Monday, September 9, 2013

R.I.P. No Longer: Holograms at Rock the Bells

I’ll admit that when I first saw the 2Pac hologram from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s Coachella performance last year, I thought it was amazing.[1] There had been rumors that there would be a Nate Dogg hologram, but what a hologram of a dead artist would entail was up for conjecture. That the Pac hologram looked eerily real—albeit with not exactly historically accurate abs—and that he said “Coachella” in a voice that sounded exactly like 2Pac, was pretty remarkable, and watching him perform “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” alongside Snoop was great. I thought it was a great tribute to 2Pac.

Yet by the fourth or fifth time I watched the video I started to feel gross. It wasn’t a blatant cash grab like most of his posthumous albums have been, but it wasn’t all that far off. I’m sure it increased sales of his back catalog, but it struck me as more of a publicity stunt than a heartfelt tribute. 2Pac was probably watching that hologram from Cuba and shaking his head.

It seemed for a while that this particular form of grave robbing would come to an end when the company that made the Coachella 2Pac hologram went under. That was not to be, however. Thanks to some leftover employees from that company and Rock the Bells, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony trotted out an Eazy-E hologram in San Bernadino on Saturday night, and Wu-Tang Clan did the same with Ol’ Dirty Bastard last night.

First things first: these “virtual performances,” as they were billed, did not look nearly as good as the 2Pac one, and without the element of surprise it was a lot like watching a fuzzy music video projected on stage rather than anything resembling an exciting part of a performance. Both had times where the mic wasn’t near their mouth when they said something and the volume of the vocals didn’t change, which was a good indicator of the attention to detail this time around. Ultimately though, these performances were just sad. When DJ Yella introduced Eazy-E, I’m sure it was meant to be an excited and triumphant moment to mark the rapper’s fiftieth birthday. Yet when the specter of that dead man appeared it just drove home that Yella’s old friend and fellow N.W.A. member’s time on stage ended nearly two decades ago. And RZA, dancing around and pointing at a hologram that he apparently couldn’t even see from the stage, shouting “do that shit, Dirty!” to a facsimile of ODB’s old onstage antics, drove that same point home in an even more vivid way. But it the videos floating around online are any indication, most people in the crowd loved every second of this.

It’s unclear if these virtual performances increased Rock the Bells ticket sales in any way, but if they did, then there will be more. Word is that TLC is already planning a hologram of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. YouTube commenters seem to really want Biggie and Nate Dogg to follow ODB, Eazy, and Pac. What about Big L, Big Pun, Mac Dre, Guru, and Proof? The time and money each one of these must take rules out people like Dilla and Camu Tao, but who knows what will happen if these become more commonplace.

I suppose it depends on how far these artists’ respective estates and families are willing to exploit them. Lil Eazy and Boy Jones (aka Young Dirty Bastard) both approved of these holograms and were actively involved in the holograms’ geneses, but since both shamelessly constructed their careers out of the pieces of their fathers’ legacies they probably aren’t the people to be asking about these things.

And here's a photo of the stern hologram instructions for everyone who was backstage:

[1] I know that it wasn’t actually a hologram, but everyone calls it a hologram anyway so that’s what I’m going to do.

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