Tupac Shakur died violently, but is he resting in peace? Before his murder, the rapper left behind over 100 songs. Now Death Row — a label not known for its discretion — has cobbled together some of them for The Don Killuminati/The 7 Day Theory, credited not to 2Pac but to an alter ego, Makaveli. In this regard, Death Row has done right by him: If Shakur were alive to hear this mess, he wouldn’t want his name on it, either.
Posthumous records are old news in the music business, but The Don Killuminati truly feels like a work in progress. The songs are riddled with repeated, numbing allusions to shoot-outs and Shakur’s inevitable premature death (”Automatic gunfire makin’ all my enemies run/Who should I call when I’m shot and bleeding?”). But if Shakur had been planning an album playing off Machiavelli’s theories on power, he neither thought it through nor completed it. The songs have only fleeting references to ”Makaveli” and occasional bits of Machiavellian advice (”Keep your enemies close/Nigga, watch your homies”). The same can be said of the Christ imagery: It extends no further than song titles like ”Hail Mary” and the cover art, which depicts Shakur nailed to a cross.
Even the music feels unfinished. Dr. Dre and his posse livened up Shakur’s previous album, All Eyez on Me, but with Dre gone from Death Row, lesser-known producers were called in. The results are plodding, amateurish gangsta rap. The album is top-heavy with cameos from second-rate rappers, and the depths of absurdity are reached on ”Toss It Up,” which grafts a vitriolic Shakur rap onto a standard new-jack strut. The Don Killuminati isn’t just a mop-up operation; it’s a disgraceful exploitation that dishonors Shakur’s music and legacy.
With so much attention focused on the violent nature of Shakur’s death and the machinations of his personal Machiavelli, Death Row CEO Suge Knight, it’s important to remember that Shakur had a cultural legacy. In the world of hip-hop, success comes with a price: Acquire too much fame and wealth and your friends start wondering if you’ve lost touch with the streets. The only remedy is to act harder. Shakur embodied that quandary. Defending women’s rights or black pride, he could be introspective, even analytical. But fast cash and chart-topping albums only seemed to goad Shakur into living up to his own ”thug life” image. His identity crisis manifested itself in his music, which developed an almost psychotic split personality: liberal-minded thoughtfulness one moment, raging, misogynistic hostility the next.
Buried within the low-rent packaging and clotted grooves of The Don Killuminati are further examples of his inner conflict. During a simulated newscast that opens the record, Shakur explains that the bicoastal hip-hop feud is ”not about east or west,” yet the album ends with him trashing his New York competitors. In ”White Man’z World,” he ponders his mistakes, especially his behavior toward women; then, on ”Blasphemy,” he proudly explains a credo he learned from his father: ”M.O.B. — money offa bitches.” Put-downs have always played an important role in rap. But on this shameful cash-in, Tupac Shakur is the only one truly being dissed. D