The Lost Tapes

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One among several 2Pac collections presenting his 1989 recordings with Strictly Dope and producer Chopmaster J (some legal, some otherwise), The Lost Tapes compiles the rapper's earliest recorded rhymes. A few of these tracks -- "Panther Power," "The Case of the Misplaced Mic," and "Static" -- are more readily available than others, the truly rare "Let Knowledge Drop," "Never Be Beat," "A Day in the Life," "My Burnin' Heart," and "Minnie the Moocher." The Lost Tapes is thus one of the better collection of early 2Pac you're likely to come across; plus, it's one of the most legitimate, as Chopmaster J himself unearthed these recordings from his mother's basement and released them on Herb 'n Soul Sounds, which WEA distributed widely. As Chopmaster J explains on the back cover, "I thought that Tupac's fans would like to hear what his first recordings sounded like back when turntables, TR-808 and SP-12 drum machines and socially conscious themes ruled hip-hop." Though there's indeed little more here than skeletal drum machine beats for production, it's 2Pac's rhymes that are most interesting. "Panther Power" is perhaps his most inspired moment here and an omen of the outspokenness that would eventually come to characterize 2Pac. The others are fairly conventional ventures about the usual golden-age themes, though perhaps a bit more rudimentary that you're likely to expect. After all, keep in mind that 2Pac was still years away from his solo debut. He's inspired here, no doubt, but nonetheless a bit clumsy and imitative. Even so, these are incredibly insightful recordings that every die-hard fan should hear at least once, either here or on some other early recordings collection, another good one being 1 in 21: The Tupac Shakur Story.