Turn Off Shuffle:
Concept Albums Explained

by Saul-Newell Reaves

The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
2pac (Makaveli)

“In no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ”– Tupac Shakur

Sometimes all it takes to establish a powerful concept album is the cover.  

For Tupac Shakur’s album “the Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory”, the cover image depicts 2pac nailed to a crucifix.  

Death Row records, released this– his first posthumous album and his last authorial album– within two months of the artist’s murder, under the pseudonym Makaveli.

Upon close inspection of the cover image, it is a crucifix of geography that Pac is nailed to.  On the cross, itself, appear the names of ghetto neighborhoods stretching from “SO CENTRAL” and “WATTS” all the way  to “BROOKLYN”, “BRONX”, and “HARLEM”.  Although this geographical cross may be understood as a representation of the so-called East Coast/ West Coast hip-hop war, I offer a different interpretation.

For the Makaveli album is truly open literature, and sustains multiple, subjective literary interpretations.  No interpretation of this text can ignore, however, the primary statement of this album, that 2pac is crucified by something,  just as Jesus the Nazarene was, some 1,963 years prior.  So– considering the album’s multitudinous biblical references in songs such as “Hail Mary” and “Blasphemy”, along with the provocative cover art– let us see what happens when we compare and contrast the first prophesied Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, with Tupac Shakur.  

West Side, sucka!

The first song, “Bomb First”, throws the first stone.  

After a lengthy faux-journalism skit to open the album, 2pac’s first words of the album are spoken, not rapped, “it’s not about East or West, it’s about n****s and b****s, power and money, riders and punks.  Which side are you on.”  

His first reference to religious scripture occurs within the first three bars of the first verse, “lyrics like the Holy Qur’an”.  Immediately, Shakur places his text in the company of the Prophet Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah.

And the threat of violence is abundant on this opening track.  “We ain’t even come to hurt nobody tonight, but it’s my life or your life, and I’mma bomb first”.  By attacking before his enemies attack him, Pac is throwing this first stone.  From the very beginning, we are encountering a reversal of biblical scripture, in this instance, the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapter 8: verse 10, “let he without sin throw the first stone”, even though 2pac makes it very clear that we “definitely have sinned”– the last spoken words of the song.

“Hail Mary” is next, containing within it several direct references to religious texts, and many subtler references also.  In the title, alone, we have an invocation of the Catholic prayer, “hail Mary, full of grace”, a prayer of repentance and atonement.  Hail Mary also is the name of a chancy play in American football, when the quarterback throws a deep pass into heavy coverage.  2pac knows he’s taking a risk with all these biblical references, and he takes it anyway.

The song, itself, begins with the ringing of a church bell, a bit of trigger-happy talk, and the first lines of the chorus drop in, “come with me”.  It is an invitation– or perhaps an imperative command.  He is inviting us, or commanding us, to follow him on his ministry, or, alternatively, only along his train of thought.

Before the opening chorus gets to its second bar, a lengthy passage of 2pac scripture is revealed:

and God said he should send his one begotten son to lead the wild into the ways of the man.  Follow me!  Eat my flesh, flesh of my flesh!

This is pure 2pac, for these passages are not actual biblical scripture– at least, not from the canonical bible commissioned by Roman Emperor Constantine the First in 331 AD.  However, however, however, there are at least four direct biblical references in those lines: first to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son”; next, Matthew 4:1, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil”; then, several gospels tell of Jesus garnering ordinary fisherman as his disciples, put most simply in Mark 1:17, “and Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men”; and the final reference to Genesis 2:23, “and Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman”.  So what do we make of this four-fold intertextuality?  What in all of hell could this passage mean, word for word?

Jesus was the first begotten son of the Judeo-Christian god, and he was led into the wild.  However, in the Shakur passage, it is the begotten son who does the leading.  What is being led into is also distinct.  In Shakur, it is not the man led into the wild, but the wild led into the ways of the man.  This fits with Shakur’s thug image, his image as a motorcycle rider, as a partier, as a wild man.  In this passage, 2pac is allowing for the wildness to be led into human beings, allowing for wildness as a positive attribute.

At this point, the imperative from the chorus returns– follow me.  

For the final lines, the interpretations are open.  It could reference Catholic holy communion, wherein bread and wafers are transfigured into the flesh of the first Christ, then eaten.  However, when analyzing it in the context of the Genesis passage, where the flesh of my flesh line refers to woman, the potential meaning becomes that a woman is being told to eat Shakur’s flesh.  Is Pac using scripture to ask for a blowjob?  

