|Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ|
|Label:||TNT / Interscope / Atlantic|
|Produced By:||2Pac||Shock G|
|Randy “Stretch” Walker||Lay Law|
|Bobby “Bobcat” Ervin||Special Ed|
|DJ Daryl||& others|
From November of 1991, when his debut album 2Pacalypse Now was released, through the end of 1992, Tupac Shakur transformed from a talented, fiery young gun into a troubled, burgeoning superstar. In the space of 13 months, for the first time in his life, Tupac experienced both the gift and the curse of celebrity: starting with the success of his first album; graduating to his brilliant big-screen debut in the 1992 film Juice, and culminating in his feud with then-U.S. vice president Dan Quayle, who used the incendiary material from 2Pacalypse Now to brand 2Pac as the embodiment of all things wrong with American society. In early 1993, the 21-year-old 2Pac used this career strife as diesel fuel, and returned with his combustible sophomore album, the defiantly titled Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ.
Just like its predecessor 2Pacalypse Now, Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ is a mostly dark, turbulent album; filled with sharp commentary on street life and sociopolitical issues. The record is a 60/40 split between solo cuts and collabs with other artists; and, not surprisingly, Tupac’s solo tracks have the most firepower. “Holler If Ya Hear Me”, the album’s fist-pumping first single, opens the set, and finds the young Tupac in rare form. Over a burning dance-funk track from producer Stretch, Pac issues a war cry to the streets, hits myriad topics on his mind (mistreatment of the poor, middle-class Blacks forgetting their roots, etc.), and along the way, provides one of the most dynamic songs he would ever record. The next cut “Point The Finga” delves into Pac’s persecution at the hands of the media, and him being used as a scapegoat for everything from America’s urban decay to crimes the authorities couldn’t solve. The Bobcat-produced “Souljah’s Revenge” is a sequel to the 2Pacalypse Now track “Souljah’s Story”, where 2Pac uses the same dual-rhyme technique he employed on the original. With a Sly & The Family Stone drum loop playing behind him, Pac duets with himself, in his own voice, and then in a disembodied vocoder voice; and he proceeds to blast both Dan Quayle (for his criticism of Pac’s music), and the police for the brutality that sparked his flame. “Keep Ya Head Up” is another banner creative moment for Tupac: an earnest, affectionate tribute to women as the cradle of civilization, set to the honey-dew groove from the Zapp & Roger song “Be Alright”. “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.” - produced by NWA affiliate Lay Law - is like slow murder; with creeping drums, psychedelic guitars, and the eerie warbles of ESG’s “UFO” filling the backdrop. And Tupac uses this canvas to pick off various foes: rogue cops, leeches filing frivolous lawsuits against him, and detractors waiting for him to fail, and also to counsel those of us dealing with similar struggles. And “The Streetz R Death Row” is a prototype street soldier theme, with Pac offering some of his patented, paranoia-laced verses, over a bass-heavy drum sample from Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution”, and the melody from Barry White’s “You’re The One I Need”.
While 2Pac rocks solo for most of Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ, there are a handful of well-conceived collaborations. West Coast dons Ice Cube and Ice-T join Pac on the Bobcat-produced “Last Wordz”, where Ice Cube rhymes first, and steals the show with one of the most venomous verses of his career. Bobcat remains behind the boards for “Peep Game”, a high-octane track featuring Los Angeles unsung hero Deadly Threat. With Bobcat supplying the rumbling, adrenaline-filled instrumental and turntable scratches, Pac and Threat tag-team like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, and swagger like the skilled phenoms they both were. “I Get Around”, the album’s second single and its biggest hit, features Pac’s extended family from Digital Underground; with Money B on the mic, Shock G on the mic and the beat, and they and Pac indulging in the groupie love rap fame brought all of them, and creating what became an essential summer jam in the years that followed. The moving “Papa’z Song” features Pac’s big brother Mopreme Shakur (under the name Wycked), and finds Pac and Mopreme exploring absent parent syndrome, and the damaging effects of boys becoming men without their father’s guidance. And the bouncy closer “5 Deadly Venomz” brings some classic early 90’s-type boom bap (courtesy of Stretch), and features Tupac, Stretch’s crew Live Squad, and Flavor Unit members Treach (of Naughty by Nature) and Apache taking turns catching wreck one after another.
With Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ, listeners can hear the gradual progression of 2Pac as a consummate album-maker. As with 2Pacalypse Now, this album’s production is fairly pedestrian, with pulsating beats and soulful rhythms that isolate Pac’s rhyme templates. But the transition from track to track is much smoother than on Pac’s debut, as Pac seemed to have learned quite a bit about how to make a well-rounded album between his first and second releases.
In the months following this album’s release, Tupac would reach a higher stratum of stardom. This album, along with Pac’s starring role in the 1993 film Poetic Justice, would increase his media profile exponentially, and make him a platinum matinee idol. But, unfortunately, fame would come at a steep price. In the 2 years following this release, Pac’s life would spiral out of control; with a sexual assault trial and conviction, a Halloween 1993 shooting of two off-duty cops, a robbery and attempted murder in 1994, and numerous lawsuits and run-ins with antagonists that would rip his life apart.
Sadly, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. would mark the last time the world would hear Tupac Shakur in his original form: as a militant outlaw, filled with ruthless intelligence and righteous rage, and focused on addressing societal ills. Though later 2Pac albums would have more cohesion and better production, the subject matter would grow more disturbing with each release, as Tupac’s personal problems would envelop his music, and his troubles would ultimately lead to his death in 1996. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. is far from 2Pac’s best album, but it does offer a panoramic view of one of rap’s most enigmatic figures. Check out Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., and bare witness to a legend in the making.
Review by Syd Caesar
Listen to mp3 songs from Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ below: