All Eyez on Me was our bible. That’s usually an overwrought cliché, but in this instance, it’s the only appropriate analogy. If you were a West Coast teenager in the 1990s, you illegally procured Thug Passion, memorized 2Pac’s blueprint to moneymaking and knew how to properly explain the differences between the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of E.D.I. Mean.
More people knew “Wonder Why They Call You B” than the story of Jezebel. Do you know the California state anthem? The true answer is “I Love You, California.” The right answer is “California Love.”
Released 20 years ago this month, 2Pac’s fourth album fused fresh rap gospel with wrathful Old Testament vengeance and a wardrobe full of Fila and leather overalls.
You can still play “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” at a party in L.A. and even Kanye would want to come (maybe). After all, the greatest compliment he ever gave himself was calling himself “the new Pac.” When the drums kick in and Michael Buffer booms, “Let’s get ready to rumble,” it incites riots in real time. If it isn’t the hardest record ever made, it’s close — so cold-blooded it could make a priest turn Piru.
It was the only album Tupac Shakur put out between his release from prison in 1995 and his death. Bailed out thanks to a Faustian bargain with Suge Knight, 2Pac attacked the old Can-Am Studios as soon as he touched down.
You hear the ferocity and adrenaline, the urgency to unload every bit of venom he had bottled up while being tortured in New York correctional facilities. It’s the perfect distillation of his Bay Area roots and L.A. transplant heart.
All Eyez on Me is the best revenge album ever made, a fuck-you to the East Coast, the corrupt and racist criminal justice system, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and C. Delores Tucker. Nothing else better soldered Oakland mob music and San Francisco pimp rap to L.A. G-funk. If Northern and Southern California have historically been rivals, 2Pac forged the cease-fire — four fingers up, two twisted in the middle.
The album credits read like a West Coast hip-hop and funk hall of fame: Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik, Daz, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Dr. Dre, E-40, Rappin’ 4-Tay, Rick Rock, Redman, C-Bo, B-Legit, K-Ci & JoJo, Roger Troutman and George Clinton. This was the platonic ideal of a ’90s rap double album, a trend started by Pac and sustained by Wu-Tang, Bone Thugs and The Notorious B.I.G.
If The Beatles’ White Album shattered ground by containing an entire genre in every song, All Eyez on Me innovated by doing something similar with the full range of human emotion. There are few circumstances in life when a line or an entire song from All Eyez on Me can’t capture the feeling. Its 132-minute run time is a Whitman-like sprawl encompassing the Seven Deadly Sins and that innate desire for atonement.
2Pac acted out of fear and fearlessness. He could be sensitive yet callous, write sentimental requiems for fallen friends and act mercilessly toward his enemies. He was desperate for the trappings of success but never forgot his Section 8 upbringing.
It’s almost unthinkable that he had lived so many lives and processed so much pain by the age of 24. Though he died at an age before Jay Z or Kanye had released their first albums, Pac left behind a timeless body of work.
With this quintuple platinum record reaching its platinum anniversary, you know what to do. Play it loud and ride around, light one up or pour out a little liquor for the late Makaveli. The same thing this coast has been doing for the last two decades.
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.