First Hit #1: July 13, 1996
Gangster rap might have had its track debut with Coolio, but that was a cautionary tale. While Tupac Shakur could do cautionary tales – Brenda Had a Baby is a good example of that – he wasn’t very interested in doing that on the double a side of How Do U Want It and California Love. No, here’s a pair of songs that are much less concerned with the moral implications of gang life than they are with the joy of being the man known as 2Pac.
How Do U Want It is focused on the joys of being young, rich, and kind of foolish. Shakur raps about sex and money, mostly sex, a track about the great fun of hedonism. There’s an awareness of the dangers of his life – passing references to getting shot, for example – which are all part of that gangster myth-building that comes part and parcel with the genre. Besides, that element of danger is another component of the joy. He’s the worst kind of charismatic person, the kind that knows it, and he’s manipulating his words in such a way to make himself seem as desirable as possible, mostly for the opposite sex.
California Love, on the other hand, with its weird post-apocalyptic video, is less pride in the brilliance of the self than it is about the brilliance of living in California. There was a rivalry between the east and west coast at the time, and this is a song kind of a great way to antagonize those on the opposite coast. The implication of the song is that California is inherently better than any of the other states in the union, so naturally people from the west coast are going to be the best at everything. To emphasize the point, the song is fun above all else, an enthusiastic tribute to the greatness of a state by being great itself, and a party anthem that is thoroughly positive. It’s also somewhat innovative, doing the robot vocal thing before it was totally played out.
Double A-sides are always a tricky beast, but 2Pac and friends made a pair of songs that go together well. It’s a pair of songs that are essentially bragging – 2Pac is the best, so is the place he lives – but that braggadocio is welcome when it’s coupled to songs that are so enthusiastic and outright fun.