Opinion: The Problem with the Tupac Hologram

Music Photos of the Year 2012

April 15: Snoop Dogg and a hologram of Tupac Shakur perform onstage during the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California.

If you haven't heard, Tupac was at Coachella on Sunday night! No, the rumors of the rapper being alive and in hiding aren't true; the rumors that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg were going to re-create Pac as a hologram during their headlining performance on Sunday night were accurate, though, as the West Coast titans unveiled the radical visual midway through their set and let Faux-Pac perform "Hail Mary" and "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" before drifting back into the ether.

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The crowd had no idea what to do with the hologram. For one, its arrival came after Dre and Snoop tag-teamed "California Love," so it seemed like the opportunity for the rumored hologram use had already passed. When the shirtless 2Pac re-creation shouted "What the fuck is up, Coachella!" -- mind you, the real Tupac would have never yelled this, since he died three years before the Coachella festival even existed -- the crowd yelled back at him... but there were also a lot more uneasy looks than blissfully excited super-fans. On Twitter hours after, the general consensus on the stunt seemed to be, "The Tupac hologram made me uncomfortable, and I'm not sure why." The Juice's Erika Ramirez joked to me, "I can't believe we got a Tupac hologram before 'Detox.'" Maybe that's the harshest reality of all.

Tupac Hologram Live at Coachella 2012

My problem with the Tupac hologram is not with the actual appearance of the ghostly visage; AV Concepts, who engineered the rapper's likeness, deserves kudos for getting as close to the real thing as possible. Nor does it involve the moral implications of resurrecting a long-dead artist in hologram form -- although it's understandable why a lot of people could be terrified by what it means. If Tupac can make an appearance with Dre and Snoop at Coachella, why can't John Lennon stop by a Paul McCartney show, or Kurt Cobain perform on a *shudder* Hologram Nirvana tour? Maybe the future of live music isn't live at all, but in many ways, the trend has already begun. After all, Cirque du Soleil is currently presenting Michael Jackson's music to sold-out shows, Sublime reformed and toured behind their classic songs with a singer that sort of sounded like Bradley Nowell, and Elvis impersonators are still putting food on the table. If Tupac's lovable scowl is the face that launched a thousand holograms, then the art of profiting off of live re-creations of dead artists' music has simply progressed one step further. And if people want to shell out money to see these technological experiences, that's nothing that should be questioned or scolded.

The Tupac hologram seems to have touched a more personal nerve for me, as a hip-hop fan who still blasts "All Eyez on Me" at every opportunity, as someone who both loves Tupac's music and has accepted the fact that its creator is gone. As much as we still lament Tupac's untimely death nearly 16 years later and yearn for his presence in the current landscape of hip-hop -- oh, what it would have been like to hear him trade verses with Eminem, or watch him guide a young California MC like Kendrick Lamar! -- there exists a token of beauty in letting Pac's music speak for itself, and not grafting a false image onto his classic sounds simply because we missed Tupac perform when he was alive and want to see him now. Make no mistake, Tupac's Coachella appearance came from a place of love and appreciation, with Dre reportedly receiving the blessing of the rapper's mother before the concept was unveiled. But watching a visual re-creation of the rapper traipse around the stage in choreographed movements felt incorrect, as if trying to capture the energy that Tupac exhibited in his life and rhymes was a fool's errand. The hologram made me uncomfortable because Pac's life was special, and that unique flame has been extinguished. Why do we need to watch an imitation of Tupac when we have an incomparable plethora of his own art at our disposal?

If nothing else, the Tupac hologram felt unnecessary as a set piece in a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg set that was already slaying the Coachella crowd. When you've got songs like "Nuthin But a 'G' Thang" and guests like Eminem, 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa in your back pocket, you don't REALLY need to bring a rapper back from the dead to entertain your audience, right? "That Tupac hologram was unreal!" was the phrase on everyone's lips as they headed for the exits on Sunday night, but it easily could have been, "I can't believe Em came out for 'Forgot About Dre'!" or "Wow, that blunt that Snoop shared with Wiz Khalifa was enormous!" Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg killed it at their long-awaited West Coast homecoming, but that seems to have been bumped down to the second line of the story.

What do you think of the Tupac hologram? Sound off in the comments section below.