I have talked about hip-hop quite a lot in this blog. However, I come to realize I have been mostly sticking to the modern interpretations of the genre and I have only scratched the very surface of the old-school roots of the movement.
I recently got a very on-point suggestion from a good friend of mine who is familiar with 80-90s quality g-funk amongst other classic takes. The suggestion was to hear an album by an undeniable key figure in hip-hop development and share my thoughts.
I never took a proper look of this particular artist’s music despite the deeply rooted respect I always had. Today I am fixing this mistake and taking a closer look at 1995’s Me Against The World – a supreme demonstration of what rhythm and poetry should be by 2Pac.
This blog post wouldn’t be possible without the contribution of my friend Dimitar. He inspired me to take a closer look at this particular album and was kind enough to take the time to assist with his own insights and interpretations for it.
I am not as well-familiar with 2Pac’s music and the old-school hip-hop as I wish I was. However, this made exploring the album in-depth a very interesting and eye-opening experience. Nevertheless, Dimitar knows much more about it and his contribution made this blog get to the next level.
Thank you for taking the time and showing motivation to be part of my first collaborative post, hope to do this again sometime soon!
For a person who is not well-familiar with 2Pac’s extremely turbulent life the experience of getting to know his story and music can be one leaving you in awe. That was the case with me, at least.
The reputation of the artist is undeniable and his contribution to the world of hip-hop becomes evident quick enough. 2Pac is an artist drawing inspiration from strictly personal experience and relevant public causes which makes his music strongly focused on storytelling.
Listening to Me Against The World I got introduced and fully transported to the world of the artist and his reoccurring thoughts revolving around the impending prison sentences, police troubles, trust issues, paranoia, honest respect, and reminisces of the past.
Dimitar: When you hear a 2Pac song for the very first time and you pay close attention to the music it might change your whole vision about Hip-Hop. Especially, if you are used to listening to some of the new stuff and you are not so well familiar where it all started for this movement.
The artist is recognized as one of the most influential and iconic figures of Hip-Hop. The most important reasons for that are his self-empowerment and his way of expressing himself in a very genuine way.
Probably the most important thing about 2Pac is that he has two sides. The first one is his soft side, where he displays how much he cares for the ones who are forgotten, weak, and underwhelmed. And the second one is his restlessness towards the unfairness and poverty happening not only in his neighbourhood but as a worldwide issue.
Another interesting thing to note is his struggle between kindness and ruthlessness. Those two extremes make him so scandalous and misunderstood by a lot of people which also led to the end of his life in such an early stage.
Listen to 2Pac’s Me Against The World
Dimitar: One of the reasons this album was such a success was probably the hard time 2Pac had to go through when he was creating it.
Me Against The World shows 2Pac’s need to express himself in some way in order to go through this difficult part of life. If you want to express something so personal and painful you need to have courage and faith no matter what the outcome might be. The album is extremely vivid and direct – emotions and messages take clear form.
Me Against The World is an album which is exceptionally personal, it uses the artist’s most intimate issues and contemplations as fuel for the high-quality hip-hop encompassed in the fifteen songs.
The record allows listeners to enter the artist’s world in such an accurate way you have the feeling you are an actual observer of the described events. Getting into the head of the rapper becomes easy thanks to the refined lyrical content and simple but well-executed beats and samples persisting throughout the record.
Another thing to note is that Me Against The World is one of the most vivid examples of the true spirit of hip-hop as a movement – it uses superior storytelling and pays homage to the rhythm and poetry nature of the music in a way which makes those songs turn into a whole spectacle playing in your head.
Another proof of how game-changing album intros actually are
I can’t really tell if the album started with the idea of becoming a conceptual piece but what is certain is that it achieves the effect of coherence and constancy in its storytelling.
Things start strong and keep getting momentum till the very end despite the constant rotation of themes and stories in the songs. The stage is set by an intro-track consisting of snippets of news reports regarding 2Pac’s legal victory on his 1994 assault charge and further details other impactful events such as the Quad Studios shooting.
Each track on the record tells a story derived from 2Pac’s turbulent experiences and current mind-obsessing issues. Songs are supported by the old-school g-funk sound, simple beats, and attractive samples to compliment the personal atmosphere.
Some of the tracks do feature different elements hinting about the upcoming fusion of traditional hip-hop with other genres that would escalate to today’s complete blur of genre significance. Me Against The World (song), for example, shows incorporation of blues elements and clean singing vocals in the chorus to elevate the track gracefully.
Going through the album thematically is a challenge. Not because it lacks something or is not clearly understandable but because of it is packed with so many stories and important statements it would be overwhelming to go through all of them.
The progression in the tracklist is, however, noteworthy. After the well-set intro track If I Die 2Night continues with a simple structure and an allusion to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
A coward dies a thousand deaths
A soldier dies but once
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
This particular song uses divine storytelling to express Pac’s paranoia and suspicions exploring different scenarios of his death born from his unfortunate experience and hard-learned lessons. Clever wordplay and high-class poetry are an indispensable part of the song just as is the case with the majority of the tracklist.
A large part of the album allows a deep look into Pac’s mind – So Many Tears, Lord Knows, Fuck The World, and Death After A Corner are all delicately self-reflective and strikingly confessional. The songs give an accurate picture of the mind of a man on the brink of madness and overpowering depression.
The media’s manipulation of reality and the overall mess the world had to fight at that time (sadly little to none has changed today) has also taken its toll on 2Pac’s mental well-being and this is clearly displayed with the well-arranged tracks.
