20 Years Ago, Makaveli Rose From Tupac’s Ashes & Made Him a Prophet (Audio)

As an album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory did more to contribute to Tupac Shakur’s propethic and iconoclastic image than any others in his discography. Released during the first week of November in 1996, it was his fifth solo album (and first posthumously released) and was recorded under the name Makaveli, an adaptation of the name of Niccolò Machiavelli, the 15th and 16th-century philosopher and humanist who thrived during the Italian Renaissance. Best known for his book The Prince, Machiavelli was a strategist who popularized the idea of faking one’s own death and has since lent his name to Machiavellianism, a concept used to describe a lack of morality and use of deception to attain personal advantages. As such, it is often used in the context of power or politics, subjects commonly found in Pac’s music.

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Reportedly finished in one week’s time, The 7 Day Theory has done its fair share to fire up conspiracy theories. Shakur died six days after being shot, which has led many to suggest he not only prophecized his own death with the LP, but was also suggesting that he was deceiving the world into thinking he had died, when in reality he was to be reborn at some unknown place and time. Conspiracies aside, Don Killuminati certainly plays darker than Pac’s more well known works (“Hail Mary”), but it still featured the bombastic personality fans had grown to love (“Toss It Up”). Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tupac album without some controversy, and disses to Dr. Dre, the Notorious B.I.G., De La Soul, Jay Z, Mobb Deep and others pepper the LP, and “Bomb First (My Second Reply)” remains one of the most incendiary intros in Rap history.

With “Blasphemy,” Makaveli continued the religious trend found in the album’s artwork, which depicts Tupac crucified as Jesus was (who resurrected in seven days). Produced by Hurt-M-Badd, who was also responsible for “Hail Mary,” “Blasphemy” includes a snippet of a demonic-sounding sermon that notably ends with the line “unless the Lord does return in the coming seven days, we’ll see you next time here on This Week in Bible Prophecy.” Here, Pac is underscoring the theme of resurrection, but much of the song is a rulebook for gaming the system rather than the dismantling of religious authority suggested by the title. “Now, rule one: get your cash on, M.O.B./That’s Money Over Bitches, cause they breed envy/Now rule two is a hard one: watch for phonies/Keep your enemies close, nigga, watch your homies,” he raps months before Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments” was released.

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The song’s second and third verses are imbued with thematic references that make the song as prescient today as it was 20 years ago, rapping that being Black in America means “we probably in Hell already,” “plus the media be crucifying brothers severely.” With references to Babylon, pharaohs, Judgment Day, Moses, Heaven, Jerusalem, and the Nile, the song’s second verse is a reminder of Christianity’s provenance within the Black Man, a history stolen by the White oppressors (a concept referenced in Prince Ital Joe’s hook when he sings “love for dem dat steal in the name of da Lord”). Pac blasphemes again in the next verse, taking members of the clergy to task for their hypocrisy and perhaps their reputation for pedophilia (“Why you got these kids’ minds thinking that they evil? While the preacher being freaky, you say ‘honor God’s people'”). Again, Makaveli’s reference to the state of affairs in Black America in 1996 rings true in 2016 with “Mama, tell me am I wrong, is God just another cop waiting to beat my ass if I don’t go pop?”

On September 13, the Hip-Hop world mourned in reflection as the 20th anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death came and went. But as his music and legacy continue to prove, Makaveli left the world with a gift of the glory, forever and ever and ever.