Don't Call It a Comeback
Resurrection, the title of the latest biopic about slain rapper Tupac Shakur, is terribly misleading. The title Resurrection ignores the fact that, more than seven years after the tragic shooting that took his physical body from us, we have yet to lay Tupac to rest. After eight posthumous albums, numerous books and films, and a slew of folktales of survival typically reserved for White cultural icons like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy, the hip-hop community has managed to keep Tupac alive within its collective imagination. Unlike Notorious B.I.G., Big Pun, and Big L, all of whom were superior lyricists but are no longer at the center of discussion, Tupac’s continued relevance, as well as his position as the Nietzschean übermensch of the hip-hop community can only be understood by examining the perfect contradictions that make him so appealing to his generation (check out Michael Eric Dyson’s book Holler If You Hear Me and Peter Spirer’s documentary Thug Angel for brilliant analyses of Tupac’s life and legacy). It is for this reason that movies like Resurrection, which attempt to present the world as ‘Pac saw it, are so intriguing.
Due to the film’s intriguing use of Tupac’s own words to narrate the story, it is tempting to view the film as more “real” than other documentaries. Nevertheless, despite its ostensible authenticity, Resurrection, like every other piece of Tupac’s work that has been released since his death (except for Makavelli, which he authorized) is as much a reflection of Tupac’s survivors as it is his own artistic vision. Even though Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, authorized and helped produce the postmodern bricolage of interviews, video and concert footage, and news coverage that comprise Resurrection, we cannot determine with any degree of certainty whether Tupac would have given it his stamp of approval. This does not pose a problem with regard to the movie, which despite its misleading autobiographical veneer is nonetheless a carefully and well crafted film. The soundtrack, however, is yet another in a series of poor quality posthumous albums that would not have met Tupac’s high artistic standards.
Like other “new” Tupac albums, the Resurrection soundtrack is a compilation of remixed classics, old album cuts, and a few freshly produced tracks using previously unreleased vocals. Unfortunately, the production crew fails to use Tupac’s powerful voice in any new or creative ways. Consequently, the album often feels like a hodgepodge of warmed over material expressly designed to coerce Tupac’s remarkably loyal fan base to reach into their pockets for the ninth time since his passing. Obliged by these profit motives, executive producer Afeni Shakur called on two of the hottest names in hip-hop, Eminem and 50 Cent, to work on the project.
On “Realest Killaz”, 50 Cent chides Ja Rule for imitating Tupac: “Tupac cut his head bald, then you want to cut yo’ head bald/ Tupac wear a bandana, you wanna wear a bandana/ Tupac put a cross on his back, You wanna put crosses on yo’ back/ Nigga, you ain’t Tupac.” Although his criticism is on point, 50 (whose perennially bare chest and ubiquitous tattoos are quintessentially Tupacian) somehow ignores the fact that it is he, not Ja Rule, who has benefited most from Tupac’s legacy (listen to “Hail Mary 2003”). Fortunately ‘Pac’s verse allows us to tolerate 50 Cents’ self-righteous tirade. As relevant as ever, ‘Pac spits a thug theodicy that shows how far ahead he still is of hip-hop’s thugs de jour: “I’ve been lost since my adolescence calling for Jesus/Ballin’ as a youngster wondering if he see’s us/ Young black males, crack sales got me three strikes/ Livin’ in jail this is hell enemies die/ Wonder when we all pass, is anybody listnin’/ Got my hands on my semi-shotty, everybody’s snitchin’.”
Equally questionable is the presence of Eminem, who produced four tracks on Resurrection. While Eminem is arguably the greatest non-retired rapper on the planet, one is forced to wonder if Tupac, who took very public stands against Quincy Jones, Eddie Murphy, and Arsenio Hall for what he considered to be their questionable stances toward the Black community, would approve of such a choice in light of Eminem’s politically questionable position within the hip-hop community as well as his latest scandal involving an old demo tape containing racist and misogynistic lyrics toward Black women. That said, the Eminem produced single “Runnin’”, featuring Notorious B.I.G., is the album’s standout track. Using a Kanye West style sample of Edgar Winter’s “Dying to Live”, Eminem masterfully remixes the Easy Mo Bee version of “Runnin’ From the Police” using a beautiful orchestral arrangement and interview sound bites from both artists. Unfortunately, on other tracks like “Ghost” and “One Day at a Time”, Eminem returns to the same repetitive and boring production style that marred his last album.
While classic Tupac songs like “Same Song” and “Death Around the Corner” keep Resurrection afloat, this is an album that we could have lived without. While the still thriving Tupac market makes it unlikely, we can only hope that this will be the last posthumous Tupac album to be released. Then, we can finally give our fallen hero the funeral that he so richly deserves.