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2Pac + Outlawz: Still I Rise

Album: Still I Rise
Label: Interscope

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Tupac Shakur never shied away from gangsta-rap cliches during his brief but prolific career. Look through his catalog and you'll find an encyclopedia of gangsta tropes: obligatory shout-outs to fallen homeboys, bloodthirsty machismo, heavy doses of shameless sentimentality and self-pity. But what set him apart from his less revered contemporaries was a rare and powerful ability to inject cliches with emotion and honesty. Who else could make a couplet as stilted as, "Even as a crack fiend, mama / You always was a black queen, mama" sound like anything but sentimental hogwash? 2Pac's latest posthumous release, Still I Rise, is taken from some of his final recording sessions and, accordingly, sounds like a series of respectable outtakes from such Death-Row era releases as All Eyez On Me and Don Killuminati: 7 Day Theory. Rooted in the same somewhat generic G-funk that typified much of his work, Still I Rise touches all the bases, including a lesser sequel to a trademark hit ("Baby Don't Cry (Keep Ya Head Up II)"), a fuzzy but well intentioned political rant ("Letter To The President"), and mediocre gangsta rap ("Secretz Of War"). It's hard to listen to 2Pac's gun-toting nihilism without thinking of his bloody death, just as it's hard to listen to the anti-rape "Baby Don't Cry" without recalling his conviction for sexual assault. Many of the more socially responsible tracks here come off as faded retreads of earlier work, yet there's no denying the passion and intensity 2Pac brought to almost everything he did. There's nothing revelatory on Still I Rise—its punchiest and most memorable track, "Killuminati," is also abhorrently nihilistic—but there's nothing particularly embarrassing, either. Which, for the many fans who made Greatest Hits a multi-platinum blockbuster, should be more than enough.