Artwork by: Nick Williams

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Is there are a right and wrong way to pay respect to some of Hip-Hop’s greats?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that the 10th Annual Rock The Bells festival later this year will feature “ORIGINAL VIRTUAL PERFORMANCES BY OL’ DIRTY BASTARD AND EAZY-E.” And just to clarify, Chang Weisberg (Rock The Bells founder), has released this official statement*: “It’s an original virtual performance, not a hologram. I never used the word hologram. There are a number of multimedia visual effects that will be applied that will definitely at the very least make the performances look like a hologram. People’s minds will be blown.” But if you hadn’t heard already of any of this, take a second to let that announcement sink in…


And now, just like that, according to the lineup released by Guerilla Union Inc. & Rock the Bells Festival LLC., Mr. Weisberg just doubled the ante when it comes to having a digital-posthumous set at your music festival (see: 2012’s Coachella’s performance of a Hologram Tupac.) We all know that this performance that streamed live on YouTube created more buzz than if Kanye wrestled one of French Montana’s tiger cubs in a PSY music video. Heck, there’s a Twitter account for Hologram Tupac with over 22K followers. Then there was the news about the company that birthed Hologram Tupac, Digital Domain Media Group, going bankrupt soon after the performance.

Since all the online dust has settled from Hologram Tupac, we’re now presented with the second installment of the “Rappers You Wished You Could See Live But Probably Shouldn’t” concert series.

Apparently members of the Wu-Tang Clan and Cherry Jones (ODB’s mother), and Tomica Wright (Eazy-E’s wife), are okay with ODB’s and Eazy E’s re-entrance to the live stage, respectively. But more than anyone else, it seems to have created strife among Hip-Hop fans. The Source office was split on the decision to resurrect these icons, with the majority slightly leaning towards the, “Heck no, we shouldn’t have walking, talking, rapping ghosts.” But in the discussions I had around the office, some good that could come out of this decision was brought to my attention.

The most convincing argument in favor of these life like shows by these holograms was the possibilities of live collaborations between them and living artists. It would be quite a sight to have Wu-Tang in full force or N.W.A. in all black one more time. It would also allow for younger artists to perform with some of their heroes on new material never heard before. To have Big Pun, Big L, and Biggie, share the stage makes me stand up with hype as I type this. Also, bringing these artists to life again is somewhat educating for the younger generation of Hip-Hop fans. Unfortunately, the average music fan these days don’t do their homework when it comes to appreciating music. With social media and limited edition kicks dominating everyone’s lives, not many have the idea of even looking up who their favorite artist’s, favorite artist is. It’s sad but not reprimandable for a high school kid to love Game and YG, but to never have heard of Eazy-E. So if Outkast did a show (please do a show, Outkast) and brought out UGK, I would hope that kids in the crowd would start tweeting about looking up Pimp C and UGK.

Regardless of pros, there are too many cons for this decision by Guerilla Union Inc. & Rock the Bells Festival LLC. Besides being “creepy” or “fake,” having a live performance by someone’s who’s dead is an artificial way of distorting reality. It’s taking someone’s image and making it do whatever you feel like it should do. No matter how well you knew the artist, I’d say it’s impossible to achieve what you set out to do-portray a performance by an artist in a time and place unfamiliar to the artist, incorporating his or her mannerisms. You can argue that that’s a positive point since you can have the “perfect” show with everything under your control. But part of the beauty of live shows is the spontaneity and variables no one can account for. It’s also important to note that going to see the Gorillaz live is totally different from a hologram show. The Gorillaz built their name on their unique experiences at shows with animations. You don’t go to other musicians’ shows and expect digital simulations like you do at a Gorillaz show.

Maybe MCA of the Beastie Boys had it right. Or at least, he was right in his intent. He wrote on his will, “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” And although he added that bit with legally complicating terms, his spirit of preserving his image and music is something a lot of artists share, I’m sure.

I’ve had a gut feeling since Hologram Tupac hit the stage that having non-living artists perform at a show was just wrong. Nothing about it felt right. Yes, I’ve felt mad and unlucky that I missed out on Woodstock and Summer Jams of yesteryear, but never enough that something had to be done for me to experience those shows. Hip-Hop has an obsession with the dead. No other genre features verses from deceased artists like Hip-Hop, let alone, going all the way with hologram performances. Maybe it’s time we just leave our love for rappers who have passed with our votive candles and move on. Also, I’ve left out the whole argument of money. Once you start asking questions about the families and foundations getting money for the deceased rappers or who’s actually making money, the whole debate becomes skewed and bogged down by morals. I wanted to consider this topic with purely artistic intentions and paying homage.

The Source reached out to Ice Cube, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon for a comment but has reached none. We’ll keep you updated as more developments arise.

*Let’s be real, Mr. Weisberg, if something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, what is it?

Genghis Hahn (@notupstate)