25 Years Later: Reflecting on 2Pac’s ‘The 7 Day Theory’

Two months after hip-hop’s most scarring tragedies comes the phoenix rising from the ashes, displaying the last recorded words of the genre’s most passionate poet: 2Pac. The late star was known for his zealous approach to his music and his intense love for the arts. A few weeks prior to his passing, Pac was in the recording sessions for what would be his most controversial work to date.

Released on November 5, 1996, The 7 Day Theory was seen as 2Pac’s method of lashing out at his enemies in the genre and the media. The album was recorded in August of 1996, just a few weeks before Pac’s untimely passing in September. After years of facing constant criticism in the news and in the hip-hop world, Pac chose to use this album as a way to vent his frustrations and bring attention to the problems in the world that deserved more focus in the media than his rap image.

Ninety-six was the year where Pac was finally released from jail and began recording under the Death Row Records label. Following the release of the diamond-certified classic project, All Eyez on Me, 2Pac wanted to venture back into his politically-focused style of music that he began to branch away from. However, Pac faced a lot of condemnation from his peers that he felt it was time to defend his position in the hip-hop game.

From the very beginning of the album, Pac makes it clear he’s beyond trying to repair relations with those who he thinks have done him wrong. The project opens up with Pac’s explosive introduction, “Bomb First (My Second Reply),” which starts off with a mock news story detailing Pac’s past beefs with Mobb Deep, The Notorious B.I.G., JAY-Z, & many more. He even sends direct shots to them, quoting (“I’m a Bad Boy killer, JAY-Z die too / Lookin’ out for Mobb Deep, n***a, when I find you”).

Pac’s menacing delivery throughout The 7 Day Theory is contagious, displaying the emcee in another level of dangerousness and malice. The closest we had seen Pac at this level of hunger was on the 1995 release of Me Against The World, which still isn’t too close to what was exhibited on The 7 Day Theory.

Every track was entirely laced with the art-of-war mentality that Pac developed during his time at Death Row. From the Quad Studios shooting to his run-in with two undercover cops in Atlanta, controversy followed Pac constantly throughout his career to the point where his las few month of life were spent on alert and ready action. Records such as “Life of an Outlaw” and “Against All Odds” perfectly displayed Pac in this zone and contribute to the tense atmosphere created.

Despite the album covering a variety of controversial topics involved in Pac’s career, The 7 Day Theory still contains its fair share of tracks that show Pac in a celebratory mood. “To Live and Die in L.A.” remains as one of the most notable West Coast anthems released throughout the 90’s, while “Toss It Up” features contributions from the legendary K-Ci & JoJo (from Jodeci) to deliver an up-tempo track over classic West Coast synths. Even in a laid back atmosphere, Pac wastes no time sending shots, specifically towards Dr. Dre in these two tracks: (“Still down for that Death Row sound, searchin’ for paydays / No longer Dre Day; arrivederci!”) & (“California Love part mothafuckin’ two, without g*y ass Dre”).

Though we could spend an entire day discussing the multiple disses Pac sent out on The 7 Day Theory, this album is more than a platform to air out his troubles with the industry. Pac’s poetic touch to his lyricism is heavily enhanced by his overly passionate conveyance. The rhymes 2Pac spit were never meant to be overly calculated, but carried so much soul and value that they’d emotionally touch the intended audience.

Pac was never the one to shy away from danger and often found himself facing it head on. “I wake up early in the mornin’, mind state so military”, off of “Hold Ya Head” perfectly described the mentality Pac was on because of his approach to danger. At the peak of his controversy, Pac taught himself the art of war and applied these tactics to the people around him. According to Snoop Dogg in a 2018 interview: “When we first brought him to Death Row, he structured some shit to me I never knew and understood to this day and that was the art of war [Sun Tzu].”

The aggressive “Life of an Outlaw” exhibits Pac’s poetry in a belligerent manner, with lines such as (“Never surrender, death before dishonor, stay free / I’m thugged out, fuck the world ’cause this is how they made me”), while the introspective-cut “Blasphemy” displays a deeper side to the emcee’s lyricism: (“Should we cry when the Pope die? My request: / We should cry if they cried when we buried Malcom X”). Pac’s unique style of writing perfectly displayed all sides to him, while maintaining a consistent atmosphere through the tone and sound.

The production provides an intimate foundation embedded in the West Coast atmosphere that Pac fully reps throughout the project. The album’s sonic palette combines a mixture of the futuristic synths that stem from the Death Row catalog and boisterous drums to emphasize the magnitude of the record. Most of the album’s producers were more regional acts and weren’t as big as the West Coast superstars of the era. Producers Darryl Harper, Hurt-M-Bad, Demetrius Shipp (who is the father of the actor who appeared as 2Pac in his biopic, Demetrius Shipp Jr.), and many more piece together the album’s enchanting sonic palette.

