Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
It seems that the Digital Domain Media Group and Dr. Dre definitely accomplished their goal with their little stunt at Coachella — the proof being that I still want to talk about it a week later. In case you hadn’t heard, a “hologram” of Tupac was created to perform alongside rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg this year at Coachella. It had people simultaneously gasping, crying, shaking their heads in disbelief, and walking away disturbed. From what I’ve seen though, most reactions to seeing a digitally resurrected Tupac fell into one of two camps: complete awe and complete disgust.
As Coachella attendees just got to see the hologram again in the second round of Coachella this past weekend, the issue has been brought to my mind once again. Is the Tupac hologram a faithful homage to the past or another case of shameful commercial exploitation? Was it a good way to keep the spirit of Tupac alive or did it overstep some ethical boundaries? Although the word has already gone around that the technology behind the hologram was more of an old visual trick than an actual 3D hologram, is this the beginning of a creepy new trend to keep celebrities alive for as long as we please?
In my mind, there are a lot of important cultural things going on behind the Tupac hologram. First, it’s the money, which should be as obvious a factor as any. Record labels have been making money off of Tupac’s death for years, releasing a total of seven posthumous studio albums, which has to be some kind of record or something. As far as commercialization goes, the idea of having a Tupac hologram doesn’t feel all that different than a record label releasing these albums. Can it be distasteful? Yes. Is it at all surprising? Not really.
The other cultural motivations are a bit more interesting to think about though. Is the idea of losing a cultural icon as big as Tupac Shakur a hard thing for us to accept in a world that is always moving forward? Were people worried that cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and John Lennon would be lost in the pages of history? I think every generation cringes at the idea of future generations forgetting about artists, leaders, and movements that they deem as being significant. The thing is, though, a lot of people think seeing their culture forgotten is the worst possible thing that could happen. But watching your favorite aging artist play at county fairs and casino brunches for their fifth reunion tour has got to be worse. We just have a hard time letting go.
There’s no question that Tupac Shakur is one of the central figures of hip hop. He should be remembered. He should be honored. But we all have a place in time and history. Death will always remind us of the finite nature of human life. The reality of the world we inhabit is that time doesn’t slow down for anyone. Not even for celebrities. But death should also make us recognize the desire for eternal life that is in our hearts. It’s a desire that we can’t ever escape. Spending all our time and money trying to recreate the past is a way of fulfilling this desire, but it’s completely artificial. The best way to sincerely honor the past is by directing our efforts towards being inspired to create something new. After all, I’m pretty sure it’s what Tupac would have wanted.