We Talked to French Rappers About Their Favorite 2Pac Songs

We Talked to French Rappers About Their Favorite 2Pac Songs

While everyone tears apart 'All Eyez On Me,' these French rappers shift focus.
Meredith Balkus
translated by Meredith Balkus
Brooklyn, US
June 25, 2017, 4:52pm

A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey France.

Though All Eyez On Me, the divisive new biopic, can't capture the fullness of Tupac Shakur's life, the remarkable catalog of music that he left us hasn't faded. His work engages the autobiographical, romantic, melancholic, and intimate—some songs are celebratory while others are more brooding. His tracks are as spiritual and personal as they are borne from heated protests and paranoid delusions. His discography still manages to reveal unexpected nuances and new messages that speak to the present day. What's certain is that the guy commands respect: Even Mobb Deep, despite their feud with Pac at the time, demanded that radios retire their diss-track "Drop A Gem On 'Em" out of respect for their rival a few weeks after his passing.

That same respect is evident in France: From the Mafia K'1 Fry to Lucio Bukowski, IAM, or Sameer Ahmad, everyone has mentioned the rapper in their music at least once. With everyone ripping into All Eyez On Me we decided to shift focus and ask some of France's best MCs about their favorite 2Pac songs. Nikkfurie, Espiiem, Dosseh, A2H and more were more than happy to talk about him.

Nikkfurie (La Caution): "Changes"

"2Pac wasn't really a [major] influence for me, but more of an example of how to reinforce authenticity in your lyrics without faking it. [The accuracy of emotion] in the timbre of the voice on our song "Peines de Maures," for example, reworks the process 2Pac mastered to perfection. It's actually impossible for me to pick a specific song from the ones he wrote—his work is so crazy. Off the cuff, I could say "Life Goes On" for how melodically demanding and [perfectly articulate] the rap is. But as to musical synthesis and what it represents, I'd opt for "Changes" in the end, even if it's a track [that's made for] super easy listening. With the melodic piano and cleverly reworked hook—at its core, it's Bruce Hornsby. The melancholic side works perfectly with 2Pac's main message, depicted here through pragmatic social commentary: "And I still see no changes." And even if some people say that 2Pac wasn't the most technically exciting of MCs, his tone, his timbre, and his lyrics made that message alive; almost palpable and visible. That's technically really difficult to do. So, like a sort of outro to his career as a MC who was at once commercial and ultra profound, "Changes"—which was released posthumously—is particularly resonant in my eyes, and continues to cry out to the present day."

Dosseh: "I Ain't Mad At Cha"

"Along with Michael Jackson, 2Pac is the only artist I'm really a fan of. I even had posters of him in my room when I was a kid. I didn't understand his lyrics at the time, but I had the impression what he was saying was very important. It's so simple: His attitude, his way of speaking, his charisma—everything about 2Pac impressed me. I wanted to be him. Moreover, when I stumbled on a translation of his songs, it only confirmed what I'd suspected: The way the guy thought was clearly different from others; all at once, you'd have the entertaining side of him and the more reflective, deeper one. He wasn't just distracted, and that's what I always liked about him—in my mind, that's actually the thing I tried to replicate on my first album, Yuri.

As a result, I'm having a hard time picking a specific track of his. Aside from All Eyez On Me, the first CD I bought, there's at least ten songs I'd like to talk about. But fine, if I can only name one, I'd say "I Ain't Mad At Cha," particularly because of the scene where he stages his own death. I was in the 5th grade when I heard he died, and it really hit me; it was like I'd lost a close friend. To be honest, I almost cried. So when I saw that video, I thought it was so funny… And he had the sense to put himself in paradise alongside Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, and you've got to admit he'd clearly earned his place next to guys like that. Like them, 2Pac is one of those artists that push you to feel some sort of affection for them. Whether it's in an interview or on one of his tracks, whether you agree with him or not, he exuded this crazy thing—it's something you can't really put your finger on. You could say he was like a big brother."

A2H: "To Live and Die in LA"

"First, I should confess that I'm [more a fan of] Biggie than 2Pac, but once I got the dimension of the guy outside rap, I immediately wanted to listen to his albums on repeat. And then "To Live And Die In LA" immediately struck me: It's a song and a video of a rider, [a guy] made to have a good time and peacefully represent his city. This track, it'll put a smile on your face—it's a must. You actually feel like he shot the video with the people he's close with, or more or less guys from LA who were down to film it without getting paid simply because they were happy to represent California, to appear in a yellow Cadillac and be in a 2Pac video. Back then, it was even like he was the boss of all California—he imposed a lifestyle, a social engagement, a code of conduct, etc. Even for me, in France—that spoke to me. For awhile I actually tried to rap over the instrumental version of "To Live and Die in LA," but it didn't click; I never figured out how to make a track groove like he could. That only added to my respect for him. That and his impressive charisma, that magnetic part of him that must've made him able to get all the women in LA at the time."

