Twenty years ago today, Tupac Shakur’s landmark third album, Me Against the World, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. On that day — April 1, 1995 — the West Coast rapper was behind bars, just weeks into serving his sentence for a sexual abuse conviction (he maintained his innocence until the day he died).
While the album has become a hip-hop classic (many argue it’s his best), response to Me Against the World was far more varied when it landed.
Here’s what a variety of critics said about Tupac’s Me Against the World back in 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, by James Bernard (publication date unknown):
2Pac does the black-man-backed-into-a-corner routine better than just about anyone because that’s largely who he is. When he says it’s ”me against the world,” there’s an urgency that only comes from experience. On record, the rapper-turned-movie icon’s vocals are buried deep in the mix. That’s a shame — if they were more in-your-face, the lackluster beats might be less noticeable. B-
Chicago Sun-Times, by Jaleel Abdul-Adil (April 9, 1995)
2Pac’s latest also mixes toughness and tenderness. Desperation follows raw anger on “Fuck the World” and “It Ain’t Easy,” but most tracks confess frailties beneath the rapper’s tough exterior. “Dear Mama” is a tear-jerking tribute to his mother’ “Lord Knows” discloses desperate considerations of suicide, and “So Many Tears” ponders a merciless world that wrecks young lives. 2Pac even includes a sorrowful “shout-out” to Joey Sandifer, the Chicago teenager whose brief life ended in a brutal shooting.
After earlier releases that lacked focus and consistency, 2Pac finally presents a polished project of self-examination and social commentary. It’s ironic that it arrives as his sentence begins.
The New York Times, by Jon Pareles (April 9, 1995)
The album will surprise anyone expecting a tough guy’s most savage boasts. Where early gangster rap celebrated machismo, elegies have been appearing for the last few years, notably Ice Cube’s 1990 “Dead Homiez.” Me Against the World revolves around memories and mourning.
The music has a fatalistic calm, in a commercial mold. Some songs pick up the slow-rolling bass and the almost casual synthesizer hooks of Dr. Dre’s productions; others mix viscous bass lines and overlapping vocals like Parliament-Funkadelic. It’s a long, slow grind; while 2Pac doesn’t sing, other voices do, providing smooth melody.
Los Angeles Times, by Jerry Crowe (April 8, 1995)
Shakur’s incarceration hasn’t hindered the success of his third solo album, Me Against the World, which has been No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s weekly sales chart since Interscope Records released the collection three weeks ago. Boosted by the success of “Dear Mama,” which is No. 7 this week on the Billboard singles chart, Me Against the World has sold almost 500,000 copies.
Shakur, 23, and Interscope seem to have made the most of a unique situation, launching the album with a marketing program that was in part shaped by Shakur from prison.
The rapper has granted only one jailhouse interview, telling Vibe magazine that his “thug life” was finished after several scrapes with the law and a brush with death last Nov. 30, when he was shot five times while being robbed outside a Manhattan recording studio.
Shakur, who co-starred with Janet Jackson in the 1993 film Poetic Justice, told Vibe that the interview would be his last.
“If I get killed, I want people to get every drop,” he said. “I want them to have the real story.”