After stepping onto the hip-hop scene as a back-up dancer for Oakland-based rap group Digital Underground, a 20-year-old Tupac Amaru Shakur (known by his stage name as 2Pac) would debut his first solo album, 2Pacalypse Now, in 1991. Arguably his most political—and controversial—musical feat throughout his all-too-brief career, the album cemented 2Pac’s legacy as a revolutionary and a brilliant lyricist who was far ahead of his time in his commentary of the trials and tribulations of the Black experience in America.
Released on November 12, 1991, 2Pacalypse Now was a riff on Francis Ford Coppola’s award-winning war epic starring Marlon Brando, which premiered 12 years prior. In an an early interview about the album, 2Pac explains the concept as the young, Black male.
“Everybody’s been talkin’ about it but now it’s not important,” he says. “It’s like we just skipped over it.. It’s no longer a fad to be down for the young Black male. Everybody wants to go past. Like the gangster stuff, it just got exploited. This was just like back in the days with the movies. Everybody did their little gun shots and their hand grenades and blew up stuff and moved on. Now everybody’s doing rap songs with the singing in it.. I’m still down for the young Black male. I’m gonna stay until things get better. So it’s all about addressing the problems that we face in everyday society.” He describes such problems as “police brutality, poverty, unemployment, insufficient education, disunity, violence, black-on-black crime, teenage pregnancy, and crack addiction.”
Over the course of 13 tracks, which include the three singles “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” “Trapped,” and “If My Homie Calls,” 2Pac captures the plight of the of the Black individual in an era marked by Reaganomics and the ’80s crack epidemic, highlighting the oppression, anger, and reality of a world that, unfortunately, doesn’t feel all that much different now in 2020. Albumism’s Justin Chadwick describes it as “a sobering yet vivid portrait of the Black experience in America and a seething diatribe against the persistent plague of racial inequality and injustice.”
The album’s opener, “Young Black Male,” centers on urban youth.”Trapped” sees 2Pac comparing inner cities to inescapable prisons. You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion/Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion/Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught/Shot up or shot down with the bullet that he bought, he raps. “When My Homie Calls,” an homage to kinship among Black males, features lyrics like, If you need my assistance, there’ll be no resistance/I’ll be there in an instant/Who am I to judge another brother, only on his cover/I’d be no different than the other.
Naturally, such themes weren’t without controversy, the most clear example stemming from “Soulja’s Story,” which tells the take of a young Black man who shoots a police officer in retaliation of his marginalized place in society. In April of 1992, Ronald Howard fatally shot a state trooper in Texas after he was pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle. Howard’s attorney cited 2Pac’s “Soulja’s Story” as his influence to shoot. Howard was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
Later that September, then-Vice-President Dan Quayle asked Interscope Records to pull the album off of retail shelves, describing it as an “irresponsible corporate act” and adding that “there is absolutely no reason for a record like this to be published. It has no place in our society.” Interscope never pulled it, and while the album was his least commercially successful, it became certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
“Brenda’s Got a Baby” is another particularly powerful track, this time telling the true story of 12-year-old girl who tries to dispose of her baby after she becomes impregnated by a family member. She later becomes a prostitute and then a murder victim. “When this song came out, no male rappers at all anywhere were talking about problems that females were having, number one,” 2Pac said in an interview. “Number two, it talked about child molestation. It talked about families taking advantages of families. It talked about the effects of poverty. It talked about how one person’s problems can affect a whole community of people. It talked about how the innocent are the ones that get hurt. It talked about drugs, the abuse of drugs, broken families how she couldn’t leave the baby, you know, the bond that a mother has with her baby. And how women need to be able to make a choice.”
Though 2Pac’s career and life would be cut short due to a tragic death five years later after the release of 2Pacalypse, the album still resonates today as a potent articulation of rage. At a time when the entire world is taking a collective stance against police brutality and Black oppression, his words feel more relevant than ever.
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createdAt:Tue, 16 Jun 2020 14:02:39 +0000