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Thomas Hobbs sometimes gets sad just thinking about the fact that we’re never getting another series of Mindhunter.

Tupac Shakur was eerily prophetic when it came to his death. During his tragically short but prolific 25 years, he looked at eternal sleep as an opportunity for a much-needed rest: something to be embraced rather than feared, a chance to go drink peppermint Schnapps with Jackie Wilson somewhere beyond the clouds. Pac’s lyrics understood mortality with a sharpness and bravery that recalled Anne Bronte’s “Farewell” poem (“Make way for a whirlwind prophesied / I wanna go in peace when I gotta die.”) Death was a concrete end rather than a mystical new beginning; it was no surprise then that “my only fear of death is coming back to this b*tch reincarnated” was among the clear instructions he left behind.

In death, Pac’s plea to avoid reincarnation feels continuously ignored. His soul has been repackaged in numerous forms, many of them astoundingly tone deaf: from the hologram that chanted “Waddup Coachella” to a Frankenstein transformation into a ketamine-funneled talking head for ravers at Berghain (electronic producer Jaymie Silk recently used deep fake Pac vocals to create this monstrosity of a techno song), to even a pop instrument manipulated by Marshall Mathers so it could yell “G-Unit in the motherf*cking house.” Soon your Granny will be able to mouth the lyrics to “Troublesome 96” on TikTok, another business decision that feels like it’s using puppet strings tol distort Pac’s message.

Despite a creative ethic that led him to “work like a race horse” (the words of Death Row labelmate Snoop Dogg), there hasn’t been a new posthumous 2Pac record since 2006’s mediocre Pac’s Life. This creates the false impression that the well of unreleased Pac has run dry. The reality is more like an estate in disarray. Pac’s sister Sekyiwa is currently fighting through the courts to win back control from an executive (Tom Whalley), who she claims is running a “hide and control operation” that prevents the Shakur family from having access to their late loved one’s lost songs, profits, and personal artifacts.

For an outspoken artist striving to overcome the struggle of living in a capitalist white man’s world, the idea that this radical voice could be twisted by someone who isn’t even a Shakur is jarring. If you want a true indicator of the inward-looking, paranoid spin on G-funk that defined Pac’s unreleased material, the posthumous material available on DSPs offers slim pickings.

But YouTube-buried Pac classics still remain: from the anthemic material recorded for the unfinished One Nation project (intended to rebuild the damaged links between the East and West Coast), to the gutter funk of the Thug Pound sessions (an LA-based supergroup that included Pac, Snoop, Daz, Kurupt, DJ Quik, and the Outlawz). My hope is that by shining a light on these particular rarities, we can uncover fresh insights into Pac’s mindset and readers can experience his frenetic energy the way it was originally intended.

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“One love to that ni**a D’Angelo…no disrespect big playa, but we loved this beat so much we just had to spit to it!”

Just like the rest of the world, 2Pac clearly felt D’Angelo’s neo-soul, baby-making masterpiece Brown Sugar. A gangsta rap remake of its silky highlight “Sweet Lady,” “You Can’t Fade Me” finds the lead artist and new Americana sex symbol hilariously instructing a teenage Napoleon (of the Outlawz) on how to approach women during a night out in downtown Los Angeles.

Pac boasts of a lothario ability to make “time stop” whenever he locks eyes with a potential lover, just like when Adam glanced at Eve, before promising a romantic trip back to Monty’s Steakhouse (a regular hangout for the Death Row mob) for ribeyes and lobster tails. Sadly, D’Angelo and 2Pac never crossed paths, but this unearthed treasure hints at the magic that would have occurred had they got the chance.

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Somber guitar licks and a bluesy beat break fuel this unreleased Thug Life song. Alongside Stretch [of the Live Squad], Pac examines the aftermath of a lifestyle defined by endless violence; “They killed my ni**a and I’m restless.” Pac sounds like he’s confessing to his priest about all the nightmares sparked by a friend being killed before their time.

