The 2Pac Albums Ranked

The 2Pac Albums Ranked

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Look, I?ll be honest right off the bat: it was a slog getting through the 2Pac discography (2Pac being the stage name of course, but I?ll be using ?Tupac? to name Shakur from now on). The man put out so many lengthy and/or double albums, which at some point just constitutes a lot of filler. Well, I guess it can?t really be blamed on Tupac himself. After being killed at the age of 25, Tupac?s mother Afeni Shakur kept the money rolling with seven posthumous ?studio albums? of relatively original and/or unreleased content. That?s not counting the numerous greatest hits and remix compilations and records like THE ROSE THAT GREW FROM CONCRETE (2000) and THE ROSE, VOL. 2 (2005), on which other artists speak, interpret, and perform Tupac?s poetry. Tupac put out only four albums during his lifetime under his own name, not including the first and only release from Thug Life, the group he co-founded, THUG LIFE VOL. 1 (1994 [it?s fine]).

So with this piece, I?ll be ranking the 11 ?canon? Tupac albums, even if the vast majority of them were not made with his direct involvement. I will say I won?t be including BEGINNINGS: THE LOST TAPES 1988?1991 (2007), although that?s a worthwhile curio to see the earliest expression of Tupac Shakur, which morphed into something quite different by the time of his second or third album. That transformation yielded the foremost West Coast icon of the Golden Age of Hip Hop, which while it?s mentioned, I do prefer the East Coast flavor of the era (and by extension, Tupac?s foremost rival, The Notorious B.I.G.). However, I guess some mention can be made that Tupac was more present across ?his? seven posthumous albums than Biggie was on ?his? three?although that can?t be attributed to either one of them. In any event, let?s get into it.

#11 ? PAC?S LIFE (2006)

Favorite track: ?Pac?s Life (Remix)?

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The final Tupac album, released to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, fittingly represents the nadir of the necromancy that revived him time and time again. I?m not a precious ?honor the dead? person, but once you?re exhuming an artist?s work to propagate a ?brand? rather than share one or two final historical works directly created by said artist, you?re not really honoring the person anyway. Tupac was a prolific artist, however, and so his posthumous records aren?t as glaringly lean as they could have been. In fact, they?re often too beefy. PAC?S LIFE is ?only? a single album, although it still runs 55 minutes over 13 tracks, and its length is felt. Tupac?s delivery doesn?t really match the commercial hip hop sound of 2006, and the record is his most repetitive, with a few tracks rehashed or remixed to pad out the run time and track list. Nevertheless, the remix of the title track is the most successful song on PAC?S LIFE; Snoop Dogg?s verse may be the distinguishing factor against the original cut, although both have a catchy chorus from Ashanti.

#10 ? LOYAL TO THE GAME (2004)

Favorite track: ?Don?t You Trust Me?

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LOYAL TO THE GAME was notably produced by Eminem, who pitch shifted Tupac?s voice and cut and pasted audio to produce different words and phrases Tupac never said, like ?G-Unit.? The Coachella hologram was not the first bastardization. Even still, it is a better record than PAC?S LIFE with marginally stronger beats, although the features are weaker. Dido is kind of a bizarre addition to ?Don?t You Trust Me,? but her vocals carry the chorus. Tupac?s verses are subsumed by Eminem?s (and like six others?) production, muddied once again by mid-2000s aesthetics that were never really meant to match the stuff left on the cutting room floor from 1991 through ?94.

#9 ? BETTER DAYZ (2002)

Favorite track: ?Fuck Em All?

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BETTER DAYZ runs for a staggering 112 minutes across 27 tracks. And that?s simply not necessary. Once again, two or three songs are duplicated to make the record feel more epic, as a return from death. And although I mentioned Tupac was more present on his posthumous albums than, say, Biggie, BETTER DAYZ is still littered with a number of features that nearly puts Tupac in the backseat of what is ostensibly meant to be his own record. But the album is not quite as sleek or shallow as the two that followed it, and the anger behind ?Fuck Em All? is a better call-back than other songs on the record like, for example, an acoustic song featuring Nas (as much as I do like Nas).

