I think it was the David Essex film Stardust that included the comment that a pop star's best career move would be to die - a classic piece of hard-bitten record-business cynicism that has found its ideal in Tupac Shakur.
After early work as part of Digital Underground and the brief Thug Life collaboration with a quartet of lesser-talented friends, Tupac released just four solo albums in his short lifetime. In the eight years since he was shot, the dead rapper's career has blossomed: Loyal to the Game is his ninth posthumous album, an extraordinary output which has only served to fuel the Elvis-style rumours of his continued existence as some hermit-like recluse.
That's nonsense, of course: if Tupac were cloistered somewhere, cranking out rhymes in a shuttered mansion, surely he would have progressed lyrically beyond the young-buck threats and boasts that constitute these 17 tracks? The passage from age 25 to 33 involves the most significant advances in a man's maturity, and there's nothing mature about these tired professions of thug mentality and wallowings in self-pitying outlaw glamour.
The "guess who's back" intro and stalking, cartoonish pizzicato strings of "Soldier Like Me" reveal the production fingerprints of Eminem, who has been responsible for putting the album together from material left in the vaults during Tupac's lifetime. But it's also noticeable how much the amiable melodicism of Eminem's refrain to that song contrasts with the sullen, largely tuneless cast of most of the other tracks, which were presumably bashed down by the rapper as guide vocals, to be completed at a later date.
To give credit, Eminem has certainly tried his best, employing off-the-wall arrangements such as the bizarre bierkeller accordion behind the Tupac/Obie Trice "duet" "Hennessey" ("They wanna know who's my role model/ It's in the brown bottle") and the weird melange of what sounds like sitar, accordion, strings and bassoon which carries "Thug 4 Life"; but elsewhere, the Dido sample in "Don't You Trust Me" simply reminds us that we're not listening to "Stan" here, just a dull complaint about a clingy girlfriend.
The guests that Eminem has lined up to support Tupac don't bring that much to the party, either: indeed, set alongside the late rapper, it's abundantly clear just how stagnant and superannuated is the gangsta schtick of such as 50 Cent, G-Unit and Jadakiss. Best of a mediocre bunch is Nate Dogg, who adds his usual emollient crooning to the single "Thugs Get Lonely Too".
Still, that's the trouble with living fast and dying young: you may leave a good-looking corpse, but you never get the chance to realise the full extent of your abilities.Reuse content