With unflinching honesty, he goes further: “The family is falling into pieces, his momma can’t understand the madness / I can’t explain the drama.” Here, 2Pac flexes one of his greatest storytelling strengths: the ability to consider every angle. We hear about the plight of the grieving mother to the murderous intentions of the weeded-out rebel, hell-bent on securing revenge. “When your n***a dies it hurts the most” is a line tellingly repeated over and over on the chorus. Few gangsta rap songs nail the lunacy of grief like this one.

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Daz Dillinger consistently supplied ‘Pac with knockout beats, and this one was no different. A booming bass line has a bounce that replicates the thrill of the hydraulics sparking to life in Suge’s Piru red lowrider. However, the way the instrumental shifts between jubilant and wistful piano chimes gives off the impression that even during those carefree joy rides down Wilshire Boulevard, there were still concerned eyes in the back of Pac’s head.

The Dogg Pound rapper and producer knew what made Pac tick, evident in this unreleased Thug Pound track, particularly during a moment where the pair energetically rap back-to-back like Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. The celebratory mood is balanced with a militant Pac lecturing his soldiers about illegal and legitimate cash streams. Murder nonethless lurks in the air. The Me Against the World rapper weighs world peace versus the idea of blasting his enemies when they walk out of church in their “Sunday best” – a moral dilemma that perfectly captures a man who wore his neverending contradictions like badges of honor.

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Pac and DJ Quik shared a deep love for Prince and George Clinton. This meant they had similar sonic instincts and it resulted in an obvious chemistry whenever they crossed paths at Can-AM studios. But whereas their previous collaborations (“Late Night,” “Heartz of Men”) felt like neo-Funkadelic for gangsters with 10mm glocks hidden under their belts, “Things R Changing” is far more gentle.

A nostalgic Franky Beverly and Maze sample creates a comforting environment, prompting Pac and guest Nutso (who boldly admits to pain from his partner recently suffering a miscarriage) to purge their demons. Even though Pac claims this song is intended as a letter to his first born, it’s clear from his crestfallen vocal delivery that he doesn’t really believe he’s ever going to live long enough to father a son.

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On a weekly basis you can find dozens of talking heads speculating on the reality of Pac and Snoop’s friendship over on YouTube. Theories include the idea that Snoop was annoyed that Pac had taken his spot as Death Row’s golden boy while he was still busy fighting a murder case; and that Pac went to his grave cursing out a disloyal Snoop for failing to fully dismiss his most mortal of enemies, Biggie and Puff Daddy.

Whatever the case, this buttery freestyle captures a moment where two of America’s most wanted were still united as insouciant slick-talkers, who existed purely to run through “hoochies,” share blunts and swims in Cabo, and give C. Delores Tucker recurring nightmares. Freestyling verses to a honeyed Diana Ross-inspired groove, Snoop sounds immaculately stoned, only really concerned with preserving the lavish trappings of the gangsta rap lifestyle. By comparison, Pac’s sentiment (“When they see us in the streets / ni**as scream peace”) bites, proof that even during his more laidback moments, war was still at the forefront of his mind.

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If you were to believe the trash 2Pac biopic, All Eyez On Me, then the inner circle of Death Row Records was fuelled purely by savage beat downs. But Snoop Dogg’s verse (“Pushing yachts and jet skis / smoking on hella weed”) on “Just Watching” shows there were plenty of fun times too. Kurupt and Daz boast that “Death Row got the party off the hook” with the energy of jocks at an initiation party, before an uncharacteristically mellow Pac boasts about stealing your chick and running her a bubble bath.

Just as it starts to sound like Pac is trying too hard to prove his Rom-Com chops to Hollywood producers, the rapper re-discovers his venom, referencing Atlanta’s legendary Magic City and complaining about “rat mouth b*tches” who pillow talk to Death Row’s many enemies. The soulful camaraderie here, although at times misogynistic, shows Pac’s Outlawz and The Doggfather’s Dogg Pound Gangstas were a lot more united than some have claimed.

