Perhaps more than anyone, engineer Bob Morse holds unique and invaluable insight into the music of early-'90s Tupac Shakur.
After all, he spent more time than most producers or musicians with the slain rapper during that fertile period in Shakur's musical life, a period featured on the gangsta rapper's upcoming posthumous release R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (Nov. 25).
"'Pac didn't work like a lot of the other rappers who come in here," said Morse, citing Ice Cube, Gang Starr and Snoop Doggy Dogg as his other frequent clients. "[Ice] Cube will come in with everything written out, planned and executed. 'Pac would be the opposite. He would write lyrics in the studio about whatever was happening at that moment. He would listen to a beat and start writing lyrics."
From behind his board at L.A.'s Echo Sounds studios, the 42-year-old engineer worked with Shakur on three of his solo albums, his 1992 debut, 2Pacalypse Now and the follow-up albums, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Thug Life. Morse said he'd heard that Jive Records was planning on releasing a double album of posthumous Shakur material, containing 24 primarily unreleased songs recorded by the rapper between 1991-94.
And though he is uncertain which tracks will make it on the release, it's quite likely several will be those he worked on. "I'm not sure what they're going to pick," said Morse, who estimated he'd worked on at least 40-50 tracks with the rapper during this period. "But if it's from those years, something I did is probably on it."
The album's executive producer is Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, who just signed a deal with New York-based Jive to released some of her son's 150-or-so unreleased recordings. She recently won the rights to those songs from his old labels, Interscope and Death Row. Jive will also become the exclusive distributor of Shakur's four Interscope Records albums (2Pacalypse, Thug Life, Strictly and Me Against the World) under the deal. The Jive-distributed label, Amaru Records, is named after Shakur's middle name.
The first single from R U Still Down, "I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto," features the vocals of Maxee of Brownstone and a sample of "Do it Roger" by Roger. The single was produced by long-time Shakur collaborators Soulshock and Karlin, with some of the sessions taking place at Echo Sounds. The full track listing for the album has not yet been released.
But apparently Shakur's mother has a lot to choose from.
In an interview last week in the Los Angeles Times, Afeni Shakur said she's gained the tapes to nearly 10 albums' worth of her son's unreleased recordings. She described her son, who was fatally wounded in a still-unsolved Sept. 7, 1996 drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, as "unbelievably prolific, adding that she felt "giddy about starting this label. Tupac always wanted to have his own company. To be honest, this is the first time since his death that I have been able to smile about something."
Morse couldn't agree more with Afeni Shakur's assessment of her son's work ethic, he said. "Some guys take all day, but 'Pac would get ideas fluently and what went on tape was the finished product," said Morse, who described the sessions he worked with Shakur as "pretty hectic, with lots of smoking going on and gunplay and stuff."
"Pac was just more raw than a lot of the other rappers I've worked with," he said, citing Coolio and the South Central Cartel as examples of more controlled artists. "I can't explain it in words. Just off the top of his head, his emotions weren't controlled or cool." [Mon., Nov. 3, 1997, 5:30 p.m. PST]