Let’s dig into the actual rap of the “Hail Mary” song.  2pac’s first verse: “I ain’t a killer but don’t push me.  Revenge is like the sweetest joy, next to getting pussy”, and revenge becomes a key theme across the final albums of his career after his brief stint in prison.  He continues, “picture paragraphs unloaded, wise words being quoted”– which can be considered what I call intellectual braggadocio– “Bow down, pray to God, hoping that he’s listening… Now pay attention.  Bless me, please, Father, I’m a ghost in these killing fields, Hail Mary, catch me if I go”.  Then in the next verse come these lines, “catch me, Father, please, ‘cause I’m fallin’… Till I reach Hell, I ain’t scared.  Momma checkin’ in my bedroom– I ain’t there”.  Although catch me in both of these incidences might refer to a fisherman catching fish– or, if taken biblically, a disciple catching people– the context of the I’m falling lyric points to a meaning of being caught in the hands of a savior god.

As the Judeo-Christian devil tempted Jesus from the highest place in the city, Jesus refused to tempt his God by jumping.  As 2pac asks to be caught when he falls, another reversal of biblical scripture has occurred.

The next song is “Toss It Up”, and it’s very explicitly about having sex, “go a long way to get you wet… push my love inside”.  In a religious context, this song can be interpreted as a scene of maculate conception– with maculate meaning stained.  Whereas Mary the mother of Jesus was impregnated immaculately– divinely, without intercourse– there are definitely some staining fluids being swapped in this scene.

Yet even in a song about sex, Pac can’t help but add violence and threats.  In his second verse, he’s mostly hating on Dr. Dre, “no longer Dre day, arrivederci”– yes, that is an interlingual rhyme– “screaming Compton, but you can’t return– you ain’t heard?  Brothers pissed ‘cause you switched and escaped to the ‘burbs”.  Blood stains.

“To Live & Die in L.A.” is the fourth song, and, as on the album cover, a geographical reference is made.  Though 2pac spent most of his youth in Baltimore, Maryland, and has songs reminiscing about the old school rap he enjoyed in Brooklyn, New York, he completely identifies as a West Coast rapper.  And the Golgotha of his crucifixion scene is now set in Los Angeles, California.

The song opens with another faux-journalism interview.  “But don’t you feel like that creates tension between East and West?”  Note that a radio journalist is cast as creating this notion of tension between East and West– just as Mos Def argues on the album “Blackstar” some three years later.  2pac has explicitly stated before the first song begins that it is not about East and West, this beef is between individuals– only the media is making this war a geographical one.

The first verse of “To Live & Die in L.A.” is mostly the typical hip-hop tropes of money and violence– though 2pac always takes the subject matter in fresh new ways: “currency chasing… shed tears as we bury n****s close to heart”.  As many threats as Pac makes, he raps far more about slain friends, burials and personal loss, about shedding tears.  And his momma.  He raps a lot about his momma.  

But at the end of verse one, he drops some vital, striking social commentary, “cost me more to be free than a life in the pen”– with pen an abbreviation of penitentiary.  

By the third verse, we are briefly in the realm of unity and brotherhood. “Wouldn’t be LA without Mexicans, black love, brown-pride”.  At the outro, as the chorus fades, Pac is shouting out to his favorite radio stations, magazines, and the “the stores, the mom and pop spots”– yet still throws in some final words hating on Dr. Dre.

Then, yes– yes, yes.  Track five: “Blasphemy”.

It opens with a deep, slightly distorted voice booming out, “God has a plan.  And the Bible unfolds this wonderful plan through the message of prophecy.  God sent Jesus into this world to be our savior, and the Christ is returning someday soon, to unfold the wonderful plan of eternity for my life and your life.  As long as we are cooperating with God, by accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.  Unless the Lord does return in the coming seven days, we’ll see you next time, here on This Week In Bible Prophecy.”  

The most significant of the several key elements in this speech becomes, cooperating with God.  Just like in the statement on the album cover, “in no way is this portrait an expression of disrespect for Jesus Christ”, Shakur is defending his religious statements, allusions and insinuations.  He is not directly in opposition to the first Christ, or to the Father god of Judeo-Christianity, 2pac is cooperating with his God. 

The music swells, but before the beat drops, 2pac gives himself a warning, “Pac, don’t start that blasphemy in here.”  He follows with “I remember what my pops told me… the new word.  Follow me.”  My pops can refer to the holy Father, what he told me to and can refer to the bible.  2pac’s words, however, are a new bible, a hip-hop bible, a bible of hoods, thugs and ghettos.

