Reconciling who Tupac was is never easy given how complex his character was. His career went through so many phases and shifts, he could be a passionate man of the people in one instance, then turn into the resented villain the next. In his career, those who were around to witness it saw him morph from the militant, aspiring MC on 2pacalypse Now to the bad boy of All Eyez on Me in both his personal life and his music. But no project better encapsulated who Tupac was than his first posthumous project, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. That album turns twenty years old this Saturday, November 5.
The album was recorded in three days then mixed and mastered in four, according to folklore surrounding the audio version of Pac’s last will and testament. It would also serve as his third and final release of his Death Row contract, signed while in prison. The parting project took on greater significance after his untimely death in September of 1996 because, when broken down to its basics, the 12 songs end up creating the most complete version of who he was.
What is often lost regarding Tupac’s career, is he only released five full length albums, and only four of them came out while he was living. Everything he did was over the course of five years, even though he left behind a catalogue of material that’s been mined to create five more albums and a smattering of mixtapes.
Tupac wasn’t a rapping soothsayer, yet he held a strong ability to articulate what black people were facing at that time, and what would be coming in the years ahead if changes weren’t made. He owes that to his understanding of history, instilled in him by his mother and other elders who surrounded him since birth. By looking back, he was able to look ahead on songs like “White Man’z World,” the pain-filled ode to black women where he apologizes to the “true sisters” who are “far from bitches.”
The tribute is not as well known as the more radio-successful “Dear Mama,” but “White Man’z World” actually has just as much of a wide appeal because men, too, can relate to the sentiments of struggle embodied in the tune. He offers an apology “For all those times that I messed up or we messed up” that could be him speaking just for himself, as easily as it sounds like he’s voicing the thoughts of other brothers or even the whole of America for pushing black women down instead of uplifting them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there was angry Pac. The one willing to ride on all of his enemies. The one not afraid to name the names of those who he felt wronged him in some way. Some of those anonymous enemies show up for the song “Blasphemy,” whose title doubles as a play on the phrase “blast for me.” But, the focus isn’t solely spent on foes as he spouts off 10 rules for survival for would-be thugs and outlaws.
Those same opposing forces help drive “Against All Odds,” the album’s final track and probably only second to “Hit’em Up” in how scathing the lyrics were. Whereas “Hit’em Up” focused on Biggie, Puffy and the Bad Boy family, “Against All Odds” lined up every offender — Nas, Haitian Jack, Mobb Deep, Jay Z, Jimmy “Henchman” Rosemond, et al. — then called out their transgressions and tried to bury them in the process.
“21-gun salute, dressed in fatigues, black jeans and boots
Disappeared in the crowd, all you seen was troops
This little n**** named Nas think he live like me
Talking ’bout he left the hospital, took five like me
You live in fantasies, n****, I reject your deposit
We shook Dre punk ass, now he out of the closet
Mobb Deep wonder why a n**** blowed ’em out
Next time grown folks talk, n****, close your mouth!”
Aggressive moments like these bring forth his divisive nature as an artist and person. How can listeners love and appreciate a guy who’s attacking one or some of their favorites? Brash moves like this were part of what ignited the East versus West rivalry that drove a wedge into rap’s landscape — not just for artists but for media and fans, too. Tupac forced everyone to choose a side and, in the process, show their true colors in a war of words that ultimately bled into a reality.
The hyper-violent version of Makaveli stands in contrast the more romantic figure who could make ladies swoon with his words just as well as his charm and good looks. Album tracks “Toss It Up” and “Just Like Daddy” were songs similar to the lady’s man vibes we’d heard before on “I Get Around” and “Can You Get Away.”
Featuring K-Ci and JoJo of Jodeci, the funkdafied production on “Toss It Up” was upbeat and playful, lustful while managing to stay tasteful. The song’s a set up to “Just Like Daddy,” where Tupac turns into the smooth player who whispers into a woman’s ear so closely that she can feel the warmth of his breath, and the slightest touch of his lips glances past her earlobes to send tingles through her. His warm personality creates an affection that’s undeniable.
Then, there was simply Tupac, the rapper who valued words and the complexities of rhymes. The album intro, “Bomb First (My First Reply),” often gets overlooked for how nimbly Pac was able to dance over the hypnotic production, pivoting with ease as he turned phrases into verses.
“Money-making plans, pistol close at hand, swollen pockets
Let me introduce the topic, then we drop it
Expose snakes ‘cause they breed freely
See me ride! Located worldwide like the art of graffiti…
Extreme venom, no mercy when we all up in ’em
Cut ’em down, to hell is where we send ’em
My whole team; trained to explode, ride or die
Murder motherfuckers lyrically and I’m not gonna cry”
Couple breathless performances like that with figurative nature of the Second Amendment praise song that is “Me and My Girlfriend” to see how detailed and complex the brother could be with his words and ideas, creating songs that could easily be considered poetry and short stories as much as they are music.
But, behind it are some of those same complexities that can be confounding. There’s Tupac, the rapper everyone loves, feeling lonesome, choosing to keep a gun as his closest, most sacred companion. Greater still, the concept behind the song was inspired by “I Gave You Power,” which belongs to Nas, the same person who ended up on the receiving end of disses on this album.
Twenty years later, just who Tupac really was still remains a bit of a mystery that even those who knew him intimately have a hard time wrangling with. The fact is there is no way to pin down who he was because Tupac was still growing and evolving before his life was cut short. But, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory is his one body of work that contains almost all the pieces of the man that he was.