How '2Pacalypse Now' Marked The Birth Of A Rap Revolutionary

It was nothing like we'd seen before, and as we know now, have yet to see again.

Hip-hop has come a long way and evolved from its humble beginnings in South Bronx, NY into a billion-dollar business, but the culture's essence will be forever linked to civil rights and activism. And few artists have embodied revolutionary warfare quite like the late Tupac Amaru Shakur, whose 1991 debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, would jumpstart the career of one of the most influential artists of all-time.

Rap's initial recordings' sole purpose may have been rocking the party, but as the genre began to take shape and form its identity as the voice of young minorities across America, its tone became more rigid while its content was more attuned to the plight of the inner-city. The late '80s, which was marked by the crack epidemic and the effects of Reaganomics, spawned pioneering politically-minded acts like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and Queen Latifah, all of whom would usher in a sense of black nationalism and Afrocentricity among artists and fans alike.

The east coast may have been fighting the power, but on the west coast, the tide was turning more towards tales of nihilism than liberation. While Ice Cube established himself as the most politically conscious rapper on the west side of things - with the classics AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and Death Certificate - acts like N.W.A., Compton's Most Wanted, and others were dominating the charts with more violent and abrasive content, which was deemed misogynistic and criminal in nature. But Tupac's 2Pacalypse Now's arrival would help even the score and provide a middle ground for fans, who identified with the mentality and lifestyle of a thug but were cognizant of the discrimination and oppression plaguing urban America. The album's ultimate success would help Interscope Records legitimize itself as a major player in the rap game, and go down as a landmark debut album in the genre's history. However, prior to its release, 2Pacalypse Now, and 2Pac the artist were anything but a sure bet.

Migrating from Baltimore to the west coast in 1988, 2Pac and his family would settle in Marin City, an impoverished suburb where he would begin to seriously pursue a rap career. After a chance meeting with Marin City resident Leila Steinberg, who became the rapper's first manager, the two would shop for a deal, but no takers were willing to bite on an offer to sign on the raw talent. Eventually finding a believer in Atron Gregory, manager of popular rap group Digital Underground, 2Pac would pay dues as a roadie and backup-dancer before getting his big opportunity to shine on a Digital Underground track titled "Same Song." The song, recorded as a contribution to the soundtrack for the 1991 film, Nothing But Trouble, would be picked as the lead-off track on Digital Underground's This Is an EP Release, with Pac's performance helping him secure a solo record deal with Interscope Records.

Tom Whalley, president of Interscope at the time, remembers Pac wasting little time creating the album that would shape up to be his debut. "Right away you could tell that this guy was different from the rest of the world,” Tom Whalley said in a 1997 interview with Vanity Fair. “I couldn’t slow him down. I never worked with anyone who could write so many great songs so quickly.” Steinberg also remembers Pac's work ethic fondly.

Released on November 12, 1991, 2Pacalypse Now was devoid of any undeniable hit singles and performed modestly out of the gate. Eventually, it won critics and listeners over with its pointed commentary and Pac's tangible charisma and sincerity. "Young Black Male," the lead-off selection, is a breakdown of the plight of urban youth fighting for survival and sets the tone for the project, but the subsequent selection, "Trapped," is where the album begins to build its momentum. Produced by The Underground Railroad, "Trapped" finds 2Pac likening the inner-city to a prison which he, or other young black men, cannot escape. Rapping "You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion/Happiness, living on the streets is a delusion/Even a smooth criminal one day must get caught/Shot up or shot down with the bullet that he bought," Tupac assumes the role of a man who murders a cop in self-defense, but gets gunned down while on the run from law enforcement, ultimately deciding that death is better than serving a life sentence in prison.

The first single released from the album, "Trapped," would be Pac's introduction to the public in a solo capacity, but 2Pacalypse Now would gain national attention after being denounced by then U.S. Vice-President Dan Quayle in 1992. Quayle's remarks were in response to 18 year-old Texas resident Ronald Ray Howard's claim that 2Pac's song "Soulja's Story," the album's third track, inspired him to murder Bill Davidson, a 43-year-old police officer, after being pulled over while driving a stolen car. "Once again we're faced with an irresponsible corporate act," Quayle said in a statement following the incident. "There is absolutely no reason for a record like this to be published by a responsible corporation," Quayle continued, before concluding "Today I am suggesting that the Time Warner subsidiary Interscope Records withdraw this record. It has no place in our society."

