Death has always generated serious revenue for the music industry. Die a young and violent – or drug-related – death, as an artist, and you can be guaranteed posthumous tributes and a garland of sales that were perhaps unachievable in real life.
Tupac Amaru Shakur, however, blows holes in many a theory concerning a currency of death that’s even stronger than any other form of monetary exchange. He foresaw his own death, on record at least, as early as ’94’s ‘If I Die Tonight’ (off ‘Me Against The World’), and alluded to his demise even earlier. And, for such a prolific artist, he drove himself even further to leave as many examples of his distinct worldview as possible in the archives.
‘Until The End Of Time’ announces itself as another double album of previously unreleased tunes, the fourth, after a life cut short by that fateful Las Vegas shooting in September 1996. And it’s in some ways a mixed bag, not being as subject to heavy quality control as recordings released in his lifetime, but remains instructive even after all that. Mostly committed to tape, as it would seem, around the time of an escalation in the feud with Notorious B.I.G., several songs here are companion pieces to the controversial ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ and the posthumous ‘Makaveli’ album.
And yet again, to reduce 2Pac’s career to a series of confrontations would be disingenuous. The scion of a Black Panther and a man of many contradictions, his main thrust was still to shed light on lives lived in America’s many concrete projects by African Americans systematically blighted by various psychoses, drugs, rivalries and the heavy psychological legacy of past history. 2Pac tells of how they cope, how he copes, how he reacts, how they react, what he advocates and the lengths everyone is driven to, to not only survive, but claw back some sustenance from an American Dream revealed to be an American Illusion.
Check ‘Everything They Owe’, an indirect call for reparations; the pessimistic but realist title track; and even ‘When I Get Free’ (which dates from his jail sentence) and one picture forms. Browse through ‘Let ‘Em Have It’, ‘Niggaz Nature’ and the lascivious ‘Thug N U, Thug N Me’ and a more sexual element is conjured up. Listen closely to the self explanatory ‘Letter 2 My Unborn’, ‘Words 2 My First Born’ and the celebratory ‘Lil’ Homies’ and his concern for the ghetto youth, especially those from broken homes, is evident.
So, even the fact that these 29 tracks, including 3 remixes, have sometimes been re-produced, re-jigged and finely honed production-wise doesn’t diminish the original effort involved. And despite the sometimes repetitive formula of the rap-flow, there’s still a large jigsaw (of a life) to be unravelled here. Plus, unbelievably, Death Row Records threaten even more posthumous releases.
Maybe, just maybe, Tupac Amaru Shakur will finally rest in peace when the cupboard is threadbare.