JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

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 …

Nonsense.

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.