More Beyoncé gold for HBCUs with new BeyGOOD scholarship initiative The announcement comes days after her Coachella performance

After Beyoncé’s thrilling Coachella performance, which highlighted the rich culture of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the superstar is going a step further to invest in students of select HBCUs around the country.

Through her BeyGOOD initiative, Beyoncé will award a $25,000 grant to one student at Xavier University of Louisiana, Wilberforce University, Tuskegee University and Bethune-Cookman University. The grants are part of the initiative’s 2018-19 Homecoming Scholars Award Program, which will be awarded to all qualifying students studying literature, creative arts, African-American studies, science, education, business, communications, social sciences, computer science or engineering. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

This is the second installment of scholarships Beyoncé has awarded to students attending HBCUs. Last April, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her latest album, Lemonade, Beyoncé launched the Formation Scholars award geared toward helping young women at participating HBCUs who studied creative arts, music, literature or African-American studies during the 2017-18 academic year. The idea of that scholarship was to “encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious, and confident.”

“We salute the rich legacy of historically black colleges and universities,” said Ivy McGregor, director of philanthropy and corporate relations at Parkwood Entertainment, which houses BeyGOOD. “We honor all institutions of higher learning for maintaining culture and creating environments for optimal learning which expands dreams and the seas of possibilities for students.”

Winners are set to be selected by the universities and will be announced this summer.

All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet #Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone

The internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.

Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.

If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.

But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.

The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.

It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.

But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.

This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.

It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.

Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.

Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots.

Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.

Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.

Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.

But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.

A new Drake song is landing tonight? A new album can’t be far behind Reading social media tea leaves to predict the musical release dates of albums from Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye and Drizzy

Those on the East Coast might not believe it, but warmer weather is approaching. That means day parties, cookouts, summer vacations — and a tsunami of Instagram Stories and photos with oceans of song lyric captions. It’s not like there’s a shortage of options. This year alone has already produced a plethora of releases from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jay Rock, Syd, 2 Chainz, Tinashe, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Nipsey Hussle, Ty Dolla $ign, Wale, Arin Ray, Kehlani, Kali Uchis, Eric Bellinger, Tink, Future and DJ Esco, Phonte and others.

The list also includes Cardi B, the patron saint of badass ratchetness, whose anticipated debut, Invasion of Privacy, dropped Friday. Privacy, anchored by the Project Pat-inspired “Bickenhead,” is a collection of songs — past, present and future hits — that ensure Cardi will be one of the most talked-about people in culture for the second straight summer, and likely beyond.

Yet, hiding in plain sight is a game of cat-and-mouse being played by some of music’s most famous forces. While Barbz remain on the lookout for Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, as well as Kanye West and Drake, have all hinted at new music via obvious and not-so-obvious methods over the past several weeks. Although it’s impossible to determine exactly when any album will drop without insider-trading-type knowledge, it’s safe to surmise that music fans could be looking at an incredibly hot summer if (and when) the quartet pushes the button in the coming weeks and months.

Beyoncé and JAY-Z

Here are the four definites:

  1. Beyoncé’s headlining Coachella, which starts next weekend.
  2. Jay-Z is apparently growing his hair out — which, if you’ve followed him at any point over the past 15 years, you know is a dead giveaway that he’s in the studio. Either that or he received an advance screening of Atlanta’s “Barbershop” episode that shook him to his core.
  3. Jay-Z’s interview with David Letterman is a conversation starter — and puts us on notice with a big-look conversation that we’re stepping up to the blocks.
  4. Their On The Run 2 tour starts in June in the U.K. First U.S. date is in Cleveland, on July 25.

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary last week and have been photographed in Jamaica filming for their upcoming tour. Bey missed Coachella last year while she was pregnant, but now she’s reportedly rehearsing for 11 hours a day in a top-secret Los Angeles studio. Beyoncé could easily go onstage and perform from a setlist of greatest hits. But, like possibly no other performer on the planet, she understands the magnitude of the moment. Coachella is the official kickoff to festival season. What better way to throw gasoline on a fire of anticipation than with new music on the eve of her return to the stage? And if that were to happen, that means new music very soon. As in next week.

