One year after Tupac’s debut album, Los Angeles was forever changed. In 1992, the City of Angels witnessed the revolution Shakur warned about as the weeklong riots devastated the city. It was an uprising of a people fed up with their local police department and the governmental structures designed to protect that department instead of the people.
Perhaps appropriately, we did not get a Tupac album in 1992. The O.J. Simpson trial, the L.A. riots, and their aftermath all happened with 2Pacalypse Now as the city’s soundtrack. That tumultuous year helped to make Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. a long-awaited sophomore album when it hit stores in February 1993.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. is a personal album. Shakur takes direct aim in his attacks rather than directing them at the system as a whole. Vice President Dan Quayle is at the receiving end of Shakur’s vitriol throughout the record. Like most politicians in the early days of rap, Quayle mistook reporting and recounting street stories for glorification of a violent lifestyle. Pac’s lyrics came from growing up in circumstances created by others under the watch of our governing bodies.
In the interlude “Pac’s Theme,” the only lyrics are, “I was raised in this society so there’s no way you can expect me to be a perfect person.” Intertwined with these words we hear Quayle’s original condemning words of 2Pacalypse Now. Without any real experiences in less-than-affluent neighborhoods, Vice President Quayle organized his thoughts based solely on excerpts of violent lyrics provided by some staffer. He had no insight into the plight and struggles of the people Shakur channeled.
Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. gives us a more personal look at the person behind the microphone. The album connects with society and includes stories of loss and misery in the ghetto but it also begins to paint the picture of 2Pac the person.
The most touching track comes at the tail end of the album. “Papa’z Song” breaks down the reality of growing up without fathers or male role models, “Had to play catch by myself, what a sorry sight. A pitiful plight, so I pray for a starry night. Please send me a pops before puberty. The things I wouldn’t do to see a piece of family unity.” Like the feelings of the average boy in the same position, the song shifts between feelings of guilt, anger, and sorrow. It marks the first time Shakur allowed his fans to see some of his personal scars.
It is in 1993 that we are introduced to Tupac the teacher. Where 2Pacalypse Now wanted government to change or face a revolution, this album urges the people to stand up to those in power through education and knowledge. In “Last Words” Shakur manifests, “One nigga teach two niggas. Three teach four niggas. And them niggas teach more niggas.” The statement uses the most controversial word in the English language with what seems like utter disregard. In fact, the statement takes back the power of the word to create an impact on his listeners and evoke emotion and change.
This album also marks the first pair of 2Pac singles to make a significant impact on popular music. At a time when rap faced a backlash for lyrics offensive to women, Shakur presents a new side with “Keep Ya Head Up.” The song encourages men to treat women with the respect they deserve. It quickly became an anthem for women in our society and raised the enigma of Shakur to a new level.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have “I Get Around.” The track is a reunion of Tupac and Digital Underground. Shock G and Money-B each provide a verse to the song with Pac’s two verses as the bookends. Where “Keep Ya Head Up” asked that we respect women, each rapper in this song boasts of sexual triumphs and asserts they don’t intend on settling down with one woman.
The two singles stand as paradoxes and serve to humanize Tupac. In fact, this is what sets the album apart from Shakur’s previous endeavor. 2Pacalypse Now presented us with one message but this second endeavor gives us a glimpse of the complicated psyche of the man. We hear multiple beliefs, thoughts, and actions from the same person. 2Pacalypse Now was a strong introduction to a revolutionary voice. Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. presents the complex, wounded, flawed, real person behind that voice.