What the father figure told 2pac is soon explicated in the first verse: “got advice from my father, all he told me was this– n****, get off yo ass if you plan to be rich.”  This is a far cry from Jesus speaking to Peter and his disciples in Luke 18:25, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”.  2pac would disagree.  When he speaks to his companions in the same verse of the same song, it is thusly, “I got words for my comrades, listen and learn.  Ain’t nothing free, get back what you earned”.  While Jesus rejected material goods, 2pac focuses a great deal of energy on the hustle of capitalism.

Verse two and three of “Blasphemy” are almost entirely religiously themed, so let’s quote in full: 

Verse two: “we probably in Hell already, our dumb asses not knowing.  Everybody kissing ass to go to Heaven ain’t going, put my soul on it.  I’m fighting devil niggas daily, plus the media be crucifying brothers severely.  Tell me I ain’t God’s son, n****, mom a virgin.  We got evicted, had to leave the ‘burbs.  Back in the ghetto, doing wild shit, looking at the sun don’t pay. Criminal mind all the time, wait for Judgment Day.  They say Moses split the Red Sea; I split the blunt and rolled a fat one up, deadly.  Babylon beware– coming for the Pharaoh’s kids.  Retaliation making legends off the shit we did– still bullshittin’, niggas in Jerusalem waiting for signs.  God coming, she’s just taking her time.  Living by the Nile while the water flow,  I’m contemplating plots wondering where the thought’ll go. Brothas getting shot, coming back resurrected”.  

First of all, 2pac’s God is identified with a she pronoun. Second of all, it is media doing the crucifying.  But to follow the rest of this lengthy passage, I must bring in some external sources.

“Baptized in Dirty Water: Reimagining the Gospel according to Tupac Amaru Shakur” (2019) is written by academic Communications professor and Critical Race Theorist Dan White Hodge.  The book is part of a larger project named Short Theological Engagements with Popular Music, with Cristian Scharen the editor of the series.  One of Hodge’s key points becomes, “Tupac sees himself as a leader, but as a leader among/ amidst, not from on high.”  Shakur is of the people and with the people, as a Sergeant would lead a military unit into battle.  He is no general or commander, and far from a king.

Hodge continues in the same vein, “while it might appear that Tupac is asking his listeners to see him as ‘God,’ in fact Tupac was acting as a type of pastoral go-between…  2pac made it clear that he was not God or Jesus, but merely a conduit and a beacon.” 

Although the first Christ, Jesus the Nazarene, did not directly deny being King of the Jews in such a fashion, frequently artists– writers and lyricists, prophets and poets– frequently those artists create texts not meaning what they want them to mean. 

Now, verse three of “Blasphemy” in full: “the preacher want me buried, why? Cause I know he a liar. Have you ever seen a crackhead?  That’s eternal fire.  Why you got these kids’ minds thinking that they evil?  While the preacher being freaky you say, “honor God’s people.”  Should we cry when the Pope die?  My request, we should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X.  Mama, tell me am I wrong, is God just another cop, waiting to beat my ass if I don’t go pop? Memories of a past time, giving up cash to the leaders, knowing damn well they ain’t gonna feed us.  In my brain, how can you explain time in B.C.?  It’s hard enough to live now in these times of greed.  They say Jesus is a kind man– well, he should understand times in this crime land.  My thug nation, do what you gotta do, but know you gotta change.  Try to find a way to make it out the game.  I leave this, and hope God can see my heart is pure.  Is heaven just another door?” 

Most of the above lines are self explanatory, but let’s pick out a few bars for further investigation.  

What is to be made of we should cry if they cried when we buried Malcolm X”?  Shakur appears to be condemning hypocrisy.  They would here reference the killers of Malcolm X– if his assassins and plotters are hypocritical enough to cry at their deeds, that is when 2pac would have us cry.

In my brain, how can you explain time in B.C.  This would approach another of Hodge’s points in “Baptized in Dirty Water”. 2pac is making scripture relatable to the disenfranchised. For Hodge, 2pac is in the realm of what the Critical Race Theorist deems neo-sacred. “Neo-sacred… embodies city corners, alleyways, cocktail lounges… The neo-sacred is concerned with… making God accessible for all.”  Along those same lines come the above bars, have you ever seen a crackhead?  That’s eternal fire.  Hell is real, and here on Earth.

The two following songs, “Life of an Outlaw” and “Just Like Daddy” heavily feature the collaborators on the album, a group of rappers known as the Outlawz.  These songs mostly contextualize the album deep in the ways of thug life– and this album is cemented as the music of the disenfranchised.