While it makes sense to throw out a loosie or two for Coachella, an entire pack of songs may be slightly further off. I don’t know Jay. I don’t know Bey. But what I do know is there is absolutely no chance ’03 Bonnie and Clyde span the globe with just their older work. Granted, that “older work” houses an embarrassment of riches. But somehow, that feels like settling. What if it’s 12-14 duets from music’s most famous couple? Or an OutKast-like, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below-type double album? All I know is something is dropping probably sooner than any of us realize. On TIDAL first, of course.

Kanye West

Of the superstars on this list, Kanye, quite fittingly, is the most difficult to predict. Regardless, the tea leaves from last month’s gathering of ’Ye, Kim, The-Dream, Nas, Travis Scott, KiD CuDi and several others at a Wyoming resort are enough to get the gossip engines running. And while the two just as easily could have discussed IKEA furniture or NBA MVP predictions, a sighting of Yeezy and Rick Rubin (executive producer of Yeezus and The Life of Pablo) is just another log for the fire.

Ever since his public meltdown in Sacramento and subsequent hospitalization two days later in 2016, Kanye’s been as quiet as he has at any point in his career. An eventual return brings no drought of topics to discuss — his brief kinship with Donald Trump, the birth of his third child, Jay-Z’s statements about him on 4:44 — and those barely scratch the surface. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for West to create a song detailing what it was like in the Kardashian household the day O.J. Simpson was released from prison. Pablo, as scattered as it was at times, was proof that West is still more than capable of producing a high-quality project.

Then there’s this: The last time Kanye went away amid the public’s ire — think 2009 after the Taylor Swift MTV VMA fiasco — and secluded himself in Hawaii, the self-imposed exile yielded magnificent results. If Kanye’s got another My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy in him, then maybe we should’ve trusted the process all along. Keyword being “maybe,” because Kanye be trippin’ sometimes, ya know?

Drake

To quote the great Lester Freamon (and Jonathan Abrams), “All the pieces matter.” Follow the timeline:

  1. March 18, 2017 — Drake’s final proclamation on More Life I’ll be back 2018 to give you the summary — has since become the thesis of a yearlong wait.
  2. Jan. 19, 2018 — The sabbatical ends and said summary begins with the drop of Scary Hours. The EP contains the lyrically poignant “Diplomatic Immunity” and the undeniable anthem in “God’s Plan” (more on the latter, shortly).
  3. March 9, 2018 — With good friends James Harden and Chris Paul in Toronto for Raptors vs. Rockets (held on “Drake Night”), Aubrey confirms he’s working on the new album “for the city.”
  4. March 20, 2018 — Drake hops in the comments during producer (and frequent collaborator) Murda Beatz’s Instagram Live to confirm that the release of a new single is on the way.
  5. April 2018 — With speculation running rampant about a possible move to Adidas, Drake is spotted wearing the “Cream White” Yeezy Boost 350 V2. To some, that was all the confirmation needed that Drizzy’s Jordan Brand days were in the past. But this only lasted until he was photographed in Nikes a few days later at this week’s Celtics at Raptors game. And then again in Adidas on several Instagram posts. The point? Only a very few know what, if anything, is going on. And those parties aren’t saying anything. Chaos is bliss, in this case.
  6. April 1, 2018 — In typical Drake fashion, Drake uploads a photo of himself with the cryptic caption “You can see the album hours under my eyes.”
  7. April 2, 2018 — “God’s Plan” spends its 10th consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The distinction makes him the only male artist in history with two songs to stay atop Billboard’s charts for that long — 2016’s “One Dance” being the other.
  8. April 5, 2018 — Per the man himself, the single is on the way. That would be tonight.

“Have your party. But I’m coming,” Jon Caramanica of The New York Times said in January with regard to what Scary Hours represented. “I assume what he’s saying is the summer is mine.

A perfect storm appears to sit on the very near horizon. The NBA playoffs are about to begin. A much-needed musical furlough has made way for one of the most anticipated albums of the year — I been gone since like July / N—as actin’ like I died, Drake rapped on BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive.” And the annual debate about who runs the summer will soon commence. Unlike last summer, Drake will be tossing his name in that hat — in search of reclaiming a crown he snatched two summers ago.

