Tupac Shakur's Grim New 'World'

2PAC, "Me Against the World" ( Interscope ) *** 1/2

After assorted legal scrapes, tough-guy rapper Tupac Shakur is now serving up to 4 1/2 years in a New York prison on a sex abuse conviction. In an interview in the current issue of Vibe magazine, he declares himself a changed man--no longer his old gun-toting, weed-smoking persona.

On his third--and by far his best--solo album, Shakur, who records under the name 2Pac, already displays moments of changed attitude. He fully unleashes the sensitive side that's always been simmering under his tales of violence, rage and frustration in the 'hood.

Without getting preachy or maudlin, he laces his raps with startling poignancy. 2Pac has always been much more insightful, sensitive and poetic than nearly every other gangsta rapper, but you sense those extra dimensions more than ever on this album.

It's hard to listen to it without at least occasionally thinking about him sitting in jail--a product of the environment he's rapping about. His story adds extra jolt to such songs as "Outlaw" and "It Ain't Easy."

His unspoken message to young black men: You don't have to wind up like me.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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