2Pac's violent name game Review: As 'Makaveli,' an unprincely Tupac Shakur took violence to a new level on his last album.

November 06, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

It looks as if Tupac Shakur is going to be haunting the music world for some time. Just before he died of gunshot wounds sustained during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas Sept. 7, he had finished work on a new project that he planned to release in an "underground" fashion -- that is, with no hype, no publicity and no mention of his rap moniker, 2Pac. Instead, the album would go out under an alias: Makaveli.

Well, the alias part went as planned. But given the circumstances, it's understandable that there was something more than an underground buzz preceding the release yesterday of "The Don Killuminati" (Death Row/Interscope 90039).

Nor will it be surprising if the Makaveli album angers rap bashers even more than a typical 2Pac album would. Not only are these tracks riddled with gunfire and profanity, but the cover features a portrait of 2Pac, in his signature bandanna, hanging from a cross with a "Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics" sticker placed strategically across his midsection. Even though the image is accompanied by a statement from Makaveli insisting that "In no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ," it's a fair bet that conservative Christians will still be angered by the image.

But so what if they are? According to his record company, 2Pac had based this mob-tough persona on the teachings of Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince." Surely, then, he was inspired by Machiavelli's observation that "one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved "

"The Don Killuminati" certainly starts off as if Makaveli wanted to be feared. In the album's intro, a "music news" announcer treats the release of the Makaveli album as 2Pac's response to a "conspiracy" by New York rappers "to assassinate the character of not only Mr. Shakur but Death Row Records itself."

Considering the number of rumors linking 2Pac's death to a rivalry between Death Row and the New York-based Bad Boy Records, this bit of fiction is chilling, indeed. But the track not only alludes to Bay Boys acts Notorious B.I.G. and Mobb Deep (referred to as "Mobb Sleep" and "Notorious P.I.G."), but uses gunshots to segue into "Bomb First," a dark, sonically disjointed rap in which Makaveli challenges such "punks" to step up or back off.

This is, as one line in the rap puts it, "extreme venom." But the entire point of the Makaveli project apparently was to create a persona so hard and amoral that it would make all the other fake gangsta rappers seem like softies. So even though the slow-thumping "Hail Mary" finds Makaveli insisting, "I ain't no killer," he's quick to add, " but don't push me."

Needless to say, "The Don Killuminati" is full of tracks in which Makaveli gets pushed. It isn't just tracks like "To Live & Die In L.A." or "Life as an Outlaw" that ooze blood through the speakers; even "Me and My Girlfriend" is full of chattering gats, as Makaveli and his woman do a " '96 Bonnie and Clyde automatic gunfire exorcising all demons."

"Romeo and Juliet" it ain't.

That lack of tenderness, though, is probably the album's greatest miscalculation. No matter how many times "Against All Odds" finds 2Pac repeating that "this is the realest [stuff] I ever wrote," it's because he plays down his tender side that Makaveli ultimately rings false.

Because as much as he tried to inflate the character's macho posturing and unrelenting bloodlust, what 2Pac ended up with was an empty shell. It's a shame he never saw that; it might have kept him from ending up a victim of the kind of attitude Makaveli embodies.

By any other name

To hear excerpts from "The Don Killuminati," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6119.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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