Label: Death Row/Interscope Records

2Pac's All Eyez on Me is a sprawling masterpiece whose influence and impact is difficult to measure. For years seen as a flawed album by the traditional press (a vaguely positive Rolling Stone review called his performance that of a "garden-variety thug") All Eyez is actually undeniable: it sparked smash singles, transformed 2Pac into a superstar, and inspired a new generation of million-selling artists.

Much as some would liked to dislodge the record from hip-hop's canon, it's become an indelible part of popular music's texture. It's the best double-album the genre ever produced, a stunningly consistent record over its long running time. The beats are larger-than-life, and helped the record deliver on the full potential of gangster rap as a popular art form. It captured a moment in hip-hop's history that vanished as quickly as it appeared.

 

The beats are larger-than-life, and helped the record deliver on the full potential of gangster rap as a popular art form.

 

The production made the previous three years of East Coast hip-hop sound old, forcing Biggie to play catch-up. The album was a prism transmitting every aspect of 2Pac, poet-thug-artist-actor-songwriter.

Take a closer look at "How Do U Want It," the "Body Heat"-sampling smash single featuring K-Ci and Jojo: an R&B hook on a hardcore hip-hop song that never for a moment felt like a compromise—a party anthem that had time to diss Delores Tucker, Bill Clinton, and Bob Dole. All Eyez on Me was rap-as-pop-music's big bang, the moment it became at once uncompromised and larger-than-life, the formula for its success as the most important music in America.

The album is packed with songs that have gone on to become completely iconic to the culture, a collection of unforgettable moments. The snares on "Ambitionz Az a Ridah." The roiling bass of "Skandalouz" after Pac tells Daz to stop playing around on the piano. Snoop's monologue about seeing a video ho at the Million Man March. Rappin' 4-Tay opening his verse "Pac, I feel ya." DJ Quik producing under the name David Blake for the tour de force "Heartz of Men." The East Coast beat mastered by West Coast engineers on "Got My Mind Made Up." The wobbly, disorienting effects of DeVante Swing's beat for "No More Pain." "Ain't nothin but a gangsta paaaarty."

And that's just disc one. —David Drake