The (Nonsense) Return of Tupac Shakur

As you’ve surely seen and heard by now, Tupac Shakur made his long-anticipated return the other night. This two-dimensional holograma-pac appeared at the Coachella Festival in California, dumbfounding a nation of both hip-hop fans and tech geeks. Indeed, it was awfully cool …

And yet, although I’ve now watched the performance, oh, a dozen times, I can’t just settle on enjoyment and happiness and wonderment.

Why? Because while Tupac Shakur is, easily, my all-time favorite rapper, I also friggin’ hate him.

A hologram? A stupid hologram? How about this—instead of existing as a hologram (aka: not actually existing at all), try not being dead. Try not (in the mid-1990s) living your laughably inane quasi-thug lifestyle, especially after you made it big and had all the money and the houses and the riches a person could need. I still don’t understand what in the world Tupac Shakur was thinking, carrying weapons and hanging with awful crowds and all but daring people to shoot him. The man was a brilliant—absolutely brilliant—artist. He could rap. He could sing. He could act. But that wasn’t good enough. He had to uphold an image, even if the image was bullshit.

Back in 1996, when Tupac Shakur was killed, there was all this talk about him being a prophet. The nonsense stemmed from his I Ain’t Mad At Cha video, which showed him being gunned down outside a club. How, people asked, could he have known? He must have had a feeling. Must have been connected to a higher power. Must have … must have …


It took no Einstein to assume Tupac was destined to be shot. It was his lifestyle choice; his decision. He couldn’t walk away, in the manner so many wise rappers (from Dr. Dre to Ice Cube to Ice T) do when there’s no longer need to live the streets. Hell, Jay-Z came up as a drug dealer. It was his being, and the only way he knew. Once he found music, however, he stopped hustling. As any intelligent person would have.

But not Tupac.

There’s a monologue toward the end of Tupac’s awesome Life Goes On that, in my opinion, bastardizes an otherwise classic song. The rapper is talking to two of his friends who had died, and he says …

Life goes on homie
gone on, cause they passed away
Niggas doin’ life
Niggas doin’ 50 and 60 years and shit
I feel ya nigga, trust me
I feel ya
You know what I mean
last year
we poured out liquor for ya
this year nigga, life goes on
we’re gonna clock now
get money
evade bitches
evade tricks
give players plenty space
and basicaly just represent for you baby
next time you see your niggas
your gonna be on top nigga
their gonna be like,
‘Goddamn, them niggas came up’
that’s right baby
life goes on….
and we up out this bitch
hey Kato, Mental
y’all niggas make sure it’s popin’ when we get up there
don’t front.

Literally, Tupac Shakur is requesting that his pals “make sure it’s popin'” in heaven. Again, whenever I hear this I want to cringe. There’s nothing “popin'” about death. You’re dead. You don’t exist. You don’t breathe, you don’t think, you don’t react and you don’t respond. You’re not drinking bubbly with half-naked honeys. You’re as aware as my kitchen table. Which is to say, not aware at all. Knock, knock—you’re dead.

I think that’s what, ultimately, irks me about a hologram I initially loved. It only continues to support some notion of eternal Tupac life; that he somehow continues to be there; hovering and chillin’ and popin’.

When, truth be told, he’s not.

He’s dead.

9 thoughts on “The (Nonsense) Return of Tupac Shakur”

  1. Very deep Jeff. I’d like to think there is something there to meet us in the end, but I do agree that this glorification of death as something romantic has got to end. Truth be told, you’re likely right and at the very least, you cease being who you were and that’s reason enough to fight to preserve your existence.

    I have an issue with a lot of rap for just this reason, it’s poser thug pageantry to sell disks to kids that can’t afford it (both economically and psychologically). The whole thing is sad.

  2. Pac is still alive, in Africa or Madagascar or something.
    He still gets paid and lays low. He made some $$$$ off that Coachella gig for sure.

  3. Man, is this post by the same Jeff Pearlman who tweeted earlier “A pretty full explanation of the Tupac hologram. In a word—genius” and “I have trouble relating with anyone who saw Tupac perform two nights ago and thought, “Meh.””

    What the fuck? Which one is it–do you hate this thing, or love it?

  4. If Tupac was still living right now, he wouldn’t be the same Tupac that you liked when you were younger. Just like Ice Cube isn’t the same “Straight Outta Compton” Ice Cube and Ice-T isn’t the same “Six in the Morning” Ice-T. He’d probably be doing something completely different, something watered-down, family-friendly and there would be a bunch of people complaining about how Tupac wasn’t “keeping it real”.

    I guess that there is the possibility that he’d continue to be the same artist that he was in 1996, rapping about blunts and broads, menage a tois but honestly, a 40+ man rapping about that is beyond pathetic.

    So yes, it sucks that Tupac died but reading this entry you did isn’t doesn’t strike me as a lament about Tupac dying as it is a lament about you getting older.

    Because what made Tupac so great, so dynamic, so real is that he lived the life that he rapped about. Lots of rappers, once they make it big, forget their roots and move to the houses in the hills. And this goes double for rock stars too, BTW. Tupac didn’t and he was able to keep the honesty and if he did what you suggested, his creative output wouldn’t nearly be as great as it is. Which brings up an interesting question: what weighs more a short life time of greatness or a long life of boring mediocrity?

    I don’t know Tupac personally but I know his creative output. Selfishly (and honestly) I know what I would choose.

  5. Byron,

    I’m a huge REM fan. They broke up last year. It was WAY past time. They hadn’t been relevant (or any good) for quite a while. They had a number of absolutely phenomenal albums in the 80s and early 90s, and then, 15 years of, as you put it, long mediocrity. When I listen to REM, it’s 25-year-old REM. That’s when they were great. They haven’t been great for some time, and, while their breakup left me sadly nostalgic for the soundtrack of my growing up, it really was time for them to pack it in.

    But I am PROFOUNDLY greatful that none of the 4 founding members of REM are dead. I greatly admire these people. They’ve earned the retirement.

    There’s always more music to listen to. I don’t need another “Murmur”. I’ve got the first one. I’m glad they get to enjoy what they did, hopefully for another 50 years.

    And then there’s Springsteen. Still God after all these years. The decline isn’t always inevitable, either.

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