2Pac: All Eyez On Me, a look back.

If you follow hip-hop, or rap music, as it is known by the mainstream, then you have heard the name 2Pac before. The man is a legend in the music industry. Does he really deserve so much attention?

The year is 1999, the setting is a small town in Nevada you never heard of and probably don’t care about anyways. I was hanging out with my friend “Izzy” one day talking about our favorite rappers. He excitedly showed me his latest acquisition, a copy of the 2-disc set “All Eyez On Me” by the recently deceased 2Pac. The record sold millions of copies, launched Death Row Records into a house hold name along side names like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and many others, and the music video to “California Love” brought gangsta rap to the forefront of MTV. Everyone knows the story, the myth, the legend of 2Pac.

I sat there in my car with my friend listening to this musical masterpiece that only further cemented my appreciate for the art of hip-hop and more specifically the street wise gangsta rap. I was just a teenager hanging out with a friend who had an unhealthy obsession with the late 2Pac. I had already heard a handful of tracks from the album over the years since it was released, namely those that had music videos and aired on MTV, so I was already somewhat familiar with the artist. Nothing could prepare me for what I sat through during those next few hours while we replayed our favorite tracks over, and over again.

When I first discovered gangsta rap it was in the form that many of us first were exposed to, Doggystyle, by Snoop Doggy Dogg. That record had a mix of traditional hip-hop beats that I had already grown accustomed to, with a new style of street rap that was completely unlike anything I had ever heard before. While I wasn’t immediately drawn to the whole theme of gangsta rap initially, I continued to experience more pop friendly hip-hop in the form of Beastie Boys, Fresh Prince, MC Hammer, and even the newly arrived Kris Kross. So for me I was into the music more than the story telling. With Doggystyle this remained the case, I did pick up a few other “G-Funk” records along the way namely Warren G’s “Regulate…G-Funk Era,” Coolio’s tamer but still hardcore “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and “Murder Was the Case” the soundtrack to a movie I didn’t even know was a real movie. So by the time I discovered “All Eyez On Me” I had already gotten over the gangsta rap genre.

All of that changed when I listened to that double CD set. This was the first time that I could listen to a gangsta rap CD and not just listen to the beats, I listened to the stories, the messages, the illustrations he was painting. I still appreciated the music, I very much enjoy the smooth melodies of the G-Funk style and the hard hitting beats of hip-hop in general. The record had me convinced I should give the whole gangsta rap scene a second look. Now to be fair my interest in rap music runs deep, I enjoy pretty much all of the old school stuff with few exceptions. Still I was able to listen to the stories 2Pac told and actually care about what was being said for the first time. Maybe I was too young to even get the references the first time I heard Doggystyle, but the first time I heard 2Pac “Ambitions as a Ridah”, “Can’t C Me”, “Shorty Wanna Be A Thug”, “Only God Can Judge Me”, and the list goes on and on, I began to really understand what those “G’z” were rapping about for the first time.

It goes without saying that 2Pac is one of the greatest rappers of all time. So if you do enjoy hip-hop music at all, especially the streetwise Gangsta Rap, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of All Eyez On Me. It is hand’s down the definitive “Gangsta rap” album. Listening to it today does more than remind me of how far we have come as a society, considering who is occupying the White House today, it also takes me back to my own somewhat troubled, or well confused is the better term, youth. We all have skeletons in the closet and many of mine can be traced back to that fateful day “THE RAT” was born bobbing his head in that car listening to 2Pac tell his hoe she “wonder why they call you bitch.”

1999 was an awakening for my passion of the hip-hop music, it was the same year I picked up Eminem’s Marshall Mather’s LP, which is a story for another day, and it was the year I attempted to make my first rap record. I somewhat succeeded in making my first single, a long forgotten dub I made using a hacked together dual cassette tape player, a pair of broken record players that didn’t spin and had to use a tiny nail for a needle, and a whole bunch of RCA cables strung out together. If there hadn’t ever been a 2Pac pairing up with the aforementioned Snoop on “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” then “THE RAT” might not have ever been a thing.

I can’t tell you what the world would have been like without 2Pac but I can tell you what my life would have been like, completely different than it turned out to be.  I sit back and listen to those tracks today and I remember a time when Sega, Mountain Dew, and Nickelodeon were all that mattered to me. Today it makes me glad that the road I took has led me to where I am, and where I am going. 2Pac said it best in one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Look to my future cause my past, is all behind me.” The fact the man died shortly after the records release just makes the words in many of his songs that much more powerful.

