All Eyez On Me
The final album released during 2Pac’s lifetime was also his most successful—two discs and more than two hours of the rapper, actor, activist, and poet at the absolute peak of his popularity. Released in February 1996, All Eyez on Me is his only Diamond-certified collection and features his only No. 1 single—the libidinous “How Do You Want It” backed with the giddy “California Love” (here in remixed form). In a recording career that lasted less than five years, hip-hop's most complex figure showed us many sides—the political firebrand of 1993’s Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., the introspective diarist of 1995’s Me Against the World, and the temperamental hothead of his Makaveli project, released shortly after his death in September of ’96. However, most of the 27 tracks on All Eyez on Me showcase 2Pac as a gangsta-rap tough guy, an Alizé-sipping lothario, a Benz-pushing big shot, and a California party-starter. In short, one of the reigning kings of ’90s G-funk on one of the genre’s most defining releases. But a harder exterior emerged after a series of personal struggles: his being shot in 1994, financial troubles, serving eight months in prison, and signing with West Coast rap powerhouse Death Row Records. Though All Eyez on Me has the sound of an upbeat party album, it also has the vicious rhymes of the most hardcore gangsta-rap release, with 2Pac setting his sights on jealous men, backstabbing friends, groupies, gold diggers, the police, and the media. The lush hooks of ’80s funk and R&B are given new thump by producers like Johnny “J,” DJ Quik, Daz Dillinger, the era-defining Dr. Dre—and Pac himself. 2Pac’s boasts range from the straightforward to the technical (“So mandatory my elevation, my lyrics like orientation/So you could be more familiar with the n***a you facin’/We must be patient, nothin’ better than communication/Known to damage and highly flammable, like gas stations”). And he’s supported by an absolutely stacked roster of West Coast hip-hop all-stars, including Death Row superstar labelmates, titans of ’90s Bay Area rap, and members of 2Pac’s own Outlawz crew. “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” a Top 40 single, features the first collaboration between 2Pac and Snoop Dogg, and they trade bars like they’d been working together for years. Though All Eyez on Me has deeply personal tearjerkers (“Life Goes On”), incredibly filthy sex raps (“What’z Ya Phone #”), and evocative storytelling (“Shorty Wanna Be a Thug”), it’s best known for anthems of defiance like “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” and “Picture Me Rollin’,” in which one of music’s greatest writers embraces the angry, funky, celebratory, larger-than-life side that made him an icon of ’90s gangsta rap.