Death isn’t nearly the career hindrance it used to be in hip-hop. Witness Tupac Shakur. He’s spoken from beyond the grave on seven albums since his 1996 murder, most recently on Until the End of Time, the offspring of the unholy alliance between mother Afeni Shakur’s Amaru Records and Suge Knight’s Death Row Records. Built partially upon unheard shards of Shakur’s verse, the double-disc Until is weighty without being deep, filled out as it is with heavy bluster from Pac’s Outlawz crew. On the better tracks, when Pac is unchained from posse-boasting purgatory, his keen sense of justice and fidelity — be it of the political or street variety — is at its sharpest. “Everything They Owe” features what may be the first recorded pro-slavery-reparations verse, in which Pac warns, “In case you don’t know, ghetto-born black seeds still grow/We coming back, for everything you owe.” “When Thugz Cry” explores the jailhouse mind, asking, “How does it feel to lose your life over something that you did as a kid?” Unfortunately, whatever wisdom has been salvaged from the cutting-room floor is undermined by the slapdash beats that have plagued all of Pac’s posthumous collections, proving, if nothing else, that it was personality that made Pac a star, not production.
Being prolific didn’t hurt, either. Unlike Pac, who spent the last year of his life recording constantly, resulting in a plethora of unreleased material upon his death, Big Pun left precious little to plunder after his fatal heart attack last year. Instead, Endangered Species is a mix tape for die-hards, collecting the best of Pun’s uniformly thrilling guest appearances — “Twinz (Deep Cover ’98)” chillingly remakes the Dre-and-Snoop classic; “Off the Books” finds Pun at his most vibrant; and “John Blaze” is a bilingual bashing of inferior MCs. The stolen verses on Endangered may be all that remain of Pun’s corpus, but they provide him with something Pac has yet to receive — a fitting final resting place.