The Watcher

November 16, 1999 Dr. Dre released his long awaited follow-up to his 1992 debut, The Chronic. The album was an inspiration for aspiring rappers everywhere. The first track from the album, found here on Youtube,   was his return to the rap game. Not the first single from the record, however it does set the mood for the entire work quite well. The rise and fall of Death Row Records transpired under his watch. While the track doesn’t quite dispel the rumors surrounding the demise of his baby, it does a good job reminding people that the shape of the entire industry was pretty much changed not only on his watch, but by his hands.

There is no disputing that Gangsta Rap would not have gone from an inner city, underground movement to becoming the mainstream staple it would if not for the works of Dr. Dre and his Death Row Inmates. This would not be the be-all-end-all of his career, it would be the turning point where he shifted focus away from the deceased 2Pac and turn that focus to newcomer Eminem. Looking back on those early years of Death Row and this transition period where Aftermath came on the scene reminds me why I got into Hip-Hop in the first place. Music is art, it is poetry and the stories that are told in this rugged, hard core streetwise gangsta rap music was about as real as it gets. Sure as a fan of the traditional old school music I had longed for the days where rapping didn’t have to be so serious nor laced with profanities. Yet as I look further into the depth of Hip-Hop history I realize that telling stories has always been at the core of the movement, along with demonstrating skill in manipulating beats & rhymes in unison. Dr. Dre has proven that he does all of these masterfully.

Don’t think of this so much as a look back on a particular work, but more a reflection in the changing times. I have lost interest in modern Hip-Hop as I feel the art of storytelling is no longer at the core of the industry. I listen to modern “rap” anthems and they remind me more of watered down catch phrase ridden “Whoomp There It Is” type anthems and less “What’s My Name” or U Can’t C Me, two staples in the Hip-Hop party catalog. In find that today’s so-called rap music has devolved into more about the beats and less about the art of storytelling. Musically yes the genre has improved quite a bit in some respects, at least as technology goes and production values have certainly increased right alongside this. But has storytelling become lost in it all? To be honest I have not purchased a new rap album since Nas dropped Ether and put that Jay-fucking-Z in his place. Sure S. Carter made his mark on the Hip-Hop landscape and his works are not to be taken lightly, but I still respect Nas for always keeping it real, in that he puts telling a well-crafted story in his verse number one, the beats are used as accompaniment. I am not saying rap as a whole has been too commercialized but when tracks like Soldier Boy or Like a G Six get radio play and there is no substance, I feel like I am not missing out. I guess there have always been those empty tracks throughout the history of Hip-Hop I just feel as an art form, things have changed too much for me. This is the point where someone points out those are now old songs themselves, exactly my point when those songs became the norm and not the exception I just found myself no longer as interested in Hip-Hop music as a whole as I once was.

I have to wonder if there is a chance that it isn’t the music that has changed but my tastes have changed. For a while I thought this might be the case, after all as anyone ages their musical preferences age with them. I decided to take a look at pop music and techno/dance music, the two closest cousins at least production wise to Hip-Hop to see if there were any noticeable changes there and I realized that despite not caring for the majority of acts, I could tell that the tropes were the same as always. Because pop has always been light and fluffy and Hip-Hop has always been more serious I figured it wasn’t a fair comparison. I would have looked at story driven genres such as Country or even Folk Rock but I can’t bring myself to listen to enough of those to make an honest judgement. What I can do is talk to people who do and compare their analysis with that of my own and see if there are any parallels. As best as I can tell the music, for the most part, has not changed in those genres so my conclusion is something happened specifically to Hip-Hop music where either I just lost interest to the point where I no longer care enough to bother discovering what is out there, or the music has changed enough that it no longer appeals to me as what drew me to the genre in the first place is no longer present. As far as jams go, Hip-Hop remains the go-to place to find the best booty-shaking beats, but is it still the story telling masterpiece it once was?  I cannot answer this question without doing further research which leaves me asking the question, do I even care?

Sim Town for PC- Thoughts and impressions.

I have always enjoyed playing Sim City, it has and always will be one of my favorite games of all time. Recently I began wondering why there wasn’t a Sim Town and so I did a Google search and discovered there in fact already was one. It was released on Super NES as Sim City Jr. a game I never play because it is entirely in Japanese and my current reading level is no where comprehensive enough to play a text heavy  game. I managed to fumble my way through Zelda Famicom but that was pretty easy as I have played Zelda NES numerous times already.

