Jonathan Abrams: Halo-Pac is kind of eerie to me. I am someone who wanted to believe Tupac still lived for so long, record after record, until I finally gave up hope somewhere around 2001. Tupac Shakur is my John F. Kennedy assassination and moon landing. I hit adolescence and grew up in California. It was Pac and I thought he would get back up and make a record about it. I’ll never forget where I was — at a friend’s house when I learned of his death.
I understood his music more later on. Pac battled his inner conflicts for the world to witness. He was peaceful and wanted progress. He was angry and wanted revenge. He was a lyrical Malcolm and Martin rolled into one. That’s why “Changes” will always stand out to me. It reflects a man politically aware and trying to pave a way, but not sure where the path should go. “And I ain't never did a crime I ain't have to do,” may be one of the realest rap lines of all time.
"Same Song" — Digital Underground With 2Pac
Alex Pappademas: I definitely saw the movie this video was cross-promoting — Nothing But Trouble, written and directed by Dan Aykroyd, starring Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and Demi Moore — in the theater. I'm pretty sure I saw it the weekend it came out. By myself. I'm positive that I hated it, even at 13, and that I found it gross and creepy, even though at 13 I was pretty OK with gross and creepy. It was actually a cinematic milestone for me. It was how I learned that despite what Stripes, Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Spies Like Us had led me to believe, the fact that a movie starred multiple Saturday Night Live alums actually guaranteed nothing about its quality. (Imagine!) Nothing But Trouble features Aykroyd in a dual role, as decrepit rural-Pennsylvanian hanging judge J.P. Valkeneiser, and also as an obese slag-heap-tending man-baby named Bobo. Total vanity project, in other words. It also features an extended cameo from Bay Area rap legends Digital Underground and their backup dancer/hype man, Tupac Shakur. It's his first movie, released in 1991, a little less than a year before Juice — at a time when mainstream culture knew it couldn't afford to ignore hip-hop anymore but couldn't quite figure out what else to do with it.
To be fair, what Nothing But Trouble does with Digital Underground makes no less sense than anything else that happens in Nothing But Trouble, like the scene where Chevy Chase imagines Dan Aykroyd's nose turning into a penis. (On the off-chance that I'm making this sound like a movie worth watching ironically while intoxicated: Don't. There is not enough Crystal Head Vodka in the world.) Anyway: The band are pulled over for speeding and brought before Judge Valkenheiser, who finds out they're musicians and orders that their equipment be brought into the courtroom for inspection. Story logic! Cut to the band playing "Same Song." The judge likes it; the judge contributes a dope pipe-organ solo, while Digital Underground's female companions hang on him as if he doesn't look like a Strom Thurmond chew toy. Tupac does an excellent job of looking stunned by all of this. Eventually Valkenheiser drops the charges. Humpty Hump & Co. will not be fed, via roller coaster, into his execution machine, Mr. Bonestripper. But they have to stick around to play their "Wedding March"–sampling "Tie the Knot" while Chevy's character is shotgun-married to the judge's daughter Eldona, played by John Candy in drag.
DU also get a few lines of dialogue ("Man, would you look at this place? It's, like, extremely Draculated!"), but none of them are spoken by Tupac, who doesn't rap onscreen, either. He gets his star-is-born moment in the video, though. Everybody else is wearing goofy hats, even by Digital Underground standards. There are dancing Hasids, and Aykroyd shows up in a kilt, tootling on a bagpipe, and a pre-feud Eazy-E and Dr. Dre show up, too, standing stone-faced next to a suspiciously pale and Canadian-looking fellow gangsta who whips off his sunglasses and HOLY SHIT IT'S DAN AYKROYD AGAIN Y'ALL. Then, amid all these in-the-form-of-funny shenanigans, in rolls Tupac in a sedan chair borne by extras, dressed as an African king, as if he's playacting the future in which he'll eclipse his mentors' fame a thousandfold, kicking a nimble, not-particularly-gangsta verse that's still the only 'Pac verse I know by heart. He talks about how girls used to diss him, and says, "I clown around when I hang around with the Underground," something he definitely did not do when he hung around with Suge Knight. Humpty Hump even addresses him as "Tu," rather than "Pac." The persona, in other words, is not yet in place, nor is the martyr complex that would consume him long before thug life fed him into the execution machine. The charisma is, though. In the context of what was to come, seeing Tupac in this video is like seeing early footage of Jesus and finding out that he was actually pretty good at carpentry.