"Soulja's Story," which depicted a prison break and the murder of law enforcement, would be the first of his songs to catch the attention of political pundits, and create a war of words between 2Pac and Quayle, who the rapper would call out on "Pac's Theme" and "Peep Game," from his sophomore album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. The backlash may have put Pac on the defensive, but he goes on the offensive on the reggae-tinged cut "Violence," an offering that sees him retaliating against corrupt cops committing police brutality before participating in a shootout to the death. Equality by any means and retaliation against law enforcement are two of the dominant themes on 2Pacalypse Now, but 2Pac lightens the mood with The Underground Railroad-produced number "Words of Wisdom," on which he kicks knowledge directed towards the youth of America, its corrupt ways, and their role in helping to turn the tables. Powered by a sample of "Chameleon" by Herbie Hancock, this jittery soundscape is a welcome departure from the other sonic contributions on the album and showcases Pac's underrated dexterity as a lyricist.

Connecting with deceased Live Squad member Stretch - who would have a falling out with 2Pac in the aftermath of the infamous 1994 shooting incident at Quad Studios - on "Crooked Ass Nigga," 2Pac and his friend-turned-foe would display an effortless chemistry with one another, resulting in one of the sleeper cuts on 2Pacalypse Now. However, one of the more endearing compositions on 2Pac's debut is "When My Homie Calls," an ode to loyalty and brotherhood among his close friends still coping with life in the gutter. Lyrics like "If you need my assistance, there'll be no resistance/I'll be there in an instant/Who am I to judge another brother, only on his cover/I'd be no different than the other" embody the bond between young men in the inner-city and makes this Big D The Impossible-produced standout a gem within 2Pac's cache of classic records.

2Pacalypse Now includes more than a few timeless tracks, but the most memorable of them all, without question, is "Brenda's Got A Baby." Produced by Deion "Big D" and The Underground Railroad, the song, which features guest vocals from r&b vocalist Dave Hollister, introduces us to a 12-year-old girl named Brenda who's been impregnated by a family member and attempts to dispose of her newborn baby after giving birth. The story ends with her falling into a life of prostitution and becoming a victim of murder, with the whereabouts of her baby unknown. The song, which would be accompanied by a music video depicting the fictional tragedy, would become the first of 2Pac's cautionary tales to truly resonate within the black community and prompt discussion in rap surrounding underage pregnancy, a topic which hadn't been broached at length until that point.

"Yes, when this song came out, no male rappers at all anywhere were talking about problems that females were having, number one," Pac once said when questioned about what prompted him to record the song. "Number two, it talked about child molestation. It talked about families taking advantages of families. It talked about the effects of poverty. It talked about how one person’s problems can affect a whole community of people. It talked about how the innocent are the ones that get hurt. It talked about drugs, the abuse of drugs, broken families how she couldn’t leave the baby, you know, the bond that a mother has with her baby. And how women need to be able to make a choice.” While it has been claimed that "Brenda's Got A Baby" is the product of a true story based on a 1991 incident in Brownsville, Brooklyn, regardless of the rhyme and reason, the song is a quintessential rap classic and among the greatest records in the genre's history.

2Pacalypse Now closes out on a strong note with "Part Time Mutha," a song examining the effects of drug addiction, child negligence, and sexual assault from the vantage point of a hardened young man, an abused teenage girl, and a single father. Produced by Big D The Impossible and featuring an interpolation of Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover, "Part Time Mutha" serves as a heartfelt account of broken homes and an effective finale to 2Pacalypse Now.

Following the release of his debut album, which eventually certified gold by the RIAA and became the lowest-selling release of 2Pac's career, the rapper would become a breakout star. Leading roles in films like Juice and Poetic Justice broadened his appeal. After reaching platinum success with Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., 2Pac's career would be halted by a prison sentence following a rape conviction. He would later become an even bigger star while in prison, with his third album, Me Against The World, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 on April 1, 1995. His release from prison later that year would set in motion his alliance with Death Row Records, unleashing the 1996 double-album All Eyez On Me, which catapulted him to the top of the rap game.

Unfortunately, on September 13, 1996, seven days after being shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Tupac Amaru Shakur passed away, leaving an unfinished chapter in the book of hip-hop. However, it was also the day that 2Pac ascended to icon status, his legacy destined to be celebrated in a rare air along with the likes of Lennon, Marley, Gaye, and Cobain until the end of time. Twenty-five years after its release, 2Pacalypse Now remains unsung in comparison to more celebrated 2Pac albums like All Eyez On Me, Me Against The World, and 7 Day Theory; all of which are hailed as some of the greatest rap albums of all time. Even a few releases out of the rap deity's posthumous collection are more frequently cited and receive more acclaim as a whole. Despite not being the greatest artistic achievement of his career, 2Pacalypse Now was the birth of a rap revolutionary that was nothing like we'd seen before, and as we know now, have yet to see again.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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