October 11, 2021

Thug Life "Thug Life: Volume 1" (October 11, 1994)

Some may only recognize Thug Life as the two words infamously tattooed across 2Pac's abdomen, but interviews from the mid-90s reveal that he had big plans for the brand—he foresaw it as the name of a worldwide movement, culture, and lifestyle of a revolutionary urban lower class. As we all know, Shakur never lived to see this dream realized, and before any of these ideas could be put into effect Thug Life was the name of a group and an album by 'Pac and his friends. Already infamous for his first two solo albums and various run-ins with the law yet not quite the household name he would become in his final two years of life, "Thug Life: Volume 1" was released by Interscope in September 1994, just two months before the New York shooting that embattled the star with Bad Boy Records, five months before beginning his eleven-month stay at Clinton Correctional Facility, a year before signing on with Suge Knight and Death Row, and two years before his Las Vegas murder. This album thus provides a snapshot of a pivotal albeit overlooked time in Shakur's life. His incarceration strongly influenced the volatile and deeply philosophical recordings of his Death Row days, which produced the most celebrated and controversial music of his catalog, and his output immediately before might serve as a suggestion of another path his career may have taken had he faced different circumstances. Perhaps most significantly, the Thug Life project is the only full album that places 2Pac in the context of a rap group. Shakur was affiliated with a few different lineups in his recording years, beginning of course with Digital Underground in the early 1990s. After achieving superstardom as a solo entity, another group of friends and frequent collaborators credited as Dramacydal began to appear on his records, the group that would later evolve into Outlawz. With 2Pac as the obvious focal point, the Thug Life lineup included Inglewood's Big Syke, who would go on to a moderately successful solo career and record with Outlawz as Mussolini; Los Angeles rappers Macodoshis and Rated R, who would later be convicted of murder; and 'Pac's elder stepbrother Mopreme. While not an official member, 'Pac's friend Stretch from the Digital Underground days, a frequent producer and guest rapper on the first two 2Pac LPs, raps on two tracks and produces five; he too would be gunned down in late 1995. Revisit it/Cont'd below...

"Thug Life: Volume 1" maintains an unusual balance between a group album and a 2Pac project. A far greater rapper and character than his buddies, 'Pac's larger than life persona is the immediate star, and he is the only member afforded solo cuts. He's also the driving creative force; more often than not his verses provide the backbone and direction of the songs, and the others merely echo his sentiments. As their name suggests, the Thug Life boys seek to engrain the listener into the day-to-day existence of a West Coast thug. While this may sound terribly proverbial on paper, they share with 2Pac passion and charisma that usually compensates for any lyrical and conceptual deficiencies. The conviction that each exhibits makes it hard not to feel the desperation, entrapment, injustice, and do-or-die mentality that they purvey, and this is what makes their narratives so compelling. At an age where most young folks hope to explore and enjoy the world's myriad opportunities, these men barely into their twenties felt hopelessly ensnared by societal factors beyond their control and turned to lives of crime—lives for which their criminal records indicate were hardly embellished in their rhymes.... "Thug Life: Volume 1" is an essential and frequently overlooked chapter of the 2Pac saga, bearing the fruits of the West Coast renaissance and the great year that was 1994. Like most of Shakur's music, its intangibles make it a better record than the sum of its parts, and the case for classic status could be made for half of these ten tracks. "Thug Life: Volume 1" is classic 'Pac, exhibiting all the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions that made him the world's most compelling rapper: a conscientious yet shameless thug, at times brooding and others exuberant, and seemingly obsessed with his own death, which ironically awaited him less than two years down the road. Listening to it, it boasts all the qualities that led to his being labeled a visionary, a martyr, and an icon, but it also features timeless, impeccably produced music from an unheralded group, comprising an essential listen that captures rap's most fascinating and polarizing figure. - RapReviews. Rest In eternal Peace, Tupac Shakur!!!