The 2Pac legacy has come closer to becoming the 2Pac industry in recent years—a business commodity more than a worthwhile contribution to the rap scene. This is in large part due to a seemingly unending supply of albums released after the rapper’s death that have made it possible for any number of producers and performers to add to their rap résumés by working on a 2Pac track. While it can help to inject a contemporary spin on these decade-old raps, sometimes the results are less than stellar. Take 2004’s Loyal To The Game: Produced by Eminem, each song seemed perfectly executed in order to show what not to do. Not only were the beats a repetitive mix of slow Slim Shady loops and sound effects, but when 2Pac’s rap was too fast for the Detroit rapper’s beat, the vocals were actually slowed down to match. This revisionist history has irked many fans who see this tinkering as no less than sacrilege and akin to Ted Turner’s wish to colorize Citizen Kane.
In what has been said to be the last of the posthumous 2Pac albums, Amaru Records has released Pac’s Life, a 13-track assortment of new songs and remixes. After the negative reaction Loyal received upon its release, one might hope its follow-up would have corrected its predecessor’s mistakes. But while the beats actually fit the rapper’s vocals this time around, there is once again little about this new collection that sounds like a true 2Pac album. The opening track, “Untouchable,” comes from a rap recorded late one night in the studio and freestyled entirely. Producer Swizz Beatz revamped 2Pac’s original vocals by looping them into a sample and created a track that sounds like nothing the late rapper would have ever recorded in his lifetime. It’s a perfect snapshot of the problem with nearly every posthumous 2Pac record: Rather than stay true to the original rap as first recorded, these “re-imaginings” (for lack of a better word) have blatantly commandeered 2Pac for their own producers’ whims and made the rapper sound like a guest performer on his own albums.
Only one song on Pac’s Life remains unchanged from when it was first recorded. “Soon As I Get Home,” a song that covers the same post-jail territory as songs like “When I Get Free” and “Out On Bail,” is presented with the original beat 2Pac rapped to when it was first recorded. It’s a rarity among Shakur’s posthumous releases and proves the old adage that it’s sometimes best to leave well enough alone—it’s easily the best song on the album. One of the better tracks on the new album is “Dumpin’”—not only for its solid beat, but also for featuring a rap from Outlawz member Hussein Fatal that references a classic 2Pac verse (from the song “Hail Mary”) and for Papoose’s rap that includes the line, “I always thought I’d have to die to do a record with Pac/So I wrote from the perspective of a graveyard box.” This kind of interplay with 2Pac’s verses is often lacking in many of the posthumous albums, and it’s great to hear it work so well in this song. Other highlights include Snoop Dogg’s appearance on “Pac’s Life (Remix)” and verses by several members of 2Pac’s rap entourage on the song “Don’t Stop.”
Inevitably, all of 2Pac’s posthumous releases must contend with the albums produced during his lifetime. In the final year of his life, 2Pac released both the double album All Eyez On Me and his debut as Makaveli, The Don Killuminati: The 7-Day Theory. Both were heady albums that showed where his work had been building toward since the release of 1991’s 2Pacalypse Now. Had he lived, it’s possible his subsequent albums would have either lived up to this rich material and even surpassed it, or like his fellow Death Row compatriots Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, failed to recapture that spark. Fortunately and unfortunately, we’ve had more 2Pac than we can handle since his death and his legacy has become more about what’s available to produce than what’s truly fit to be produced. Ten years after his death, Pac’s Life is a curious coda to the rap star’s legacy and a sure sign that it’s time to retire these posthumous remakes—perhaps making way for a collection of songs left the way they were originally recorded.