfelt song. You can feel Pac’s pain in these bars…
Fuck the 5-0 cause they after me
Kill me if they could, I'll never let 'em capture me
Done lost too many niggas to this gangbangin'
Homies died in my arms, with his brains hangin', fucked up!
I had to tell him it was alright, and that's a lie
And he knew it when he shook and died, my God
Even though I know I'm wrong man
Hennessy make a nigga think he strong, man
I can't sleep, so I stay up, don't wanna fuck them bitches
Try to calm me down, I ain't givin' up
I'm gettin' lost in the weed, man, gettin' high
Livin' every day, like I'm gon' die
I smoke a blunt to take the pain out
And if I wasn't high, I'd probably try to blow my brains out
His ability to express his emotions was second to none in the ‘90s. There simply wasn’t another rapper who did it like him. He’s known as a poet, for crying out loud, and his words evoke imagery as potent as Charles Bukowski's or Edgar Allen Poe’s.
Of course, “Dear Mama” is one of Tupac’s most accessible cuts. I don’t know if you could play the whole album at a familial affair, but “Dear Mama” is definitely one that’s PG-13 enough for everyone to hear. Tupac makes it clear in this rare love song that he appreciates his mother, and it’s been an instant classic ever since.
“Now ain't nobody tell us it was fair
No love from my daddy cause the coward wasn't there
He passed away and I didn't cry, cause my anger
Wouldn't let me feel for a stranger
They say I'm wrong and I'm heartless, but all along
I was looking for a father he was gone
I hung around with the thugs, and even though they sold drugs
They showed a young brother love
I moved out and started really hangin'
I needed money of my own so I started slangin'
I ain't guilty cause even though I sell rocks
It feels good putting money in your mailbox
I love paying rent when the rent's due
I hope you got the diamond necklace that I sent to you”
There are a lot of rap songs about justifying the hustle, whether that’s pimping or drug dealing or even killing. In “Dear Mama,” Tupac justifies his drug dealing by saying it feels good to take care of his mother. You can’t help but to side with the villain on this one.
“It Ain’t Easy,” “Can U Get Away,” and “Old School” continue the relatively mellow section of the album that “Dear Mama” began. Then Tupac goes out with guns blazin’ on the last few cuts.
“Fuck The World” says it all in the title, and “Death Around The Corner” does too in hindsight. “I see death around the corner, the pressure's gettin to me / I no longer trust my homies - them phonies tried to do me / Smoking too much weed, got me paranoid, stressed / Pack a gat and my vest, under my clothes when I dress,” says a lot about Tupac’s final years on the planet.
Overall, Me Against The World is one of the greats. It falls in to line with Straight Outta Compton, The Chronic, Doggystyle, The Predator and Tupac’s own All Eyez On Me in terms of the greatest West Coast rap albums of all time. This one is special for Tupac because he was able to tap into his emotions better than ever. It’s a shame that this came at the hand of paranoia, drug dependency, imprisonment, and by the sounds of it, terms of mortality. Bump this one for Tupac Shakur today, and appreciate one of the greatest works of the art form we call hip hop music.