Love, loathe or misunderstand him, Tupac Shakur‘s remarkable legacy is hard to ignore. Thanks to this, and the numerous other posthumous [a]2Pac[/a] albums, poetry books, jewellery and clothing released in time for the holiday season, his status as an icon in US culture is fast approaching Elvis proportions.
But along with Notorious BIG, who released a new, beyond-the-grave LP recently, Tupac‘s legend is beginning to take over from the reality. Because while he was a hugely talented ‘performer’, his raps often sailed too close to self-parody and his albums never fully utilised his star quality.
Recorded in 1996, shortly after [a]2Pac[/a] was released from a spell in prison for sexual assault charges and just before his September slaying, this album also features the talents of Outlawz, who were [a]2Pac[/a]’s ‘posse’. Tragically, one member of the gang was murdered shortly after [a]2Pac[/a].
‘Still I Rise’ is familiar [a]2Pac[/a] territory, one minute he’s riding shotgun around LA looking for trouble and the next he’s pleading with ghetto youth to stop the violence and look after their mothers. He’s a walking contradiction. The gun-toting thug with a heart of gold, the megastar, jewel-encrusted, movie-star rapper who died with hardly a penny to his name.
On the ferocious ‘Secretz Of War’ [a]2Pac[/a] and Outlawz are, “Like Idi Amin/On a mission to make ’em bleed”, then on the inspirational ‘Baby Don’t Cry (Keep Ya Head Up II)’ he’s rapping on peace, harmony and empowering women. If that’s not weird enough, two eerily prophetic tracks, ‘The Good Die Young’ and ‘Teardrops And Closed Caskets’, are dedicated to victims of the Columbine High School massacre – as if they needed to give this record more of deathly mood.
But whatever [a]2Pac[/a] was rapping about, the trademark slinky, hook-laden, good-time party feel to his music always prevailed. If you love [a]2Pac[/a], you’ll love this album. For those who thought he peaked with ‘California Love’, then ‘Still I Rise’ is a worthy – if sometimes pedestrian – document of his music when he was living on borrowed time.
Throughout his career, the man always outshone the music. This release is no exception.