My Pop Life #40 : I Ain’t Mad At Cha – Tupac Shakur

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I Ain’t Mad At Cha   –   Tupac Shakur

Heard you might be comin’ home, just got bail
Wanna go to the mosque, don’t wanna chase tail
I seems I lost my little homie he’s a changed man
Hit the pen and now no sinnin’ is the game plan

Tupac raps about how times have changed since he was a child, how friends have left him, how people have turned on him since his success, how things can’t ever be the same.   In the first verse an old school friend who became a muslim doesn’t want to join him in his new life making rhymes & money:  but they go back a long way together, and 2pac is not angry.  Second verse is about an old girlfriend, third verse concerns his success.   It’s a lovely lazy funky reminiscence, thoughtful and lyrical, wise and compassionate, one of the best tracks from his best LP All Eyes On Me.  The sly slinky bass line and piano figure is a direct lift  from 1983’s A Dream by Michigan Motown act DeBarge, not sampled but re-played faster and funkier.  But it makes the track one of 2pac’s finest moments, dance-floor filler, late-nite groove, take your partner and slowdance.  Not many rap tunes you can do that with.

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It was recorded the day that Tupac was released from prison – Oct 12 1995, along with another track Ambitionz az A Ridah – both produced by Daz Dillinger.   The soul singer Danny Boy sings the chorus hook.  The track was released 2 days after Tupac was shot dead on Sept 13th 1996 in Las Vegas, probably by the Crips gang whom he had attacked hours earlier.   I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what happened and much print and film has been spent on the attempt, with no clear conclusions.   I personally find the East Coast/West Coast beef unlikely to be the cause of death.

Tupac was an educated man whose parents were both Black Panthers.  He was raised in East Harlem and among his close friends from school were Jada Pinkett.  But it was on the West Coast that he made his mark as a rapper, first with San Fransisco’s Digital Underground, then as himself.   He was a charismatic actor too, clearly in demand and successful but appeared to enjoy flirting with the thug life which eventually killed him as a young man at the age of 25.

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We were getting used to living in Brighton when this LP came out.  All Eyez On Me was a blast of G-funk hip hop from the Dre stabled Death Row Records.  It has 14 producers, including Suge Knight, boss of the label, Dr Dre, and Tupac himself.  Apart from this one track it is an unapologetic glamourisation of gang-banging and thug life, not at all like his previous 2 LPs both of which feature more conscious raps.  We moved to Brighton because it reminded us vaguely of Venice Beach in Los Angeles, one of the few ‘neighbor”-hoods where we’d considered buying a house, but eventually didn’t.  You could hear gunshots there on some evenings as Anita Lewton could testify.  You could buy weed from shady types on Pacific Ave.  The whole LP reminded me of Los Angeles, Snoop Dog, California Love, all that bollocks, there I was on Brighton Beach reading the Argus with headphones on listening to gun this nigga and hoe that.  The grooves are sensationally good, but the content is frankly embarrassing – apart from this one tune.  And this one tune is a tune.   Things were changing…

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                                    Then he got shot.   The video was filmed with a new re-recorded version of the track played live, it features Tupac in heaven alongside other dead musicians Jimi Hendrix, Nat King Cole, Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr.  Danny Boy is also present as an angel.

Change, shit
I guess change is good for any of us…

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My Pop Life #15 : Original Nuttah – Shy FX & Apache Indian

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Original Nuttah   –   Shy FX & Apache Indian

…rude boys inna London…bad boys inna Inglan….