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With sinister horns and distorted heart palpitation drums, this is a rare insight into what Pac’s One Nation project might have sounded like. Insiders have said One Nation was the first step to Pac (who was born in East Harlem, but found himself in Marin County) starting a dialogue with New York after the Death Row vs. Bad Boy beef; but there’s far more rage here than there is peace. “How could you ever cross the ni**a who put food in your stomach!?” complains Pac, obviously mad that a hand that has fed so many rap peers was now savaged with teeth indentations.

Black Moon’s Buckshot brings his usual mischievous backpacker energy, proving (“Your fight is my fight”) not all New York rappers had turned their backs on 2Pac. In this era of major label rappers co-operating with the feds to avoid RICO charges, Pac’s warning that “snitching is an epidemic, killing disease” could easily be taken as a reference to the modern day, which is a big part of the reason why it still sounds so potent.

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“I believe that it is a question of cruelty used well or cruelty used badly. We can say that cruelty is used well when one’s safety depends on it,” wrote Niccolo Machiavelli in his power-hungry short treatise The Prince. We know it is a book (sent in the mail by Wendy Day) that 2Pac studied religiously while stranded in the penitentiary on a sex assault charge, his five bullet wounds still healing.

This feels like a sentiment he took to heart, with “If My Enemies Love Their Kids” showing the kind of twisted measures Pac will use to draw his enemies out from the shadows. Confused that anyone with kids would ever dare to beef with him, especially knowing the high probability it could result in their children being orphaned, Pac spits razors and embodies the heartless Black Michael Corleone. Vocally, there’s an unhinged through line with contemporary drill artists like the late King Von and FBG Duck. He shouts the following warning: “You don’t wanna die and I don’t wanna kill you / keep my name out your mouth or I will drill you.” His days as a socially conscious, open-hearted socialist have never felt more dead than on this track, with Pac changing his mindset so he’s fully prepared for the cruel and harsh realities of war; even if that means maiming children. Machiavelli would have approved.

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While “Hit Em Up” is rightly seen as the darkest diss from the East vs West beef, “NY87” isn’t far behind. A pistols in the air posse cut, this was recorded after Biggie went live on Hot 97, urging New York to fight back against the Dogg Pound, in town to record a music video where Snoop kicked down the iconic skyscrapers of the Big Apple. It resulted in bullets being fired at the Dogg Pound’s trailer, and Kurupt (who raps: “Who the f*ck is this on the radio dissing me?”) is clearly still mad at what transpired.

Young Gotti even throws a lyrical grenade at innocent bystanders A Tribe Called Quest, while Daz laughs about Pac “f*cking Biggie’s b*tch.” DJ Quik makes his crew’s position abundantly clear on the intro with the taunt: “The ni**as on the East are the enemies.” These moments dispel the myth that Pac’s crusade against Bad Boy Records – as a staff, record label, and “a motherf*cking crew” – was a one-sided affair. 2Pac doesn’t actually appear until four minutes in, but when he does he hits the beat with the force of a biblical thunderstorm, barking the words: “I’m on some superman shit now, they shouldn’t have shot me.”

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This would have had God-fearing, white Republicans quaking had it ever seen an official release. On this state of the nation address, Pac revives the ideals of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, shouting out his stepfather, then political prisoner, Mutulu Shakur. Trying to spark a Nat Turner-like insurrection, New Jersey’s rough and rugged Hussein Fatal tells Pac that he just robbed a cracker’s house. Big Syke pops up to bestow the benefits of a street education. But the deepest marks are left by Pac, who opines, “just think of the damage we could do if we wasn’t high.”

He wanted Black America to unite and fire back at crooked police officers. This was a scary thought for the establishment to handle back in the early 1990s, something confirmed by the fact the FBI had 2Pac under surveillance. But it’s a concept that feels equally plausible in 2023, a time where a month doesn’t seem to pass in America without the public murder of a Black man at the hands of the state. With this song, 2Pac had the foresight to leave a blueprint behind for future generations.

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