Tupac Shakur was a mercurial artist who ripped through the pop world like a twister. Even his biggest fans didn't know from track to track which Shakur would blow toward them next: Tupac the healer, as on the poignant, Grammy-nominated "Dear Mama," or Tupac the destroyer, as in the venomous "Hit 'Em Up."
It's easy to see why some people would recoil at the imagery of the rapper's angriest songs, not appreciating that the lyrics reflected the hate that hate produced. "Thug Life," the motto tattooed on Shakur's chest and repeated in many of his songs, was more than simply a clever catch phrase. The letters are an acronym for a phrase that reflected his bitterness toward the cards that he felt young black males were dealt by white America: "The Hate U Give Lil Infants F---- Everybody."
Controversy aside, Shakur, who died of gunshot wounds in September, was revered by his peers as one of his generation's most compelling figures. So there's inevitably going to be a lot of attention on this album, which contains his final recorded words.
Too much attention, in fact, for what the album represents. The fact that he recorded it under the pseudonym Makaveli suggests that the record was designed as a side project that reflects a limited side of him.
Surprisingly, the album opens with a touch of humor--a news announcement that other rappers are rushing to change the release dates of their albums to avoid being crushed by the first-week sales of this one.
But the album soon shifts to gloomier territory--from the haunting "Hail Mary," which talks about the sweetness of revenge, to the party-minded "Toss It Up," which jabs at ex-Death Row partner Dr. Dre between boasts of sexual bravado.
But, suddenly and typically, the mood changes and we hear some social concerns. "To Live and Die in L.A.," a smooth ballad that contains samples from Prince's "Do Me, Baby," speaks of the inner city struggle for survival. In "White Man'z World," which is set in prison and dedicated to his incarcerated godparents Mutulu Shakur and Geronimo Pratt, Shakur apologizes to the black women who felt let down by misogynistic attitudes.
The most compelling track, as usual with Shakur, is the boldest one. On the surface, the X-rated "Me and My Girlfriend" seems to be a steamy sexual meditation. Instead, the girlfriend in the song turns out to be his pistol, which he describes as the "only girl that I adore," and "the reason that I stand tall."
The gun, sadly, also represents the reason that he's dead--the inability to escape the dark forces that ultimately destroyed him.
While there are moments of power and poignancy in "The Don Killuminati," it lacks the full ambition and range of Shakur's epic "All Eyez on Me" and "Me Against the World" packages. It's in those albums--and songs such as "Brenda's Got a Baby," "Lord Knows" and "Only Godd Can Judge Me"--that the legacy of this tortured, talented artist will be best found.
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