"Brenda's Got a Baby"
Rembert Browne: I don't know how you started your career, but I'm going assume it wasn't as real as 2Pac's first single, "Brenda's Got a Baby." The crazy thing about this song and video is that you almost have to think about them as three separate songs. There's the first 2:35 when Mr. Shakur decides to tell the saddest story ever, then there's six seconds of belted "BABAAYYYYYYYYY," and then the final 1:15 when "don't you know she's got a baby" is repeated by a few haunting souls until tears are running out your eyes. I blame the hologram for putting me in a mood to listen to "Brenda's Got a Baby" instead of "Dear Mama." The state I'm in can't be healthy; I haven't even eaten lunch yet.
"I Get Around"
Katie Baker: I used to have a mixtape with a version of this song on it in which I'd manually edited out the "the one who put the satin ..." line due to repeated awkward incidents it caused in the car with my parents. Tipper Gore would have been proud.
2Pac & BIG Freestyle
Amos Barshad: "Taking a break from recording a new joint for his upcoming album, Life After Death, Big sinks into the studio’s sofa in a blue Sergio Tacchini running suit that swishes with his every movement. He is visibly bothered by the lingering accusations. 'I’m still thinking this nigga’s my man,' says Big, who first met Tupac in 1993 during the shooting of John Singleton’s Poetic Justice. 'This shit’s just got to be talk, that’s all I kept saying to myself. I can’t believe he would think that I would shit on him like that.' He recalls that on the movie set, Tupac kept playing Big’s first single, 'Party and Bullshit.' Flattered, he met Tupac at his home in L.A., where the two hung out, puffed lah, and chilled. 'I always thought it to be like a Gemini thing,' he says. 'We just clicked off the top and were cool ever since.' —VIBE, 1995
"Out on Bail"
Molly Lambert: 2Pac doing "Out on Bail" at the '95 Source Awards, fresh out of jail and after being shot the first time. My favorite award show performance of all time. As an Angeleno, there is a large part of me that only ever wants to listen to West Coast hip-hop, especially when the summer starts and there are barbecues and pool parties. The beginning of this video is Suge Knight's infamous acceptance speech where he throws shade at Puffy. Doesn't this make the present day's fickle music blog culture seem as empty as it is? Don't you feel like Pac is talking directly to you? Fuck a hologram.
"To Live and Die in L.A."
Tess Lynch: Where is Tupac in this video? Well, there's a little Tupac in each of the Outlawz, who say of smoking his ashes: "Thank God [smoking Tupac] was the craziest shit we ever did." And in fact, when you think about it, that's true. It's more festive than trying to bake him directly into a cake or marketing his cremains as kohl eyeliner for goths. I love Tupac; if I'm in the right mood, I can get genuinely sentimental over Tupac and how he paid tribute to his adopted home by scampering around in his underpants, pointing at every pair of boobs on set for the "I Get Around" video and appreciating the finer things in our city — casual footwear, Fatburger and K-DAY. Of course he wanted his friends to smoke him in a blunt. Of course he was reconstituted as a hologram. That's what legends do.
A Very Special Christmas 2
Mike Philbrick: Who knew that Tupac was supposed to be on one of the seminal collaborative albums of the '90s? His willingness to record "Ghetto Gospel" and talk at length about helping people shows how removed Tupac was from the life that would soon dominate the headlines. However, his alleged criminal issues would catch up with him shortly after this interview, and the song was dropped from the album — making 1992 the year Tupac spent a ton of time in courtrooms and not the year he helped out the Special Olympics.
Rafe Bartholomew: For everyone out there who learned what "punani" means in 1993, thanks to Poetic Justice.