It may be hard to believe, but it’s been almost twenty years to the day since 2Pac released ”Strictly 4 My Niggaz”. The criteria of a classic is usually gauged by an albums ability to remain fresh despite some considerable time passing. A testament to this albums quality, is that much of the material is not only better than the music of today, but it’s message is just as poignant in 2013 as it was in February, 1993. Yet just as intriguing as the music, is the context in which it grew. This is 2Pac before his Death Row days and the beef with Biggie. As an up and coming artist, there was less pressure on him to move large amounts of units. Because of this we get a 2Pac who was free to make the music he wanted to, without the pressures that would follow later in his career.
2Pac was 21 when he released “Strictly…“, an incredibly young age to deliver the type of music he was producing. Despite spending his late teen years at the Baltimore school of the arts, 2Pac’s lyrics boasted of a tough upbringing and fatherless childhood. Much more toned down was the party vibe of Shock G and the Digital Underground, an influence which defined his previous work. In a short period of time 2Pac’s style of music had become increasingly dark. “Holla If Ya Hear Me“, the album’s opening track (and first single), is the pivotal moment 2Pac began to use his powers to start a movement rather than just performing hip-hop.
Although not proclaimed as such, much of the content mirrors Pac’s “Thug Life” era, with lyrics like “This ain’t just a rap song, a black song. Tellin all my brothers, get they strap on” and “Much love to my brothers in the pen. See ya when I free ya if not when they shove me in. Once again it’s an all out scrap. Keep your hands on ya gat, and now ya boys watch ya back.” 2Pac was calling on young black males to rise up in a militant fashion against what he perceived to be the forces of oppression. No doubt inspired by Pubic Enemy, 2Pac was turning the guns on the government rather than the people in his own community.
Production was handled by Stretch who 2Pac would later blame for being compliant with his shooting in 1994. Stretch was important in channeling 2Pac’s energy into a more brutal form of rap. The beat is frantic, containing sirens and hyper-energetic drums. Of the opening four tracks, two are short interludes, which use manipulated vocals to create an eerie feel. Importantly, the second interlude “Something To Die 4”, includes the lyrics “Young Qa’id. Remember that name….Cause all you mothafuckas, that go to your grave with that name on your brain. Cause jealousy and recklessness Is NOT, something 2 die 4“.
2Pac was referring to Qa’id Walker Teal, a 6 year old boy who died from a gunshot wound suffered in a shoot out ‘Pac was involved in. It is a very rare example of him addressing that incident, as it was rarely discussed afterwards, perhaps because of the legal implications once Teal’s family sued Shakur. The interlude also contains the lines “I’ve changed? It ain’t that I’ve changed. But it’s strange how you mothafuckas rearrange when I found fame. Point ya finger at the bad guy“. The shoot out had stemmed from a homecoming concert in Baltimore in which members of 2Pac’s old neighborhood confronted him about selling out. No doubt those words were meant for them.
The theme of militant unification continues on “Last Wordz“, an important song in that it’s the first time 2Pac featured other famous gangster rappers on one of his records. Ice Cube and Ice T gave a helping hand as 2Pac’s raps “What niggas need to do is start loc’in up. United we stand divided we fall. They can shoot one nigga but they can’t take us all.” The producer ‘Bobcat‘, had worked with Ice Cube on his album ”The Predator” in 92, here he provides the beat for ‘‘Last Words“, “Souljah’s Revenge” and “Peep Game“.
Bobcat’s cousin had a connection with 2Pac and this relationship, as well as the backing from Interscope, no doubt lead to Cube being on the album. On “Souljah’s Revenge” 2Pac plays two different roles, himself and a separate persona called “Souljah”, interestingly if we fast forward to today’s hip-hop, Tyler The Creator used many similar techniques on his album ”Bastard”, the vocally manipulated interludes and the themes of split personality syndrome are just as prevalent on “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.” as “Bastard”. These similarities show 2Pac’s music was way ahead of it’s time.
On “Souljah’s Revenge” he raps “My message to the censorship committee – Who’s the biggest gang of niggaz in the city? The critics or the cops? The courts or the crooks, don’t look so confused. Take a closer look”, 2Pac is spreading the idea that the police are the biggest corrupt gang in America, whilst taking shots at his critics. On most of the songs up to this point he mentions Dan Quayle, a political figure who had publicly criticised 2Pac. There is also a repetitive refrain on much of the tracks that goes “One nigga, teach two niggaz, teach three niggaz, teach fo’ niggaz (I hear ya!) teach mo’ niggaz, and we could run this shit!”, which is a theory that spreading the idea of unity against corruption will bring about black empowerment. The exact same message is promoted in Ab-Soul’s song “Terrorist Threat“, when Ab raps “If all the gangs in the world unified. We