Then “Krazy” returns us to the deep, internally probing lyrics of Pac himself.  By his second verse, he is back to rapping about God and his mama.  “Even thug n****s pray… And I swear I seen a peaceful smile on my mama’s face when I gave her the keys to her own house, this your land.  Your only son done became a man”.  Despite the problematized relationship Shakur had with his mother, he still wishes to express his success in gifts.  Note that it is her own land that gives this woman of color a peaceful smile.

“White Man’s World” goes even deeper into social commentary.  The concept of the song is that women of color are the most disenfranchised by the white man’s world.

“Me and My Girlfriend” is truly a lyrical gem.  The song sustains a sophisticated literary conceit, sustains it across four verses, the pre-chorus and the chorus.  The song is addressed to an unnamed girlfriend, and the conceit becomes that Pac’s “one and only girlfriend” may be understood as a gun.  Lyrics such as “I love you black or chrome” and “picked you up when you was 9… bought you some shells when you turned 22”– directly referencing the colors and sizes of handguns– lyrics such as these support this interpretation.

Before the verses of the penultimate track, “Hold Ya Head”, begin, prison inmate numbers are called and three prisons are named: Clinton, Rikers Island and San Quentin– Saint Quentin being the Catholic patron saint of prisoners.  Immediately after Quentin shout-out, although quite buried in the sonic mix of the song, there is a voice saying “I see Satan.  I see him.”  

With the song now set in a prison setting, the hold ya head of the title and chorus become the only relief from misery.  When there is no other escape, and no one else to comfort him, all Pac can do is hold his own head.

There is much trigger-happy talk, much talk of making money, much god talk, and much talk of his mama, but lyrics of special interest to the concept: “These felonies be like prophecies beggin’ me to stop, ’cause these lawyers gettin’ money every time they knock us”.  This one is a puzzler.  Shakur is almost always clear and transparent in his meanings, and straight to the point.  Could these lyrics, felonies be like prophecies, be my dreaded “Fallacy of Rhyme”?– rhyming without meaning, only speaking phrases because they rhyme?  In a text this rich, by a lyricist this on-point, I will assume it is simply an enigma that I have yet to digest.

Let us continue with another enigma before we examine the final track– an enigma of numbers.

The album has twelve songs, recorded over seven days.  The seven days link to the titled of the album, “The 7 Day Theory”.

Do the twelve tracks relate to the twelve disciples?  Or to the twelve pearly gates of heaven?

The potent numbers continue in the final track, “Against All Odds”.  

After the resurrection of the first Christ, Jesus the Nazarene, he had these words to say to his disciples in the Gospel According to John, chapter 20, verse 19: “Jesus then stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”  And he repeats the sentiment in John 20:21, “then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you.”  Then once more, to the Doubter Thomas, “after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.”  2pac, on this his final song of his last authorial album, has three versus entirely about war with his Hip-Hop enemies.  Yet this is not the final reversal of biblical scripture.

In the Gospel According to Mark, the first Christ’s last seven words on the cross were a prayer to his God, “Elija, Elija, why have you forsaken me?”  2pac’s last seven words on his last authurial album: “My money right.  Now I want war”.

Lo, and behold!  For unto 2pac a concept album is born.

So.  What is to be made of the album cover?  In the case of the first Christ, it was the Roman Empire that nailed Jesus the Nazarene to the crucifix.  Since the album cover depicts Shakur nailed to a cross written with the names of disenfranchised neighborhoods, I argue that it is the ghettos of capitalism that constitute the crucifix on which the Hip-Hop martyr is visually nailed.  Where once was a Roman Empire, now is there Capitalism.

All of this theorization on a concept comes from the visual album cover art– and without the album art, the concept does not exist within the text of the Don Killuminati: the 7 Day Theory.  Despite the biblical references, despite the lyrics about God and Mother Mary, despite the insinuations of the interludes before the songs, it is only the cover art that unites our concept, asking us to compare Shakur of Los Angeles with Jesus the Nazarene.   Nowhere else in this text does such a concept explicitly appear.

In his song “Only God Can Judge Me” on the album “all eyez on me”, Shakur said this: “my only fear of death is comin’ back to this b**** reincarnated.”

In 2012, a so-called hologram of 2pac appeared on stage in Coachella Valley, California, alongside his right-hand man, Snoop Dogg.  

While I don’t believe that Snoop put his hand into Shakur’s side, the music, the legend and the ministry of 2pac live on.

more Concept Albums Explained
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