The aggressive undertones that creep through the album help set the tone for these poignant tracks, such as “Blasphemy” & “Against All Odds”. The 7 Day Theory fully embraces the West Coast roots and pushes the sound to more menacing territories, more notably on “Hail Mary” which finds use in church bells and deep vocals to create an eerie aura.

Ever since his debut in 1991, 2Pac has stabilized a controversial career that many, at the time, looked down upon. His flamboyant and charismatic attitude combined with the “Thug Life” image he portrayed made it seem dangerous to play his music. Though much had changed since his entrance in the game with 2Pacalypse Now, Pac was as passionate as ever to get his messages across.

It may seem like this album’s sole purpose was to lash out at the industry, but many skip the gems buried around the album’s bulleted disses. Many felt that Pac had distanced himself from the political roots of his first two LPs, but tracks on the album such as the contemplative “White Manz World” and the inspiring “Hold Ya Head” said otherwise. Pac’s stance on these issues corrupting the nation were still strong and weren’t shy enough to remain out of the public eye.

Certain aspects surrounding the album helped garner attention to the project, but the one that stands out the most would be Pac’s presence in the media. From the multiple arrests to the many beefs, it seemed like controversy followed Pac around his whole career. Feeling constantly attacked by all new sources, Pac got Compton based artist Ronald “Riskie” Brent to craft the album cover, which shows Pac on the cross in similar vein to Jesus Christ. This was meant to represent the crucification of Pac’s character in the media and the consequences he faced fighting in the front lines.

Ronald “Riskie” Brent photographed with a larger version of the album cover.

The album’s art was painted Renaissance-style due to the title’s connection to Renaissance philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, whom Pac spent a lot of time reading about while in prison. The main appeal about Machiavelli was his advocation of using fear and deception on one’s enemies. Pac adopting the pseudonym Makaveli was a moment of rebirth for his character that helped him acquire his combative mind state.

Pac was never the one to shy away from danger and often found himself facing it head on. “I wake up early in the mornin’, mind state so military”, off of “Hold Ya Head” perfectly described the mentality Pac was on because of his approach to danger. At the peak of his controversy, Pac taught himself the art of war and applied these tactics to the people around him. According to Snoop Dogg in a 2018 interview: “When we first brought him to Death Row, he structured some shit to me I never knew and understood to this day and that was the art of war [Sun Tzu].”

Contrary to popular belief, Pac’s influence on the game was beyond militant mind states and thug-life popularization. The 7 Day Theory continues to appear in hip-hop and popular culture to this day in the form of recited lines, sampled tracks and alterations of the Makaveli pseudonym.

One of the most popular samples in hip-hop comes from track 2 of The 7 Day Theory: “Hail Mary”. From the ominous church bells to the intimidating opening lines, (“I ain’t a killer but don’t push me / revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin’ pussy), the album’s final single continues to be flipped to this day. Another popular sample stems from the dangerous love song “Me & My Girlfriend” which has been interpolated by many artists including Jay-Z, Eminem, The Game & many more.

The reason many artists have tried to announce themselves as “the next Tupac” was due to how Pac carried himself on and off record. Adopting the pseudonym “Makaveli” was a chance for Pac to expand as an artist, but his explosive personality was always there to stay. To pay their respects to the late rapper, many have tried to flip the Makaveli name and use it to channel his spirit. A popular example would be the underground legend, Max B, taking on the alias “Biggaveli” to pay homage to the late rapper.

From records to film, Pac’s influence continues to shadow over hip-hop culture and proceeds to play a tremendous role in the genre’s shift over the years. The 7 Day Theory, in particular, exhibited the West Coast legend at his most vigorous state and is now used to represent the aggressiveness of those in lyrical battle. From The Game to Kendrick Lamar, many West Coast artists have paid homage to the legend while acknowledging his contributions to the culture.

The character that Pac developed on The 7 Day Theory has fingerprints all over the game and is a perfect illustration of how much of a dangerous the West Coast emcee lived. The animated and bombastic nature present throughout the project exemplifies the raw passion Pac for his craft and spreading his message.

Twenty-five years after its initial release, The 7 Day Theory remains as one of the most important hip-hop albums for its massive influence on the genre and for representing the last words of the prophetic poet who forever changed the landscape of the world.

Tupac Amaru Shakur

16.06.71 – 13.09.96

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