Two CDs, 27 tracks, and one of the most seminal albums in the history of hip-hop. That was the make-up of a record that went on to sales in America alone of ten million. 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 on March 2, 1996 and was, sadly, also the last studio release of his short life.
The album was released just seven months before 2Pac’s death, at the age of 25, after a shooting in Las Vegas. The rapper, born Tupac Amaru Shakur in Brooklyn, was some four years into a chart career that saw him become, and remain, one of the most influential and revered rap figureheads in the genre’s history.
He had made his first, relatively modest chart showing with the 1992 album 2Pacalypyse Now, followed the next year by Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Then came the set that instantly became his first US No.1, Me Against The World. But All Eyez On Me remains substantially the biggest studio record of 2Pac’s career, matched only by his second posthumous diamond certification, the prestigious RIAA symbol of ten million US shipments, for 1998’s Greatest Hits collection.
The album title was, of course, autobiographical. “That’s how I feel it is,” 2Pac told MTV’s Bill Bellamy shortly before its release. “I got the police watching me, the Feds. I got the females that want to charge me with false charges and sue me and all that. I got the females that like me. I got the jealous homeboys and I got the homies that roll with me. Everybody’s looking to see what I’mma do now so All Eyez on Me.”
The album, predominantly produced by Johnny “J” and Daz Dillinger, included numerous tracks that emphasized how 2Pac was, by then, among the elite of artists making 1990s hip-hop into the pop music of its day.
Aside from the multi-million selling success of the album, two of its five singles, “California Love” (featuring Dr. Dre and Zapp’s Roger Troutman) and “How Do U Want It” (with K-Ci & JoJo, and sampling Quincy Jones’ “Body Heat”) became No.1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Both received posthumous Grammy nominations.
“2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” was a summit with fellow West Coast rap kingpin Snoop Doggy Dogg, as he was still called. This would be 2Pac’s last recorded performance, on stage with Snoop at the House of Blues in West Hollywood in July 1996. Among the album’s numerous other guests were soul singer Danny Boy on “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and Dat Nigga Daz, Kurupt, Redman, and Method Man on “Got My My Made Up.”
“The title of 2PAC’s fourth album, All Eyez on Me, is not just a reflection of his usual arrogance and paranoia — people are watching 2Pac,” wrote Laura Jamison in Rolling Stone. “This two-disc set comes just four months after he was released on bail pending appeal on his conviction for sexual assault. It comes barely a year after he was shot. Most important, All Eyez on Me marks 2Pac’s new allegiance with the West Coast’s powerhouse rap dynasty, Death Row Records.”
The album’s best international showing was a Top 5 peak in Sweden, and it also became a Top 20 entry in Australia, Holland, Germany, and elsewhere. All Eyez was the artist’s first album to chart in the UK, and while it only reached No.32 there, it became a platinum seller, as 2Pac’s aura was only heightened by his untimely demise.
David Toop’s essay on Tupac’s life for The Face in November 1995 described him as “the rapper whose lyrics merged poetry with pain to make him an icon for America’s doom generation.” In a 1993 interview, Shakur had told the journalist of his background, and how it shaped his life and creativity.
“We didn’t have any lights at home in my house,” he said. “No lights, no electricity, and ‘I’m Bad’ by L.L. Cool J came out and I had batteries in my radio. I heard it for the first time and I was writing rhymes by candlelight and I knew I was gonna be a rapper.”
Buy or stream All Eyez On Me.