2PacR U Still Down [Remember Me] (Jive 41628)Cynical...

CD REVIEWS

December 04, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

2Pac

R U Still Down [Remember Me] (Jive 41628)

Cynical though it may be, the notion that death is a good career move has become so ingrained in the pop music psyche that few fans are even surprised when a star seems more productive dead than alive. Take Tupac Shakur. Since his death last year, of wounds endured during a still-unsolved drive-by shooting, there have been three new 2Pac albums: a side project recorded under the name Makavelli; the soundtrack to his last film, "Gang Related"; and, now, "R U Still Down [Remember Me]," a collection of "rare and unreleased songs" assembled by his mother, Afeni Shakur.

That 2Pac's mother would want to see his legacy live on is no surprise; that she was able to assemble a cogent and compelling album from the leavings of his career is nothing short of astonishing. Few of the tracks in this double-disc set sound like leftovers, and even those (for instance, "16 on Death Row") suffer more from a lack of development than a lack of quality.

Admittedly, there isn't a lot of new ground covered here, with much of the double album devoted to 2Pac's "Thug Life" philosophy. Longtime fans will find much familiar in the chest-beating bravado of "Thug Style," "Hell Razor" and "Only Fear of Death," but there are moments of eloquence sprinkled through the belligerence. "Ready 4 Whatever" spices its tough talk with bracingly vivid wordplay, while "Definition of a Thug Nigga" (from the film "Poetic Justice") brings an almost lyric beauty to its declaration of brutality.

Still, it's 2Pac's sentimental side that comes through strongest. "I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto," the melancholy musings of a man so beaten down that he believes he'll be poor and underprivileged even in the afterlife, is easily the album's most memorable track, but it's hardly the only one worth hearing. From "When I Get Free" to "Let Them Thangs Go" to "Hold On Be Strong," this collection offers ample opportunity to understand why rap fans will continue to miss 2Pac.

Timbaland and Magoo

Welcome to Our World (Blackground/Atlantic 92772)

Even if you don't know the name Timbaland, odds are you know his sound. From Missy Elliott's "The Rain" to Ginuwine's "Pony," and from SWV's "Can We" to Aaliyah's "One In a Million," Timbaland's slow, funky grooves have dominated the R&B charts. Timbaland isn't just a producer, though. Working with rapper Magoo, he cut "Up Jump Da' Boogie," an itchy bit of bump-and-grind that managed to seem relaxed despite the tightly wound drum machine patterns ticking beneath the lazy synth licks. "Welcome to Our World" doesn't quite live up to the standards of its lead-off single, but it doesn't fall very short, either, as Timbaland's slinky beats (plus cameos by Ginuwine, Aaliyah and Elliott) bring extra power to the hypnotic "Luv 2 Luv U," "Joy" and "Man Undercover."

Live on Letterman

Music from the 'Late Show' (Reprise 46827)

It may be called a "talk" show, but for many pop fans, it's the music that makes "The Late Show with David Letterman" worth watching. At their best, the show's music segments have the giddy, impromptu feel of special events, which leads to pretty high expectations for "Music From the 'Late Show,' " and for the most part, the album delivers. Between the quirky chemistry Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor bring to "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" and the tart interplay of Al Geen and Lyle Lovett on "Funny How Time Slips Away," there are plenty of special moments here. But there's even a special sizzle when the stars play their hits, as Dave Matthew's rangy "Too Much" or Aretha Franklin's incendiary read of "Think" make plain.

The Verve

Urban Hymns (Virgin/Hut 44913)

In Britain, having the right attitude is almost as important for bands as having good songs. That's why the Verve was being touted as a "band worth watching" long before it had any songs worth hearing. As articulated by front man Richard Ashcroft, the band's blend of arrogance and cool was the perfect complement to the rowdy indulgences of Oasis. With "Urban Hymn," the band finally sets that stance to music. Rather than rock out in the retro style favored by Oasis and Dodgy, the Verve opts for a soft-focus drone that draws equally from ambient and the Velvet Underground. While some of the album's 13 songs lack enough melodic focus to keep the band's sound from slipping into the ether, "Bitter Sweet Symphony," "Catching the Butterfly" and "Lucky Man" are stunning in their grace and beauty.

Edgar Meyer

Uncommon Ritual (Sony Classical 62891)

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