Senamo (La Smala): "All Eyez On Me"

"Well, I should admit that I started to overdose on 2Pac a bit. I listened to him too much and [his music is almost] too mythical, but [that doesn't change the fact] that he's a point of reference for any up and coming rapper. Without exaggerating, I think he's the most important rapper in history, the one who left a timeless mark on the genre and who, even beyond his music, successfully developed a fascinating persona—there were even times where I rapped over his instrumental tracks to test out my own lyrics. It's actually an interesting exercise, because it means the flow accelerates; you have to be faster in some sequences since 2Pac systematically doubles the tempo [in his songs]. Personally, I've never found anything as good as "All Eyez On Me," which has a sound with an ultra-chill vibe; it's less political than the others. It's the perfect song to listen to on vacation. It's actually a track that my friends and I listened to on repeat when we were on vacation in the south of Spain. And without a doubt, that's why I have an added appreciation for "All Eyez On Me"—because it reminds me of a great period, but also because for me it symbolizes friendship, relaxation, and the sun. I know that a lot people consider it one of 2Pac's more New York songs, but his flow and his voice are clearly Californian. When you listen to it, you get the sense that he had the sunlight all around him, and it immediately makes you want to take a ride in a convertible along an ocean boardwalk."

Marc Nammour (La Canaille): "Got My Mind Made Up"

"Simply put, I mostly listened to 2Pac between 1994 and 1997, especially the albums All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati (The Day 7 Theory). After that, I admittedly listened to his posthumous albums less; I was suspicious of all those edited sounds. At the same time, starting in 1994, it was really the moment where he really blew up, where he established himself as the most influential rapper on the West Coast with songs you could dance to, [or ones that were] darker, more involved, or pure ego trips. Obviously I loved everything he represented, his political side, his affiliation with the Black Panthers and his desire to give black people their credibility back. But my favorite one of his songs doesn't involve politics at all. Moreover, it's not even a solo from 2Pac since there's Redman, Method Man, and Kurupt on the track too. It makes [the track] into this huge freestyle where each one gets his 16 measures. It's less hood than "Ambition Az A Ridah," but it makes the song a true UFO on All Eyez On Me. The fact that he reunited Redman and Method Man shows the extent to which 2Pac took a step back from the East Coast-West Coast war, the extent to which he had this unifying quality, which is something that permitted him to easily reunite the people around him."

Jarod: "Starin' Through My Rearview"

"It's a bit dishonest of me to not choose one of the songs from the 2Pac CDs I listened to on repeat since I was ten-years-old. He's by far my biggest influence, whether it's for his raps or his human side. And I know I'm not the only one: A guy like Kendrick Lamar, for example—you really get the sense that 2Pac was the reason he's making music. Me, I learned English by reading his lyrics in tandem with my classes [in school]. In the beginning, I didn't understand more than a single phrase, and then it was two, then three, and then a few slang words and in the end I grasped the full extent of his songs. That often helped me when I didn't know where I was, or really where to put myself [in life]. It gave me strength. For example, "Starin' Through My Rearview"—I must've listened to it for more than two hours straight when I was in prison. It talked about life from a passionate angle, in a really positive way despite the harshness in all the anecdotes and the experiences he mentions. Moreover, the thing I like about this song—besides 2Pac's flow and the sample from "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins—is the presence of Outlawz. You could fault them for being bad rappers or for having weakened some of 2Pac's songs, but in my opinion the guys added something more each time. The verses aren't precise, but you get the impression that they couldn't be said differently, that the truth they're revealing really comes to its full extent when they rap it specifically like that. 2Pac also isn't the same when he's by their side—the songs are less worked through, the recordings are more raw. You get the impression that he's more direct, more raw, and more free. And that's an important to remember: when he was next to Outlawz, 2Pac revealed another facet of his personality."

Espiiem: "Temptations"

"My favorite 2Pac album is undeniably Me Against The World, a CD he recorded after the attempted assassination [on him in 1994] and which was number one on the charts even when he was imprisoned. For me, it's the project that best captures his complex personality—sometimes soft, sometimes aggressive, virtually schizophrenic. For example, the song "Temptations" singlehandedly speaks to all these facets [of his character]. On one hand, there's the contrast in the instrumentals: A powerful rhythm, a soft melody, etc. And from a contextual point of view, in this song 2Pac addresses a woman with whom he wants to spend the night, for lack of a longterm relationship that seems impossible to him. He confers the stress of his new life as a superstar, his loneliness, and his inability to settle down because of his turbulent lifestyle. He wants to be a good man, but the temptations that surround him are multifold."

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