The ghost of Tupac has always upstaged the Outlawz. Even now, with Perfect Timing – intended as a respectful tribute to the 15th year anniversary of ‘Pac’s passing – it’s the recent (and possibly dubious) claim that the crew smoked ‘Pac’s ashes that will likely define its contribution to 2011’s rap-up.

Now slimmed down to the trio of E.D.I. Mean, Hussein Fatal and Young Noble, the Outlawz are slightly above-average rappers who just so happened to have formed an early and then lifelong friendship with ‘Pac – which they’ve been recording off ever since. So while the production here most times hints at some sort of homage to ‘Pac’s post-prison release period in the ’90s (and you can definitely imagine him hopping on grooves like “Perfect Timing” and “Remember Me”) it never takes form as a full-on tribute, and also fails to evoke the obviously emotional memories the group have of ‘Pac the person.

Without ‘Pac’s presence, the Outlawz have decided to go down the route of packing the album with decent profile guest stars. But while the idea of Scarface, Bun B, Z-Ro and even Tech N9ne hitting up studio sessions with ‘Pac would have the potential to produce a true gangsta chronicle, here the guest spots effectively overawe the album. On “Pushin’ On,” ‘Face opens his verse by declaring, “After 20 years of seeing this game make changes/I think that I can answer the questions y’all came with.” Then the veteran is soon weaving in life lessons like, “It’s not ’bout the money, the car a nigga ride in/Here’s how you master the game, homie, surviving.” It’s a verse that channels the spirit of ‘Pac and his T.H.U.G. Life agenda stronger than the bulk of the Outlawz-helmed album.

Allegedly, Perfect Timing will be the last ever recording from The Outlawz, out of respect for ‘Pac. It’s likely not the signing-off they envisaged, and leaves them still either those guys in the background of the “Hit ‘Em Up” video or those dudes who took a toke on their mentor’s embers.