Me Against the World
~ 2Pac
Label: Out Da Gutta / Interscope / Atlantic
Release Year: 1995
Produced By: Easy Mo Bee      Johnny J
Soulshock & Karlin      Shock G
Tony Pizarro      Mike Mosley
Sam Bostic      & others

During his all-too-brief life and career, Tupac Shakur seemed to always run on overdrive: shaking Hip Hop to its core with his hair trigger temperament, garnering perpetual headlines through his personal trials, and consistently supplying the public with memorable moments and bomb music. The period between October 1993 and February 1995 was especially harrowing for Tupac, as this timeframe completely upended the firebrand: costing him his freedom, and nearly costing him his life.

Over the course of three weeks, from late October thru mid November of 1993, Tupac experienced personal and professional issues that reverberated across his career. On Halloween night in Atlanta, Pac shot two off-duty police officers, and was arrested the same night. Two weeks later, while awaiting trial for the shooting, 2Pac established Out Da Gutta Records, a street label with Pac himself and his new group Thug Life as its principal acts, and he conducted filming in New York City for a role in the then-upcoming film Above the Rim. While in the Big Apple, Pac met Ayanna Jackson, a 19-year-old fan who fellated him on the dance floor of a New York nightspot, and later accused him of sexual assault. From November of '93 through December of 1994, Tupac struggled to maintain amidst chaos: dipping in and out of courtrooms to contest his felony cases, putting the finishing touches on both a group album (Thug Life Volume 1) and his third solo set (Me Against the World), surviving a Times Square ambush in November 1994 that left him with multiple gunshot wounds, and being convicted of sexual abuse the day after his shooting. In February of 1995, the 23-year-old Tupac began serving his sentence at New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility, but not even a maximum security prison could stifle the thug immortal. In March of 1995, through his own label Out Da Gutta, 2Pac pulled off an improbable feat, and landed at #1 on the pop charts from behind bars, through the release of his third solo album, the aptly titled Me Against the World.

Being that he was so talented and so troubled, it's fitting that 2Pac's best music came from his most trying times, and Me Against the World seems to serve as both an exorcising of his demons, and a reflection of his innermost thoughts. The album’s “Intro” scratches the surface of Pac’s myriad ordeals, as voice artists give evening news-like accounts of Pac's Halloween melee in Atlanta and his Manhattan shooting, over a solemn, guitar-laden track. 2Pac then grabs the baton on "If I Die 2Nite", a bouncy rattler laced by Brooklyn producer Easy Mo Bee, where Mo Bee lays down a warbling space-funk track, while Tupac utilizes alliteration in his verses, piecing words with similar sounding syllables together in ingenious fashion.

Tupac’s heart and honesty emerge on the next several songs, starting with "Me Against The World", a sunny bass thumper that marks the debut of future Outlawz members Yaki Kadafi and E.D.I. Mean (under the name Dramacydal); who dispense resilient gospel alongside their mentor Makaveli, while Puff Johnson sings like a nightingale on the hook. The next cut, “So Many Tears”, is arguably the most chilling song Tupac ever made, with Pac exploring the depths of his paranoia and inner torment, and unsettling listeners in the process, while his longtime associate Shock G (of Digital Underground) puts a sinister tint on the groove from the Stevie Wonder hit “That Girl”. Easy Mo Bee checks in again to lace “Temptations”, a joint that focuses on Pac’s womanizing ways; where Pac appears somewhat remorseful for it, but can’t quite bring himself to change, atop a rumbling track built on samples of Zapp’s “Computer Love”, and filled out by an Erick Sermon vocal break, and harmonies from Mo Bee’s group Rappin’ is Fundamental. "Young Niggaz", dedicated to Chicago wild child Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, moves with a somber breeze, thanks to a sleek interpolation of Cameo’s “She’s Strange”; and this song addresses adolescent gangsters, growing up too fast with no guidance, and speeding towards early graves. “Heavy In The Game” is couched in the mob funk sound of one of Pac’s adopted homes (the Bay Area), and features Pac and Oakland rapper Richie Rich waxing philosophic on the hustling life, over a milky track that incorporates The SOS Band’s “Just Be Good To Me”. 2Pac appears traumatized and on the verge of breakdown on the G-Funk banger "Lord Knows": begging forgiveness for his sins, sensing danger around every bend, and seeing demons inside his head. And track number nine – “Dear Mama” – is the most heartfelt song on the album, and perhaps of Tupac’s career. With a wistful Joe Sample melody for support, 2Pac honors the most important woman in his life: his mom Afeni Shakur. Pac runs through it all: the Thanksgiving feasts Afeni made from scraps, her heart-to-heart talks with him in his darkest hours, and Afeni’s willingness to carry the family on her shoulders, with no one to help lighten the load. 2Pac's performance here is both brilliant and inspired, and illustrates why rap fans grew to care for him so deeply.

The remainder of Me Against the World exhibits the Gemini complexity that made Tupac such a fascinating figure. You can picture Pac with a blunt and brew in hand when “It Ain’t Easy” plays; taking blunt pulls and liquor swigs to numb the pain of his tumultuous life, while a smooth sundown instrumental from Tony Pizarro plays behind him. "Can U Get Away" is a love jones cut that casts Pac as a romantic warrior; befriending and falling for a girl in an abusive relationship, over a loop of Maze and Frankie Beverly's "Happy Feelin’s". “Old School” is a nod to Pac’s New York roots: growing up in Harlem, having freestyle ciphers with Brooklyn kids, and praising the emcees that shaped his young life, over a bumpy track kitted with a Grand Puba vocal break. Pac’s troubles engulf him on the funk-drenched “Fuck The World”, a volatile number where rape charges, authoritarian harassment, judicial railroading, and daily hassles out in the streets cause Pac to flip off the entire planet. "Death Around The Corner" is the first collaboration between 2Pac and Johnny J, the Los Angeles producer Pac would work with extensively in the last year of his life, and this cut has Pac using Johnny’s shadowy drum drives to peer out the window like Malcolm X, and keep his gun within reach for foes looking to do him in. And Dramacydal returns for the brooding closer "Outlaw", a bullet-riddled ode to thug living, where the Outlawz and Makaveli buck down anyone threatening their livelihoods and contentment.

Though 2Pac was trapped in prison hell when this album was released, he was simultaneously experiencing more career success than he ever had up to that point. When Me Against the World dropped in March of 1995, it immediately went to number one on the Billboard 200; beating out rock legend Bruce Springsteen for the top spot on the charts, and making 2Pac the first recording artist in history to have a chart-topping album while incarcerated. Before 1995 closed, the album had sold well over 1 million copies, and spawned a platinum-selling single in “Dear Mama”. In terms of scope and quality, Me Against the World would be lauded as 2Pac’s most complete album, and Tupac himself would count the album as his favorite within his discography. In September of 1995, while still imprisoned, Tupac would sign a handwritten contract with Death Row Records; and in October of 1995, he'd be released from prison through a $1.4 million bond posted by his label Interscope Records, Interscope's then-distributor Atlantic Records, and Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight. The rest of his career and life would be a combination of astonishment and infamy, as he’d soar to the top of the charts in 1996 with two hugely popular releases (All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: the 7 Day Theory), nurse feuds with several artists on both the East and West Coasts, and be assassinated in September of 1996, three months after turning 25. Though he’d make flashier albums after this one, Me Against the World is perhaps the best album of 2Pac’s career. It's a remarkably well-rounded disc, and the one that best captures the essence of Tupac Shakur. I guess what they say is true: the third time really is the charm.

Review by Syd Caesar

Listen to mp3 songs from Me Against the World below:

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