Between dodging bullets in manhattan last November and entering prison on a sexual-abuse charge, rapper Tupac Shakur found time to release his third album, ""Me Against The World.'' As in ""2Pacalypse Now'' and ""Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z . . . ,'' Shakur takes the angst of young urban black males and sets it to a funky ""old school'' beat. It's a forceful reminder of the problems -- drugs, gangs -- Black America faces in the '90s, set to the comforting, mellow sounds of the much more hopeful '70s. The 23-year-old is one of the few rappers who gets ""props'' (respect) from both sides of the feuding worlds of East Coast and West Coast rap. So he boldly blends the L.A. P-funk reinvented by Dr. Dre with the uptown ""in your face'' beats most recently laid down by New York chart toppers Craig Mack and Biggie Smalls.
Shakur's brave probing of his own demons, including thoughts of suicide, in ""If I Die 2nite'' and ""F--k the World,'' is reminiscent of the glory days of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five's 1982 pioneering hit ""The Message.'' ""World'' is a refreshing jolt after Snoop Doggy Dogg's mindless rap on drinking ""Gin and Juice'' and Mack's indecipherable ""Flavor In Your Ear.'' Shakur's fans who miss the upbeat tempo that made his ""Keep Your Head Up'' a hit should keep in mind that it's hard to fake the funk when it's not all good. Shakur's new work may not be his best, but it does showcase his most endearing quality -- a strong, clear no-nonsense voice that never fails to be heard.