Dimitar: One of the influences for Death Around The Corner comes from Malcolm X and deals with being paranoid and scared for his life. Throughout the song, the artist shows his strong belief in dying for something worth dying for which means he was not really scared but willingly welcoming his own fate.
It is understandable why Me Against The World is filled with so many uneasy elements and conflicting emotions. 2Pac’s life during the 90s has been anything but easy– the struggles and unfortunate experience are stamped on this particular record and gracefully united with the personal essence and charm of the artist – his hustling nature, strong opinions, and thug lifestyle.
Dimitar: During the making of It Ain’t Easy, 2Pac was in jail. This, from my perspective, makes the song a bit more special.
The flow here is very smooth which makes everything sound much more genuine. The hook represents 2Pac’s pressure and his vision of how the whole thing will go down. It is clear he is doing everything to keep it together and even get something good out of the whole situation.
The lyrics sever as a way to sum up all the good and bad experiences throughout the whole time until this very important moment of the artist’s life. The judge is now the only person who will decide his fate and there is not much 2Pac can do except give in to reflection and reminiscence.
Punk judge got a grudge, can’t post no bail
What do I do in these county blues?
A lot of dreams and hopes could be crushed and probably that is the reason the artist is trying to express his emotion through so clearly in this particular song.
Young Niggaz and Old School are two examples of songs radiating respect and concern – one taking a look at the youth rushing to the roles of gangsters and thugs and the other paying homage to hip-hop pioneers and taking a nostalgic look back at Pac’s personal entrance in the rap world.
Dimitar: Young Niggas is a message to the youth. Even today many kids don’t give themselves time to grow up and neglect their time as kids by trying not to act like ones.
2Pac sees that and he relates to that because he had the same path. Most of the kids from Pac’s neighbourhood are trying to complete drug deals and live out of that. Pac represents their lives and he is trying to make the picture clear from the side – this life is a fast life and you can easily get lost in it.
Every one of these kids is blinded by the money and possessions which get them so deep in the game they sometimes end up dead before growing up. There are many kids in those neighbourhoods that are smart and talented but because of their surroundings, they are letting go of that easily. Not many people get their shit together and actually try to get something good from a bad situation.
Everything for those kids happens fast which doesn’t give them the chance to stop and look at their life from a different angle. Being young is time to figure out who you want to be for the rest of your life and manage to lead a decent life. It’s the time when you need a mentor or inspiration to make you think about yourself and overcome the bullshit life might serve you.
Dimitar: Old School is a song about how important is to never forget how it all started. It also pays attention to being able to study the greats and mirror their style allowing yourself an opportunity to put out something as great as your idols. That means to show gratitude and actually prove you can pass it the inspiration on to the next generation which 2Pac certainly managed to do.
The album gets even more diverse with tracks like Dear Mama or Can U Get Away – the first one clearly being a tribute to the motherly figure and expressing gratitude. Can U Get Away tells another strictly personal story and lets listeners get familiar with Pac’s love for Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes whose story is also one worth looking into.
Dimitar: Can you get away is based on true facts and the whole story between Pac and the female he talks about. They had a phone call relationship mostly and they only saw each other three times but the feelings and dilemmas are as real as it gets.
In the song Pac shows how some women get into the wrong relationship – they get stuck and are not treated with decency. This makes Pac angry so he tries to swoop the women from her abusive partner. Even though he tries systematically and shows consistency the woman in question keeps being loyal to her actual partner. It’s not only the loyalty that keeps her away from Pac tho, she is also scared of her partner’s wrath.
2Pac knows that if she decides to be with him they can make each other happy. Their relationship was real and this made Pac crazy and desperate for her presence. During that time he sees other women in a very shallow way and he thinks no other can give him that satisfaction he really carves. He shows his faith towards her and secretly tells her it’s not too late and she can still get away.
At the same time, he tries to understand her position by saying that he doesn’t her to give up her whole lifestyle. Even though all the late-night conversations are a good way for him to persuade her into something that he finds really deep in his heart it’s still not enough for them to be together.
The song is one of the realest hip-hop pieces out there and the quality storytelling makes it such a big success in my eyes.
Hip-hop as a movement emerged as a means of giving voice to people, calling for unity, and telling stories that would otherwise stay unheard. Since its birth the culture has gone through a lot and evolved drastically but I believe the most important elements stay intact.
2Pac is one of the most legendary symbols of the genre and listening to his work gives you all the reasons for this. A clear leader of the movement during his time he managed to incorporate the traditional hip-hop elements with contemporary topics and themes, flow structure, electrifying samples, and humble beats achieving an effect of understanding and compassion.
The life of the artist is something extremely interesting to look into and getting to know it explains most of his discography quite well. The typical for the 90s thug lifestyle theme is also present but what strikes most about is the different approach and meaning compared to modern “gangster” rap.
2Pac’s thug tracks are not a way to boast or impress, they tell an accurate story preserving things as they happened. He is going deep into elaboration of what causes people to commit to the “gangster” lifestyle, the choices they need to make, and the consequences haunting them till the very end. It is genuine, reasonable, and natural opposed to the modern pathetic and poser attempts to sound “cool”.
Me Against The World is a work of pain, anger, and burning anguish which is well explained and clearly understandable. The well-delivered hip-hop makes you sympathetic and lets you get a piece of history which gets deeper and more complicated the more you think about what you are hearing.
It is a masterpiece of an album and I am deeply grateful to my friend for giving me the push to finally explore it. Don’t make the same mistake – be curious and dive in, it’s a worthwhile ride.
You can buy me a coffee if you like my content