So what did I want in a Sim Town game that Sim City didn’t already offer? Partially the ability to control exactly what types of businesses, houses, and buildings are placed was a big thing. Sim Town offers just that level of customization. There is a down side, the game is targeted towards younger children and has a tone that even as a Nintendo fan I find too primitive for my tastes. Still I am having some fun with the game but I can’t help wishing there was a more robust version of this sort of game. I want the level of sophistication and complexities of a proper Sim City, I just want to be able to create a small town, suburban feel if I want rather than focusing entirely on Metropolis sized mega-cities. I want to still have the ability to play Sim City the traditional way too. I just would like the option of building a small town where I decide to build a bowling alley or a grocery store instead of just deciding to make a square Residential or Commercial.

Truth be told I haven’t tried any of the modern Sim City games, the newest one I have is Sim City 2000 and that is 2 decades old at this point. I have contemplated trying the newest Sim City game but I have yet to find the time, money, or motivation, to get around to it.

My initial impression of Sim Town was, despite the obvious decision to dumb down the game to make it more “kid-friendly” I really enjoy the level of control over what exact type of buildings you get to create. I also like that you get to read the bios of individual sims and this aspect has me interested in trying one of the proper Sims games. I honestly never have gotten around to trying a Sims game, mostly because as a hard core, traditional gamer I find them to be too casual focused for my general tastes. Well as I have aged my gaming preferences have changed with me and I found that I still enjoy Sim City more and more each year so one think Sim Town did was open my up to the idea of trying out one of the modern Sims games and then looking into a newer Sim City game as well. Money is tight as is time so I am not sure which direction I will go from here all I can say is if I was fifteen years younger I might really enjoy Sim Town more. Right now it just makes me wish I was playing a proper game with similar features. If you have a young child and want to introduce them to the Sim City style of play this is an obvious choice, just keep in mind there is some tricks you will have to do to make it playable on a modern computer, unless you go the browser route which I refuse to do.

Mortal Kombat X, Xbox Tablet, and a new Smart Watch?

There are a lot of topics to get to this week and instead of giving each one their own post I wanted to do a quick rundown on the more prominent stories I have been following.

Mortal Kombat X

They recently announced Jason Voorhees will be a playable character in the new Mortal Kombat game coming to next-gen home video game consoles. The announcement was sort of a surprise but very welcome as they already introduced Freddy Kruger in the previous entry of the series. There is no current word if Freddy will even be featured in this current game so hopes of a Freddy vs. Jason rematch will have to be put on hold until there is a confirmation. Even still watching Jason “face off” against Scorpion will be more than enough for now.

Super Mario 64 Wii U Virtual Console

Wii U is apparently a sinking ship, the big release of the month of April is a re-release of a 20 year old console game that launched their also troubled Nintendo 64 console. Don’t get me wrong I love Super Mario 64 and considering I already own it on Wii the price to upgrade was a reasonable $2, I still find it somewhat disturbing that this would be their flagship release for the week. I was almost excited for AVGN Adventures finally releasing on Wii U, but they took so long porting it over I already downloaded, and completed, the Steam version on my PC.

Splatoon

While on the subject of Wii U might as well talk briefly about Splatoon, the squad based paintball-inspired shooter game launching soon. Some have complained the game will not feature voice chat but honestly the game looks like it will be super fun with out the annoying chatter so I say fine by me. Count me in as a day one purchase.

Nintendo NX

Very little is known yet there is already much speculation on the announcement of a “new platform” coming sometime in the next year or two. The official announcement was NX would be a new game platform that would sport a brand new method of play apparently keeping with the DS, Wii and Wii U motife of reinventing the wheel every generation. Little is known so for now I will reserve judgment, the Wii U was a disappointment at first but it managed to win me over so there is a chance NX will be something I follow closely.

PS4 dominance

It is official according to the latest sales numbers PS4 is not only “winning” the word-wide console war for next-gen gamers, It is also a success in Japan, the county where console gaming has long since been declared to be dead. I can’t say I am surprised, I picked up my PS4 right after it hit it’s 1 year birthday and so far it has not been a disappointment.

Where is the Xbox Tablet?

While I am not a major fan of the Xbox game console, I am curious why Microsoft hasn’t attempted to make a gaming tablet sporting the Xbox brand. I understand they are supposedly integrating Xbox as a feature set into Windows 10, somehow, I just think they need to follow Apple and spin off the Xbox brand as it’s own operating system for gaming tablets. Sort of like how Apple has Mac for their PC’s and iOS for their “smart devices” Microsoft should keep Windows for their PC’s, and use Xbox for everything else. While they are at it, they could make an Xbox Watch.