Making my own mind up
For better or worse, Tupac "2pac" Shakur played a huge role in shaping my teenage musical life. I ran a Geocities fan site which focused on his notorious criminal actions as much as his music. Thankfully, the WayBackMachine decided it wasn't worth archived. Similarly, my parents decided that my impressive collection of 2pac posters weren't worth the cheap glossy cardboard they were printed on and discharged them many years ago, along with the accompanying computer-printed bitmaps of Pac spitting at TV cameras, Pac shirtless, Pac naked in a bath-tub etc, that I'd artistically plastered across my school workbooks — much to the concern of my Catholic high-school teachers. In fact, one of those teachers even once told me that at a previous school students had held a candlelight vigil when Tupac was shot at Quad Recording Studios in 1994, scoffing at the idea of people holding a rapper in such high regard.
Like most double disc hip-hop albums released around the same time — Biggie's Life After Death, Wu-Tang's Forever, Bone Thugs' Art of War — 2pac's All Eyez On Me would have benefited greatly from a stricter editing process. There's plenty of obvious b-sides scattered amidst the 27 tracks and initially I assigned the fourth track on the first disc, Got My Mind Made Up, into that category.
Got My Mind Made Up was originally recorded in 1995 for Dogg Pound's Dogg Food album and featured both members of the group — Kurupt and Dat Nigga Daz — as well as Wu-Tang Clan sword-swingers, Method Man and Inspectah Deck, and Wu-Tang affiliate, Redman. However, the song never made the cut and eventually ended up on All Eyez On Me with a verse from 2pac replacing Deck's appearance (although he does briefly appear on the outro yelling "Rebel INS").
My initial distaste for the song was focused solely on the production. I found the beat to be infuriatingly impatient, sliding between squeaking sneakers and punchy b-boy linearity, completely void of any funk sampling or stretched melodic qualities, signature characteristics of 90's g-funk West Coast production at the time. It sounded at odds with pretty much everything else on the record — most likely the same reason it was cut from Dogg Food in the first place. But within the context of All Eyez On Me it stuck out like a Dallas Cowboy fan at a Bloods Rally, sounding as though it's undercooked raw style was solely to appease the song's two "East Coast" guests — Method Man and Redman.
Which brings us to the second, and far more questionable, source for my dislike.
Like many other young, impressionable hip-hop fans of the time, I was heavily invested in the raging East vs West war, obviously completely unaware of the future, real world tragedies that would ensue. I sided with the West Coast/Death Row camp, a decision based purely on the charismatic nature of Tupac and the digestion of the unsubstantiated bullshit Pac — and to somewhat of an even greater extent, Death Row CEO, Suge Knight — force fed me. Biggie's Who Shot Ya? was a confessional taunt, Big Syke was a far superior carrier of hydro than Lil Cease and Kurupt spat flame-grilled Whoppers while Jay-Z slow-roasted beef roasts — and wore fucking hawaiian shirts. Now, in light of the proceeding events and the unceremoniously sputtering career paths of those involved, I shudder at my youthful naivety.
Method Man and Redman, while completely removed from the East/West rivalry, still repped the right side of the country, rarely getting through a track without mentioning their home towns of Staten Island and Newark. For this, I immediately pigeonholed them into the rivals camp, without even considering their actual abilities. From my stupidly judgemental 13-year-old viewpoint they had no place on a Death Row album.
Time passed and, obviously, my staunch views eased considerably, influenced heavily by the tragic events of September 13, 1996 and March 9, 1997. The last few years of the decade were spent playing catch-up — Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, The Infamous and dozens more incredibly significant hip-hop records that I'd initially dismissed purely because of their geographical association. While on this pallet-expanding adventure I neglected my West Coast rap collection and only in recent years have I revisited and reignited my obsession with these albums that, although forever tainted due to the direct association with a now embarrassingly ill-informed period of my life, were such a pivotal part of the development of my musical taste. During my attempts to re-engage with fresh ears, rather than nostalgic connections, I found myself frequently becoming fixated on Got My Mind Made Up.
Hindsight. It's a luxury we can all afford, given it only costs a pocketful of pride and/or a novelty-sized memory eraser. A retrospective vantage point and a wider appreciation of the genre as a whole are the two main reasons my attitude towards this song flipped so dramatically over the past fifteen years.
In 1996, a distinct line existed between the East and West. While based primarily on the aforementioned marketing-powered "war", there was also a notable divide between the two distinctly contrasting styles of rap music being created. In many ways, 2pac was one of the key connecting lines. Not only because of his own personal history — born and raised on the East Coast yet becoming a Cali Convert(tm) in exchange for some much-needed bail money — but also because it could be argued that he equally inherited qualities from both camps — the explosive gritty angst and hunger of the NY streets, mixed with the considerably more laid-back, sunshine-basking nonchalance of the Golden State fraternity (for the ease of clarity and word-counts, we're going to pretend that Southern Rap doesn't exist at this point in time, please don't be mad... everyone).
