NOTES FROM THE PRESIDENT – The Hologram by Wes Jackson
Wes Jackson is the President of Brooklyn Bodega.
I have never seen a story dominate the headlines like the Coachella Tupac hologram did on Monday. Well, that’s a lie but you get the point I’m trying to make. Reactions including mine ranged from creepy to ‘for why?’, to loud arguments to inspiration. So now that I have had a moment to digest the incident/spectacle here are my thoughts.
From a technology perspective I love it. In many ways it is the natural evolution of mediated entertainment. As a 38 year old it may seem weird but this could very possibly be the norm by the time my kids hit their teens. This is potentially the biggest paradigm shift since Shawn Fanning and Napster.
The number one knock on the hologram is that it wasn’t real. That, in some way, people were being tricked into thinking they were really seeing Tupac and not some Star Wars (yes Just Blaze!) inspired ‘Help me Obi Won Kenobi.’ The truth is it has been almost hundred years since you, I or anyone experienced music in an unmediated way on a regular basis. Although the concept varies in levels of sophistication the hologram is based on the same principles as the phonograph, the speaker, the mp3 and the video recording. Use technology to capture content and amplify in an attempt to reach a wider (and newer) audience.
Unless Pac was in your house rhyming around the kenorah you never actually heard Tupac, you heard his voice recorded in a studio, mixed, mastered and then broadcast through some semblance of a speaker. If you were lucky you may have seen him in the flesh but for most of us our physical interaction with Mr. Shakur was through a television or computer monitor. In that case his image was captured by a camera, color corrected and broadcast via cable, satellite or the Internet. You saw his image not him. The hologram may seem creepy but it is the same idea. It is his image and voice captured and re-broadcast. As my man Barclay said on the corner of 6th Avenue today, a brilliant idea I (we) wish we had thought of.
My problem is that the hologram opens the door to a level of exploitation and manipulation that must be managed carefully. In this case it looks like the people pulling the strings of the holo-puppet were Dr. Dre with the blessing of Ms. Afeni Shakur. So in many ways we can trust that the execution was tastefully, and correctly managed. But in looking at the holo I couldn’t help but think Pac was a little skinnier and maybe taller than I remember. Wearing Timbs that I suppose he wore, but then he was not known for his shoe game. My question was – who decided his outfit? Why shirtless and not with the bulletproof vest (pre-Fiddy)? Why no bandana? Why “Hail Mary” and not “Brenda’s Got A Baby.” These are critical questions that we must make sure are answered by qualified people with the best interest of the artist at heart.
Was there a discussion of whether the human Pac would have played Coachella? What would the son of a Black Panther think about sharing the stage with Marshall? We cannot assume Tupac would be racially tolerant of the battle MC from Detroit. Did Dre ask Afeni, The Outlawz or Shock G? Or did the brain trust at Interscope not ask a question they did not want to know the answer too. With the human Pac no longer here we can answer these questions for him. Now in Dre’s hands we may get a sense of comfort but when the Biggie Holo plays the Barclay’s Arena shouldn’t we ask these types of questions of Mr. Combs and Ms. Wallace? And if not them there are a long line of record label execs basing their annual billing on your favorite MC, producer, or singer who is not here. I cannot imagine they would love to find a new to milk that (cash) cow.
And as @PhenixOrion asked me on Twitter, will Holo-Biggie and Holo-Pac be friends like the early 90’s or mortal enemies of the late 90’s. Who decides that these modern incarnations bury the hatchet or go to war. Because we can say what we want, but the legacy of “Hit ‘Em Up” and “Who Shot Ya” must be discussed. Ms. Wallace has a seat but so should Lil Cease, Mark Pitts and Un. We cannot whitewash our heroes simply to create more market share.
Tupac would be almost forty-one years old at Coachella. Would he still be giving the finger asking, “What the fuck is up?” To 100,000 fans or is that what Dre thinks/wants? The intellectual property issues are dizzying.
As for the business, the hologram is out of the box and will not be back in. I am sure MJ’s estate. Kanye, Elvis and Whitney’s estate all called AV Concepts today. I can’t wait to see Tupac catalog sales next week and the week after. Now we can do a Doors reunion, and a full J5 one too. Otis can now perform ‘Otis.’ No more riders, entourages, groupies or late start times (and trust me, I’m not mad at that). The Holo won’t blow an 8 ball in the dressing room and kirk out on stage. Removing the humanity will be good for business. What it does for the art is another question.