Among a category of art such as music, there are always certain artists, albums, or songs that are given the rare titles of "best of" or "greatest of all time." As for hip-hop, the late Tupac Shakur's 1995 masterpiece, Me Against the World, can truly serve as not only the epitome of 90s rap, but is also the greatest hip-hop album of all time.
Upon its release, Me Against the World was already record-breaking, famous for making Shakur the first artist ever to have an album debut at number one on the charts, while serving time in prison. Making records since 1991, he had already released two other solo studio albums, both heavily concerned with social problems in society. However, with the release of this album, his focus shifted towards writing more reflective, thought-conscious, and sometimes painfully desperate lyrics. Themes dealing with early death, lack of hope for the youth, personal pain and suffering, persisting against the odds for success, and more sentimental and optimistic themes are some to name a few that are prevalent in these songs. Like any other album, Me Against the World does contain several "filler" songs, however, that does not in any way take away from the overall feeling of the album which contains many unforgettable tracks.
Beginning with a short introduction track, which Tupac and many other rappers placed in their albums to set the mood of the album, the listener immediately is thrown into the drama surrounding Tupac's life at the time in early 1995. On top of a gloomy and bleak background instrumental, the voices of different journalists, whether radio broadcasters or TV news anchors, are heard stating news reports about the controversy surrounding Tupac. "If I Die 2Nite," the first song on the album, which contains somewhat strong lyrics, is unfortunately brought down by the lackluster instrumental. However, whenever I hear the famous Julius Caesar quote issued in the opening, I still get chills crawling up my spine. The track of the same name of the album, Me Against the World, quite possibly has one of the best verses of Tupac's career. Utilizing a distorted guitar sample from Isaac Hayes' "Walk on By" and the beat from Minnie Riperton's "Inside My Love," the instrumental creates a sensation of hopeless self-destruction. The theme of the song, as can be assumed from the title, is about how Tupac feels that his chances for success in life are constantly up against the odds of failure, and the pressure and stress from the ghetto and the media. Although the first and second verses (the second featuring Dramacydal) speak from hopeless and pessimistic standpoints, Tupac in the last verse delivers a message of the exact opposite. By stressing that people try hard against all odds, don't settle for less, be grateful for blessings, and don't ever let society change who they are, he expresses one of his most powerful and moving messages. This part of the third verse is what makes this, in my opinion, possibly not only Tupac's greatest verse, but also the greatest rap verse of all time.
"So Many Tears" is one song off the album which truly has its own sound unparalleled by anything else Tupac ever released. Opening with a unforgettable religious quote, and backed by hazy sounds, notes from a harmonica, and a hard-hitting beat, the instrumental gives off the sensation of a man feeling angrily desperate and turning to G-d as his only hope. In his lyrics he reflects first on his hopeless past and how he feels he was cursed, and moves on to begging G-d to "take me away from all the pressure, and all the pain." The song gives off a dual feeling of not just sadness but also a type of inhuman spirituality surrounding the thoughts in Tupac's head as he keeps mentioning G-d. The lyrics are also very solid because there is almost no slang, but rather clear, straightforward speaking of thoughts right from Tupac's heart. I think "So Many Tears" contains some of his best-written and most sincere lyrics on the whole album. "Dear Mama," one of Tupac's softest songs, deals with him thanking his mother for raising him. It has a very comforting instrumental which is accompanied well by his heartfelt lyrics. In the final verse, he reassures his mother that "If you can make it through the night there's a brighter day," emphasizing his important message of staying strong and holding on.
Although not in the top spot for the best song off the album, I still love this song because of the recognition it gave Tupac as being not only a "gangster" but also a truly loving and caring human being. In addition, "Dear Mama" was even added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry due to its cultural significance. "Old School," probably the most optimistic track off the album, is a song in which Tupac pays homage to the rappers that influenced him while growing up, while reminiscing on the fun times as a kid. The instrumental is very uplifting and the beat has a nice hard-hitting snare which fits well for the song. As for the lyrics, they are very nostalgic as Tupac remembers life growing up. It is definitely one of the more playful tracks on an album overwhelmed by songs mostly dealing with life's troubles.
The last song which I thought was worth mentioning is "Death Around the Corner." Although containing an obviously similar theme to "If I Die 2Nite," it is really a completely different song. The instrumental right away makes the song feel more emotional, and the lyrics hit the listener hard. With lyrics similar to "So Many Tears" in the sense that Tupac once again describes his inner emotions and pain, this track succeeds in expressing Tupac's emotions. Overall, the unique and suitable instrumentals, along with some of Tupac's most sincere, inspirational, and powerful lyrics, make Me Against the World a true gem, and the greatest hip-hop album of all time.