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RECORD RACK

October 23, 1994|Dennis Hunt

THUG LIFE, Volume 1 ( Interscope )***

Cruising the 'hood with Tupac Shakur, who is featured this time out with a new group called Thug Life, is different than with other gangsta rappers. Though his music has been blamed as a cause in the killing of two police officers, it's no reckless celebration of violence and sexism. More than his peers, Shakur humanizes the gangbangers, burrowing beneath the swagger and cold-blooded veneer, often tapping into a well of desperation and pain. Not that he makes them likable; they're just fully rounded characters, rather than merely cardboard killers.

The only problem with the album is there's not enough Shakur. The rest of this new group--which is named after words tattooed on his stomach and includes his older brother MoPreme--isn't in his class of rappers, contributing to a distinctly uneven quality over a few cuts. Also, some of the beats don't really illuminate or complement the lyrics, and some songs are weighed down by too much lyrical repetition.

This album isn't as strong as his two solo efforts, but when it works--as on "Pour Out a Little Liquor," "How Long Will They Mourn Me" and "Under Pressure"--it's superb.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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