#8 ? STILL I RISE (1999)

Favorite track: ?Letter to the President?

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Released under the ?2Pac + Outlawz? name, STILL I RISE is the extent of his full-album output with another group he co-founded, the Outlawz, who featured on numerous albums but put out their own ?debut? the next year with RIDE WIT US OR COLLIDE WIT US. STILL I RISE, on the other hand, is another marginal entry in the Tupac discography. However, its opening track ?Letter to the President? is as strong a political song as the rapper ever produced, going back to the fiery radicalism of 2PACALYPSE NOW. The rest of the album is of middling quality, with ?Homeboyz? serving some rousing fun and ?Baby Don?t Cry (Keep Ya Head Up II)? serving another Tupac ballad, the latter a style of song I never felt he ever did really successfully.

#7 ? UNTIL THE END OF TIME (2001)

Favorite track: ?Niggaz Nature?

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UNTIL THE END OF TIME is 2 hours and 4 minutes long. I?m sorry I keep harping on the length of Tupac?s albums, but they simply aren?t supported throughout their massive run time with consistent quality. That?s all the more apparent on the posthumous albums, but while UNTIL THE END OF TIME is also rife with ?filler? tracks that dilute the potency of Tupac?s flow, it stands as one of his most self-aware records. Ironically, that was achieved after he was dead, and as filtered by others, but UNTIL THE END OF TIME is of a kind with ME AGAINST THE WORLD and R U STILL DOWN? (REMEMBER ME). Biggie was right out the gate, and with his two main albums, better at presenting an insecurity about his inevitable fate with anger, humor, and soulfulness than Tupac, but UNTIL THE END OF TIME isn?t a terrible effort at doing the same. ?Niggaz Nature? is one of the aggressive songs on the album, and my favorite, but the mournful tracks, like ?Letter 2 My Unborn? and ?Until the End of Time,? are not among Tupac?s worst attempts at soul.

#6 ? THE DON KILLUMINATI: THE 7 DAY THEORY (1996)

Favorite track: ?Krazy?

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Technically, THE DON KILLUMINATI: THE 7 DAY THEORY is Tupac?s first posthumous album. Released under his other alias Makaveli just two months after his death, THE DON KILLUMINATI was in the works from Tupac, but was pushed to release with ?finishing touches? from Death Row Records. As the bookend to ALL EYEZ ON ME, alongside ME AGAINST THE WORLD, THE DON KILLUMINATI took on a darker tone. But where ME AGAINST THE WORLD was more sensitive or reflective, THE DON KILLUMINATI was angrier and took specific aim at the East Coast rivalry. The result is a chaotic and messy record, which at times empowers the record, but mostly drops it to, well, #6 on this list, almost squarely in the middle of the Tupac discography. The beats never congeal too tightly with Tupac?s delivery, perhaps a foreshadowing of the posthumous albums to come, but his out-and-out attacks are still compelling in a way. ?Krazy? is not one of those attacks, and reflects the duality of Tupac?s persona; even when he tried to commit to one direction, he never could drop the sensitive or aggressive side.

#5 ? R U STILL DOWN? (REMEMBER ME) [1997]

Favorite track: ?Nothing to Lose?

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I?m not super comfy with how much I like R U STILL DOWN? (REMEMBER ME). It was clearly rushed into production to capitalize on Tupac?s death, but perhaps due to its proximity to his period of actual artistic influence, R U STILL DOWN? is the strongest posthumous album and probably the only one really worth listening to. It?s a long double album, at 102 minutes long, and like most double albums from any artist, especially Tupac, there are tracks that I really just would not bother to listen to. Nevertheless, the too-large crew of producers churned out a sellable gangsta rap record with the best pairing of beats with Tupac?s vocals after he died. It?s out-and-out aggression, beside the title track and ?I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto,? and it?s surprisingly successful. ?Nothing to Lose? is entertainingly self-destructive, a focal point by which to mention that even if it was not entirely intentional, the ?2Pac? persona typified violent nihilism to the point of representing an entire aesthetic movement. Tupac, and to a lesser extent Biggie and their peers, have been accused of being corny in recent years. That?s certainly true, somewhat, but I do think the context of hip hop?s success in the ?90s is lost, including, fully, on me. R U STILL DOWN, as a full remediation of Tupac?s career so soon after it truly ended, opened up these thoughts and improved its sound as a result.

