Today, June 16th, in celebration of what would have been Tupac's 45th birthday, we re-wind this Shadow League piece about the 20th anniversary of his classic album, 'All Eyez on Me."
All Eyez On Me Narrative
Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1996
President Bill Clinton is campaigning for a second term in the White House. Just two days prior, Michael Jordan collected his second of three NBA All-Star Game MVP trophies as the East beat the West, 129-118. The Dallas Cowboys are still basking in the afterglow of their third Super Bowl crown in four years. Fox was the popular television network choice for African American households with the airing of programs such as “Martin,” “Living Single” and “New York Undercover.”
The national average for a gallon of gas was $1.08 and the latest tunes blasting through car stereos from Oakland to Orlando was the highly-anticipated album from Tupac Shakur – “All Eyez on Me.”
“Out on bail/Fresh out of jail/California dreaming,” was the celebratory mantra for Shakur as he hit the studio to put the finishing touches on the rhymes he penned while locked up for the first-ever double CD album in rap history.
As the media-driven “East Coast-West Coast beef” continued to boil at a feverish temperature, “All Eyez on Me” flew off the shelves at record stores, further confirming Death Row Records’ status as the preeminent label in hip-hop. The combination of Suge Knight’s disdain for Sean “Puffy” Combs, along with Pac’s rage against Puffy and his top act, The Notorious B.I.G., for what he perceived to be a set up on his life following a shooting in November 1994 at Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan, enhanced the top-billing sales of what was already a hot commodity for fans nationwide.
Propelling the charge for “All Eyez on Me” was the lead single, “California Love.” This G-funk synthesized track, which featured production and rhymes by Dr. Dre, along with Roger Troutman’s auto-tune vocals on the hook, became an instant dance-floor hit and anthem of life in the Golden State.
Over the ensuing spring and summer months of 1996, follow up singles included radio favorites “All About U,” “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” “How Do U Want It” and “I Ain’t Mad At Cha.” In addition to those songs were hard-hitting club bangers “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” “No More Pain,” “Picture Me Rollin’,” “Skandalouz,” “Check Out Time” and the album’s title track, “All Eyez on Me.”
Unlike a lot of his contemporaries during the mid-late 1990s, 2Pac refrained from Mafioso-themed rhymes based off gangster movies. Throughout the 27 songs on this double disc, he masterfully paints vivid lyrical pictures of wild parties, sexcapades, cautionary tales of his pitfalls, the pain of being shot, prophetic messages of death, the anguish of life behind bars and discontent for his enemies.
While the album also contained emotional pieces like “Life Goes On” and “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug,” they didn’t have the same cultural or commercial impact as “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama.”
“All Eyez on Me” featured an onslaught of heavyweights making guest appearances including Snoop, Method Man, Redman, Tha Dogg Pound, Nate Dogg, K-Ci & JoJo, E-40, George Clinton as well as the aforementioned Dr. Dre and Troutman.
Controversy was connected 2Pac like metal to a magnet. The release of this album grabbed major headlines and stirred up all sorts of debates. Music critics praised the CD for its raw edge and realism. Due to the bi-coastal feud, a lot of New York DJs and radio stations, most notably, Hot 97 (WQHT-FM) purposely omitted singles from their playlist. However, they eventually began to play the album’s tracks – especially following his death in September.
In addition to industry circles, “All Eyez on Me” was a centerpiece topic within political realms. Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State and civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker was mentioned in “How Do U Want It” and “Wonder Why They Call U B___” in retaliation to her campaign against artists like 2Pac for their misogynistic lyrics.
In “How Do U Want It,” Pac said: “C. Delores Tucker you's a mother___/Instead of trying to help a n____, you destroy a brother.”
He later followed up on “Wonder Why They Call U B___” saying, “Dear Mrs. Delores Tucker/Keep stressing me/F___ with a mother___ mind/I figured you wanted to know/You know, why we call them h___ b___/ And maybe this might help you understand/It ain’t personal/Strictly business, baby. Strictly business.”
Sadly, they never got the chance to discuss their issues face-to-face.
On Sept. 13, seven months to the date of the CD’s release, both Shakur and this album transcended from stardom to mythic stature after he died from gunshot wounds suffered on Sept. 7 during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.
During his brief yet illustrious career, he dropped four studio albums. He also has six posthumous recordings, including “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory,” a project completed before his death and released in November 1996.
While the entire catalog of these works are adorned by critics, peers and fans alike, “All Eyez on Me” holds a different ranking, serving as the last album to air while he was alive. The iconic double disc was certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and ranks as Shakur’s highest grossing studio album with nine million units sold. His posthumous “Greatest Hits” CD is No. 1 overall, selling 10 million copies.
Shakur’s classic final studio CD has stood the test of time, proving to be one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded. Radio stations and web music sites still keep its songs in rotation as if it was a newly released project. The album’s hard-hitting rhymes and quality production, mixed with his controversial lifestyle, keep it a fixture in the musical library and conversations of hip-hop fans nationwide. It also inspired others to draw off its content.
In the 20 years since “All Eyez on Me” and 2Pac’s eventual passing, there have been several offshoot acts attempting to emulate the flare of both the album as well as the MC. Rappers such as Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne, Master P, and Lil’ Zane, just to name a few, have tried to mimic Shakur’s voice inflections, persona of a thuggish lyrics, no holds barred fury for enemies, commentary on death, tattooed laced body parts, bandanas and overdubbed laughter as adlibs on their songs. While these stylistics have garnished them financial success, they’re a mere carbon copy of an infamous original.
In an album loaded with landmark quotable verses, perhaps the marquee lines are uttered on the title track, “All Eyez on Me.” Shakur was brutally honest as the song fades out about his present standing and the outlook on the future: “Pay attention my n____/See how that s___ go/N____ walk up in this m______ and it be like “bing!”/Cops, b____, every m______body/I got bustas, h____ and police watchin’ a n___, ya know/It’s like what they think, I’m walking around with some keys in my pocket or something/They think I’m going back to jail, they really on that dope/I know y’all watchin/I know y’all got me in the scopes/I know y’all know this is thug life baby/Y’all got me under surveillance/but I’m knowin’.”
He was indeed watched by all.