For Tupac Shakur, partying well is the best revenge. Out on bail pending an appeal of his sexual-abuse conviction, the hardest-working ex-con in showbiz is so hungry to flaunt his freedom that he fills out two CDs for All Eyez on Me. Serving time has neither mellowed nor reformed him. As if uttering a numbing mantra, he raps about living ”by the gun” and carousing anew with his old posse, all in a world of ”money-hungry bitches.” 2Pac is clearly amused; it’s unlikely his parole officer will be.
Shakur has often made more compelling courtroom appearances (and movies) than records, but All Eyez on Me changes that dramatically. Shakur belongs on Death Row — the rap hit-factory label, that is, which is also home to Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. With a slew of producers, including Dre and nearly a dozen disciples of his g-funk sound, the album swings nonstop for over two rambunctious hours. Crammed with Egyptian-snake-charmer keyboards, creamy choruses chanted by wet-lipped women, and police whistles used musically, the arrangements burst with sonic detail; two speakers don’t seem capable of containing it all. Not even Shakur’s swollen-tongue delivery can drag things down.
For all his braggadocio, though, the Shakur we hear is a subtly changed man. Rapping obliquely about his trial, he sings of betrayal by more than the police. ”And they say it’s the white man I should fear/But it’s my own kind doin’ all the killin’ here,” he states bluntly in ”Only God Can Judge Me.” On All Eyez on Me, 2Pac is clearly thrilled to host his own bustin’-out party. But even on this booty-shaking album, he’s watching his back throughout the entire bash. B+