Loyal To The Game

Artist: 2PacTitle: Loyal To The GameRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Clover Hope

Not many artists can pull off the thug poet persona. But the late, great Tupac Shakur was perhaps the best at it, if not its creator. On his seventh posthumous release, Loyal To The Game (Amaru/Interscope), the legendary lyricist ignites the same fire that incited his living works. The self professed "West Coast 'til I Die" emcee breathes additional life into his latest opus—another notch added to an already stellar discography. If not for Eminem's signature, generic beats—handclaps and thumping bass—ruining the experience, another masterpiece would be born.

As executive producer, along with Pac's ma Afeni Shakur, Em works with Pac's vast catalogue of studio material, and the outcome is impressive at the least. But Em's monotonous production often curtails Pac's rebellious lyricism, as on the opening track, "Soldier Like Me," which stays regrettably faithful to Em's bass-heavy production. The same goes for "Out on Bail" and the overly-sluggish "N.I.G.G.A." (Never Ignorant About Getting Goals Accomplished), featuring Jadakiss. On "Black Cotton," with its alluring piano and guitar instrumentals, Pac depicts the struggles of being black in the '90s, as Em sings an addictive hook: "Nobody don't care/Seems like my dreams/Drowned in by

screams/No answer to my questions." Kastro and Noble of the Outlawz supply their own nifty verses.

The Elton John-sampled "Ghetto Gospel," an extremely poignant blend of Pac's lyrics with haunting gospel vocals, sounds like it was recorded in Pac's earlier "I Get Around" stages; his voice is higher pitched. Nevertheless, Pac tells an enthralling story of the streets while repudiating his role model status when he says, "Never forget/that God isn't finished with me yet/I feel his hand on my brain/When I write rhymes, I go blind and let the Lord do his, thing."

Pac talks of his tribulations and trust issues with women on "Don't You Trust Me," which like its sister song "Stan" (by Em), features Dido's airy vocals. In "Thugs Get Lonely Too," Pac expresses his love—and lust—for females and gangster crooner Nate Dogg imparts yet another one of his melodic refrains. But once again, Em's excessive bass (think "In Da Club") is all too familiar by now. Thankfully, the Scott Storch-produced remix, "Po N*gga Blues," featuring R&B legend Ron Isley, is soulful as Pac's insightful verses on living in the slums fuse seamlessly with the beat: "I'm a fool for my n*gga and my

pockets stay empty/To my brothers in the barrio/You're livin' worse than the n*ggas in the ghetto, so/I give a f*ck about the language of complexion/You got love from the n*ggas in my section." In the captivating chorus, Pac discourses with himself, "Why'd you slang crack? / 'Cause I had to…A n*gga gotta pay the f*ckin' rent."

Raphael Saadiq, Red Spyda and DJ Quik lend quality production assistance on bonus tracks/remixes, but a more diverse team would have alleviated Em's homogeny. Despite a few shotty songs, Pac holds it down with his inflected flow—if one can get past the sub-par beats to simply observe Pac's poetic genius and acute storytelling. Em ultimately fails in his attempt to inject his own vision into Pac's

unruly, complex personality. But what producer has been able to fully resuscitate Pac's vivacity since his untimely death? Loyal To The Game, if anything, remains devoted to Pac's mastery for detailing the gritty accounts of 'hood reality, the warrior mentality and a raw truth that is utterly unmatched.