15 years ago this month, 2Pac was the newest signee to Death Row Records, and the label was at the height of its popularity. Every album with that electric chair logo was selling like crazy, with more to come for ’96. Three albums deep by that time, ‘Pac was already a major star, but also ran into some much bigger problems that landed him in jail. After being bailed out by Suge Knight (in exchange for signing to the Row), he went straight from the jail cell to the studio. Within two weeks, ‘Pac recorded 28 tracks for his Death Row debut, which has since gone on to be his highest-selling album of all, All Eyez On Me.
Around that time, I was on my best sucker for love shit, so I didn’t pick up AEOM right away. I was also a lil’ underwhelmed by the lead single, “California Love”, which is one of those songs I know from front-to-back but was never a huge fan of. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that I got to hear this album that everyone in school was already talking about. Truth be told, I didn’t dig it too tough the first time I heard it. I was into Me Against The World a year earlier, and seeing as how I always preferred introspective ‘Pac to obnoxious ‘Pac, I was hoping to hear more stuff along those lines.
Not that AEOM didn’t have its content-heavy moments. There were tracks like “Life Goes On” and “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” that further spoke to the maturation of his material. But a major part of the album was ‘Pac in full “Death Row mode”, evidenced by his numerous shoutouts to the label. The “thug life is dead” feeling he had while in jail the previous year had passed, and he turned the volume all the way up for AEOM. The production (mostly done by Daz, Johnny J, DJ Quik, and Dr. Dre) was definitely more along the lines of Death Row-era West Coast hip-hop than any of his other albums before it, and the overall content was generally a departure from most of his previous work.
It appeared that ‘Pac was glad to be rollin’ with the Row. Of course, now we know he wasn’t as ecstatic about the new partnership as he led on, but it wasn’t obvious by the sound of things. He was collabing with some of everybody, from his labelmates Snoop, Dre, and Tha Dogg Pound to Cali underground favorites like Richie Rich and C-Bo. I would say the only thorn in the album was the excessive appearances by his proteges Tha Outlawz, who contributed on certain tracks but also took away from others. Aside from appearances by Method Man & Redman, AEOM was really the first time ‘Pac outwardly stepped up as a West Coast representative, throwing up the “W” with emphasis.
Being the seasonal music listener that I am at times, it really wasn’t until that summer that I really grew to enjoy AEOM. Before then, I’d listened to it in parts, mostly because I recorded all the songs that immediately stood out to me on one tape and left it at that. In doing that, I missed some that later caught my ear (most notably, “How Do U Want It” and even “Ambitionz As A Ridah”). Giving it another full listen in a more upbeat setting at a more enjoyable time of year, it was the first time I really heard it.
Much like other Death Row classics such as The Chronic and Doggystyle, AEOM just wasn’t one of those albums made for riding the bus with a Walkman on. It was supposed to be heard in the city being played in cars, or in the suburbs at parties fulla underage kids with access to alcohol. I experienced both of those things that year, and as a result, I finally got the real appeal of AEOM. Just like Me Against the World reflected ‘Pac’s life as he was on trial and being seen as a menace, AEOM was mainly reflective of Pac’s life after the release- glad to be out of jail and proud of his hometown.
All in all, All Eyez On Me repped the many facets of Tupac, probably more than any other album in his catalog. For the people who’ve considered him a hypocrite or a split personality, this was the album that featured him in just about every mode. On it, there’s the ‘Pac that loves women, and the ‘Pac that likes and occasionally dislikes “bitches”. There’s the ‘Pac that sympathized with the poor, and the ‘Pac that bragged about gettin’ money. There’s the ‘Pac that respected and had love for the East Coast, and the ‘Pac that had issues with many of New York’s most popular artists of the time. It was some serious “duality of man” shit, but for what it’s worth, that’s who he was… and why the eyes stayed on him.