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"Makaveli" at 25: The Morbid Myth-Making of 2Pac's Final Statement

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In 1996, 53 days after his tragic death, 2Pac’s final album, The Don Kiluminati: The 7 Day Theory, dropped.

What was meant to be a new beginning for Pac, a break from the often shiny, gangsta-party sound that had dominated his previous mega-successful Death Row release, All Eyez On Me, instead became his final statement. Recorded under the alias "Makaveli," (and in just seven days), the album captures the complex ideas and duality that Pac personified, maybe more than any of his other releases. Even the cover is evocative and eerie— it features an illustration of Pac hanging on a cross with an explanatory warning that the image was “in no way an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ.” 

The 12-track album (often casually referred to as simply "Makaveli" by fans) is often haunting, somber, and stamped with dark emotion that’s outlined with rage, like on the opener,  “Bomb First (My Second Reply)” featuring the Outlawz. It was Pac’s answer to the response that his venomous diss track, “Hit Em Up,” received. That song flows seamlessly into what’s probably the album’s most popular and one of Pac’s signature tracks, “Hail Mary,” with one of the most quotable openers of all-time:

The album takes a quick break from the cloud of anger that hovers over the first two tracks, and Pac dips quickly into party mode (with R&B singers Aaron Hall and K-Ci and JoJo Hailey of Jodeci, as well as Death Row vocalist Danny Boy) on the lead single, “Toss It Up," a song that retraces his previous Hailey collaboration "How Do You Want It" from All Eyez... And Pac is soon spreading his love from the Bay to L.A. with another single: the Prince-sampling, groovy, “To Live In Die of L.A.” Those two songs are pretty much the only blips of lightheartedness on the record — 2Pac quickly gets back to the business of exploring themes of life, death, judgment, and the reckoning that should take place for sins committed against his people, as well as the questioning if the sins Black men have committed while trying to survive are even sins at all.

On his fifth and final album, he’s pondering religion and how it plays into his home life and personal moral code which has been shaped by the injustices he’s experienced his whole life. It comes to life on the creeping “Blasphemy” where he seems to rage then question, embrace then reject, and ultimately wearily accept some of the basic tenants of Christianity and its concept of heaven, and how someone like him might get there.

And later, his bars lent fire to the idea that he wasn’t really dead, adding to the air of mystique that surrounded him after his untimely death.

Pac was already known for heavily exploring death, a reputation he solidified with his 1995 album Me Against The World, which was melancholy, heavy, and sometimes desperate. On both albums, Pac is telling first-person stories about surviving in a system that was never meant for you, but as Makaveli, it feels different, less intimately observational, and more personal. A year later, he sounds both angry and tired— but there are budding signs of optimism, too.

On the standout track, “Krazy” he talks about living and learning (“Last year was a hard one but life goes on/bumpin’ my head against the wall learnin’ right from wrong”), growing up, and putting old habits behind him (“Hennessey got me feeling bad/time to stop drinkin’”), and in one of his signature displays of vulnerability, admits to tearing over a letter he got from his sister, Setchu (“Tell Setchu that I love her, but it’s hard today/I got the letter that she sent me and I cried for weeks…”).

“Krazy” kicks off the back-end of the album, which is sprinkled with pointed e storytelling like on “White Manz World,” which explores the emotional side of being locked up, and how living in an intrinsically racist America affects the psyche, actions, and ambition of young Black men. Khalid Abdul Muhammad, who also appeared on Ice Cube’s raging politically charged classic Death Certificate a few years earlier is featured, and the song ends with Pac shouting a string of political prisoners like Geronimo Pratt and Mumia Abdul Jamal.

On “Hold Ya Head,” it’s more of the same. Pac offers bars of encouragement to his homies who are locked up, and the track opens with the haunting click of cell bars closing and a guard yelling out inmate numbers. It’s quietly one of the best songs on the album, a glimpse into where Pac’s head was, and the direction he was likely headed in if he’d lived. The raw stories he was telling were held together by cautious hope that maybe things will get better.

The album closes with “Against All Odds,” another dark track aimed at who he perceived to be his enemies at the time, namely Haitian Jack, Mobb Deep, Nas, and De La Soul.

In the 25 years since it was released, the air of mystique that shrouded the album still lingers. Although most fans have stopped attempting to dissect his lyrics to see if he really did leave messages that “Suge shot him” or that he secretly planned his death to avoid the feds and live in Cuba, the power of the album remains. It offers a snapshot of the sound Pac was cultivating, and glimmers of the man he was becoming. At times mournful and raw, at others angry and dark, The Don… is might be Pac’s best work, and his most personal. More than two decades later, it resonates just as heavily as it did when it first dropped.