Song: I Get Around (1992)
Album: Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
His first major hit, peaking at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, I Get Around is Pac at his boastful best. Featuring guests by his former groupmates Shock G and Money B from Digital Underground and produced by Shock himself, this track is a fun, unrepentant party jam and in it Pac is not shy about detailing his inclinations towards the ladies.
Song: Hail Mary (1997)
Album: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
Pac’s talent for crafting memorable verses bleeds through so powerfully in Hail Mary; it’s impossible to catch all the lyrical greatness in just one listen. From the second you hear the ominous opening lines, “I ain’t a killer but don’t push me,” you know you’re in for something different. The rapper, who had reinvented himself as Makaveli, never hid the fact that he was religious, but Hail Mary feels like a really twisted prayer, as he swerves from discussions of God to sex to personal fears to warning his enemies to leave him alone. The song has also since been tied to the lore surrounding his death.
Song: Dear Mama (1995)
Album: Me Against the World
The title is pretty self-explanatory but 2Pac included a moving tribute to his mother Afeni Skakur on Me Against the World, detailing painful memories of his childhood and his relationship with her. Rather than speak critically of her for kicking him out of the house when he was 17 and her addiction to crack cocaine, 2Pac tells her that he understands the struggles of raising children in poverty.
Song: Hit ‘Em Up (1996)
Album: a B-side track
No song really captures how bad the so-called East Coast-West Coast beef of the ‘90s had gotten like Hit ‘Em Up. Pac pulled no punches in his vitriolic attacks on former friends Notorious B.I.G. and Sean Combs (who was going by Puff Daddy back then), after he suspected that they were behind the 1994 shooting at Quad Studios, where he sustained five gunshot wounds. No one else affiliated with Bad Boy Records was safe, either. He lobbed taunts, threats and biting insults at Mobb Deep, Lil’ Kim, Biggie’s wife, singer Faith Evans, and even rap group Junior Mafia. Leaving rap verses behind completely in the last minute and a half of the song, he named everyone he considered an enemy.
Song: California Love (1996)
Album: All Eyez On Me
California Love is indisputably the best celebratory song for a state. As much of a built-for-radio hit as he has ever made, you don’t get much of the lyrical skill you’re used to from Pac here, but the fact that the song was even written showed that he had fully made the West Coast his home, even though he had spent a large portion of his life on the East Coast. Dr. Dre’s explosive production and Roger Troutman’s heavily auto-tuned chorus also set the perfect backdrop for Pac’s ode to California and its people. The massive production of the Mad Max-themed video even further cemented Pac’s status as one of the heaviest hitters in the game.
Song: 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted (1996)
Album: All Eyez on Me
Continuing his Deathrow team ups, 2Pac and Snoop Dogg got together for 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted while they were both facing serious legal troubles, hence the title. Obviously, instead of being concerned about the possibility of prison sentences, they reveled in their notoriety on the infectious party track. Boasting and blunt smoke were the order of the day in ‘96 and the combination of 2Pac’s lyrical flow and Snoop’s unmistakable, low-key style made for a memorable track.