But, surprisingly, Pac isn't the centrical force at work here. It's Dat Nigga Daz's production that holds Got My Mind Mate Up together, flexibly finding a midpoint for the widely differing styles of the four featured MCs. Of course, technically, there's five rappers on this track, but labelling Daz an MC is like calling Lil Wayne a guitarist.
Much like his mentor, Dr Dre, Dat Nigga Daz's musical abilities heavily outweigh his skills as a rapper. Although later in his career under the Dillinger moniker he became a far more animated lyricist, at this point he was still dragging his paws, spouting lines with a slow-paced, often painfully casual, gin-and-monotonic slur. But this first-gear delivery perfectly levels out the track's pace, lulling us into a false sense of weeded-out calmness, ahead of Pac aggressively grabbing the microphone and jumping into his verse with his usual fulminating passion.
"It's similar to Rhythm Nation, But thugged out. Forgive me, Janet"
Throughout his career — both on record and film — Tupac frequently portrayed a character torn between public perceptions and his own self-created persona. He desired to be the unapproachable, yet playful, thug of the party. The one people were scared to go near, but drawn to nonetheless. Yet, he seemingly drowned in the associated drama and stigmas this brought on. Like his brief friendship with Janet Jackson during the filming of the movie Poetic Justice, which imploded after she requested him to take a HIV test ahead of the love scenes. This line holds much greater significance knowing this back-story which, as a 13-year-old "homie" from suburban Sydney, I was obviously completely unaware of. It's origin, combined with the throwaway insincerity of his apology, makes it one of the more memorable lines he delivers, not only on this song, but also the entire record.
The "hook" of Got My Mind Made Up — a mere three lines drawled by Method Man between puffs — only appears once, presumably insisted as an inclusion by Shakur in the hope that people will not immediately compare his verse with Kurupt's.
"Well I comes through with two packs of the bomb prophylacs for protection, So my fucking sac won't collapse".
Kurupt The Kingpin's explosive guest verses were second only to his diligent support of safe-sex. Aside from being slightly outdone in the latter of those two key areas by runway pioneers, TLC (who wore connys as bloody fashion accessories), Kurupt was pretty much guaranteed to bring the heat when you called him up and said "oi kingy, wanna come to the studio and lay down 16-or-so bars?". Whilst he was never able to successfully transition his uzi-like verbal sprays onto releases baring just his own name, on Got My Mind Made Up he takes the cake. He then proceeds to not only bake the cake but also drive the said cake from state to state.
Speaking of Method Man, the transition between Kurupt and himself is fairly seamless, believable that they were even possibly in the same time zone when their verses were recorded. A detail rarely even considered in the current immediacy of modern, Internet-focused hip-hop.
The significance of Meth on this track is also purely from a nostalgic perspective. Here we get glorious, pre-Y2K-paranoia Meth, before he had that Cheech-n-Chong-n-Terminator complex and thought that having an album cameo from Donald Trump would be a swell idea. Before he became "too casual" about, well, everything. Here he is, pretty much at his peak, effortlessly leaking out some memorable lines about Hitler's love of melons in his scorched lung tone and perfectly rambling flow.
"Non-believers get my dick and genitals backwards"
Lines like that are somewhat confusing to a late-blooming, prepubescent 13-year-old. While slightly more comprehendible in the Rap Genius future we currently dwell in, it still remains the most mind-sticking line from Redman's verse, mostly because of the salacious manner in which it's delivered.
In retrospect, Daz's beat is — stylistically, at least — best suited to Red's linguistic playfulness, sounding affined to the Second Generation EMPD funk that Red partnered with for much of his career. A career which at the time, although benefiting greatly off the back of the 1995 Method Man-partnered, stoner anthem, How High, was still very much in a development stage. Yet Junior MC Redman holds his own nobly (pun intended) amongst his million-sale scanning brethren.
The springboard effect of the song would materialise later that year, with Redman becoming a household hip-hop name off the back of his career pinnacle LP, Muddy Waters. Of course, from there, with life-partner Meth by his side, Red proceeded to get toasted for the next decade-or-so, before returning to college as a post-post-post-grad.
Some would argue that some of the justifications I've made regarding the significance of Got My Mind Made Up, especially in relation to the career's of those involved, are widely gratuitous. And that's fine. Because I'm more likely amplifying the importance of this track due to the significance it represents to me personally. This isn't just five minutes and thirteen seconds of above-average mid-90s rap music. It's an austere reminder of skewed childhood judgements, close-minded hype digestion and always attempting to experience everything from an untainted perspective. I'm not there yet, far from it. But this song is cued up most days to remind me to try and be.