#4 ? ME AGAINST THE WORLD (1995)

Favorite track: ?Old School?

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Regarded as Tupac?s ?dark? album (I?m not totally convinced it wasn?t influenced by Biggie?s fully formed character on his debut READY TO DIE [1994]), ME AGAINST THE WORLD is the weakest of the albums released during Tupac?s lifetime. Clearly, though, it stands as a highlight of his total discography. ME AGAINST THE WORLD is lengthy, though not a double album, but it?s notable for containing 14 solid tracks (I?m eschewing ?Intro,? of course). ?Dear Mama,? one of Tupac?s most famous songs, is probably his best R&B ballad track, but sleeper ?Old School? is just a fun exploration of Tupac?s outlook on hip hop itself. It?s a positive spin on the subject of hip hop within hip hop, and a great song in and of itself. ME AGAINST THE WORLD is really one of Tupac?s tightest records, an artistic statement that, while its highs don?t reach the highs of the next three albums, is more cohesive.

#3 ? STRICTLY 4 MY N.I.G.G.A.Z? (1993)

Favorite track: ?Keep Ya Head Up?

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STRICTLY 4 MY N.I.G.G.A.Z? was Tupac?s second album, and in hindsight, it does feel like a half measure between the rawness and political mindset of his debut and the sleeker production style of ME AGAINST THE WORLD. STRICTLY carries the socially conscious spirit of 2PACALYPSE NOW (Tupac?s first) but is weakened somewhat by an ever-growing gangster grandstanding. The grandstanding had not yet taken on its relatively cumulative fatalistic tone and felt shallower. STRICTLY, too, represented Tupac?s perhaps conscious revamp of his vocal style, reaching a deeper range and ending up in almost full-blown caricature by ALL EYEZ ON ME.

#2 ? 2PACALYPSE NOW (1991)

Favorite track: ?Words of Wisdom?

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2PACALYPSE NOW is the best reflection of Tupac?s upbringing as the son of two Black Panthers. His debut is rawer in every sense; the production is more skeletal, his voice more reedy and high-pitched, his lyrics more emotionally and socially honest. A record like ALL EYEZ ON ME, perhaps, and the posthumous albums that created a second layer of caricature, definitely, belied the intellectual awareness that Tupac had. 2PACALYPSE NOW isn?t making claims or arguments you haven?t heard before, but the record is so earnest and relatively simple that it?s refreshing, listenable, and lean unlike any other Tupac record, even at just shy of an hour long.

#1 ? ALL EYEZ ON ME (1996)

Favorite track: ?Thug Passion?

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ALL EYEZ ON ME was the fourth and final album released by Tupac during his lifetime, and I have to admit that it is the definitive album by the iconic rapper. The collaborations are on point, the production is tight but natural, and Tupac delivered his most effective strongman performance. It?s a whopping 132 minutes long, with 27 tracks, so it can?t match the cohesion of his three previous releases. There are, technically, more ?blah? tracks on ALL EYEZ ON ME. Even still, while not legitimately cohesive, the entire product of the record leaves you feeling totally affected, ranging the entire display of influences, tones, and subject matter that Tupac addressed on each of his three other albums. ?California Love? is probably Tupac?s biggest hit, and while I think it?s overrated, it?s undeniably a fun track. ?Thug Passion? is such a goofy song, perhaps Tupac?s funniest (even in the face of being outclassed in that department by Biggie). But they are just facets of this ultimately complicated record, the pinnacle of the complicated life and career of Tupac Shakur. His work was a web of contradictions and insightful irony. Whether that was intentional or not, I can?t say. But the emergence of Tupac as a superstar, and his sudden death, can?t be discounted as cultural milestones, and ALL EYEZ ON ME makes that impression.

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