After three years of living in West Hollywood the work dried up.  I’d done 2 movies : Undercover Blues, and Wayne’s World 2 ;  scored the best review of my life in the Los Angeles Times, to no effect;  been up for every film they were making in 1994 – an average of three auditions per week – and done precisely zero. A whole year without work, save for one BBC show in glorious Italy.  The parts I’d been up for were taken by Kevin Spacey (Seven, The Usual Suspects),  Dennis Hopper (Speed, True Romance) and Christopher Walken (True Romance, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead) among others.  Glass ceiling.  Head bumping.  Break On Through To The Other Side.   Maybe we should have stuck it out, but a) we had no money left and b) Jenny hated LA.  We did an epic desert drive to Salt Lake City via Monument Valley and back through Death Valley in my 2-door Lincoln Continental being the ultimate posing ponces on a road trip to our jewish friends in the book of Mormon and then Jenny went back to London and I spent the last month there writing a screenplay in a ferocious rage.  One of my last missions in California  was to my agency on Wilshire Boulevard – Susan Smith & Associates – to tell her that I was no longer interested in doing any meetings or auditions.  “Well”  she said, eyeing me up, “It’ll be very difficult for me to find you any work then.”  I smiled.  “Good”  I said.  “I have no interest in working.”   I flew back to London after giving the car away and had a similar meeting with Michael Foster, my English agent.  Fuck acting I thought, what a fucking useless fucking waste of time, I should have done part 2 of the Legal Exam and I’d be a successful barrister by now instead of which I’m a sad unemployed failure of a git.  I missed LA but had a whole social life back in London to plunge back into.   I remember we started looking for somewhere else to live around this time.   Crouch End and Highgate where we were living by the suicide bridge on Archway Road.  You couldn’t get much bang for your buck even then.  Musically Britpop wasn’t really doing it for me, although I liked Suede and Supergrass.  I’d got disillusioned by the appropriation of the hip hop scene in the US by gangsta rap and turned off the whole thing.  Then I heard this song while out driving one day in North London.  WOW.  Like a breath of fresh air.  I’d missed out on a whole new subscene whilst living in California.  Jungle.  LTJ Bukem had released Logical Progression in 1991 just before we’d left for LA, it was called drum and bass – and Roni Size and Reprazent were a whole two years away – and this song Original Nuttah sounded completely mental, but homegrown mental.

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I loved the introduction in patois and cockney, the manically fast electronic drum machine, the similarly deranged stuttering delivery but mainly I think, I loved the fierce energy of England as a mixed-up melting pot of youth cultures which clashed together into this new music.  UK hip hop had a brief surge in the late 80s which I’d been deeply involved in and written a hip hop musical called Sanctuary but it felt that the scene had come to very little – probably Monie Love being the peak flow – top of a small pile which included The Cookie Crew, London Possee and MC Duke, Asher D, The Ruthless Rap Assassins and Demon Boyz.  Maybe it was just me that had moved away.  One difficualty was that somehow the british accent wasn’t acceptable in a rap – Jamaican was OK, british not.   It was a cultural lack of confidence – hip hop was american, but an English kid rapping in an american accent seemed way more problematic than an English pop star singing in one.  I’d had a similar train-wreck with my 2nd rap piece “The House That Crack Built” which was commissioned by the BBC and never made – was it English culture or American ?  Loads of my favourite singers deliberately sang British – Bowie, Ferry, Suggs, Ian Dury – but rapping in a British voice just wasn’t catching on.  It would be another seven years before Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Kano bust open the local accent as grime artists, underground east London drum and bass mixed with UK garage.  There are so many names and sub-genres around this period (early 2000s) that I get lost – but in 1995, jungle was IT, and this was the tune that showed its fin above the waterline, underground music surfacing on the pirate radio for a brief period.  It made me feel proud to be British again, and a little happier to be back in the smoke. Shy FX later worked with Dizzee and many others, while the singular vocals on this track are from Birmingham MC Apache Indian a British Indian ragamuffin bhangra artist who specialised in toasting in west indian, english and indian and had an influential LP out called “No Reservations”.  This was the England I’d missed without even realising it – the mix-up, the cultural smashing of the empire striking back.  Quite a relief after vanilla LA and all that shady sunshine, and radio stations that only play one genre of music.  This is what we do best.  Mash it up man !

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