About the only thing to do now is keep an eye and ear open to whenever the next couple of OVO Sound Radios are, or Drake’s IG. Those always hold the key to unlocking Aubrey mysteries.

(**Walks away craning neck at Rihanna and Travis Scott**)

The rumors are true … the Jay-Z and Beyoncé Tour is happening And if there’s anything else you want to know, the Carters will tell you when you need to know

It’s all about getting in front of the narrative. That’s how you control it before it controls you. That’s how the Carters do it. From addressing rumors of an impending divorce, to the release of two critically lauded albums in Lemonade and 4:44, to the birth of twins, the announcement of a Jay-Z and Beyoncé tour is the latest in a series of head-snapping breaking news for America’s most famous couple not named Obama.

The international leg kicks off June 6 in the U.K. and will cover 15 cities before wrapping up on July 17. It goes stateside on July 25, starting in Cleveland for the first of 21 shows. Tickets go on sale for Citi, TIDAL and Beyhive loyalists on Wednesday. General admission sales will be available starting March 19 on LiveNation.com. View the official tour trailer below.

P.S. — With Beyoncé headlining Coachella next month and a joint tour right behind it, this all but confirms new music is on the horizon, right? Has to be, right? This announcement will only send the long-standing rumors of a joint project between husband and wife into overdrive. And given the operatic aspect of their lives over the past couple of years alone, it’s not like they’re hurting for subject matter.

H&M’s ‘coolest monkey’ hoodie and how racism wastes our precious time As Toni Morrison taught us, the ongoing cycle of ignorance keeps us from our work

When I first saw the now-infamous H&M ad of a beautiful black child wearing a hoodie that reads “The Coolest Monkey in the Jungle,” my initial reaction was rage. Here we are, almost two full decades into the 21st century, and we are still seeing images that equate black people with monkeys, an ugly trope that has existed for hundreds of years. However, my rage was quickly followed by a deep weariness. I was reminded of the words of Toni Morrison when she addressed racism during a 1975 lecture on race and politics:

“[K]now the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.”

Racism, and specifically anti-blackness, manifests itself in a myriad of ugly ways. We seem to be in an endless cycle of:

  • Person/company says/does something horribly offensive
  • Offers a half-baked apology
  • Waits for the outrage to die down
  • And then it starts up again.

H&M issued an apology today: “We sincerely apologize for this image. It has been now removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States.” Sadly, it isn’t the first company to release images with racist connotations and it won’t be the last. Nivea recently published an ad stating, I kid you not, “White is purity” and pulled it after white supremacists started sharing the image as a rallying cry. Dove came under fire a few months ago for an ad that showed an image of a black woman taking off a brown shirt to reveal a white woman underneath, as if blackness is something dirty and needs to be scrubbed off. And who could forget the recent Pepsi gaffe that treated the last few years of protests against police brutality, led primarily by black women, like a carefree day at Coachella?

What makes all of this so insidious to me, as someone who analyzes images for a living, is knowing the lasting impact that images can have on the psyches of people who consume them. Despite the apologies offered and the insistence by these companies of how much they believe in diversity and inclusion, the images are out there and the damage is done. And what I am also intimately familiar with is the energy and time wasted in fighting against this kind of messaging. What is lost when, instead of focusing that energy on ourselves, on elevating and lifting each other up, we are instead mired in a fight against the kind of messaging that tells us we’re not human.

Do I think everyone at H&M is a racist? Well, that is hard to say. But what I can tell you, as someone who has often been the only black woman in a room full of decision-makers, is that there probably aren’t enough people of color in their chain of command. There aren’t enough people in the room who have been on the receiving end of callous and insensitive remarks about their race or ethnicity. There aren’t enough people in the room who have believed they had to constantly prove their humanity time and time again. There aren’t enough people in the room who don’t have the privilege to feign ignorance about racist tropes that have existed for generations.

The murder of Tupac Shakur is a tragedy — but the why is not a complete mystery Conspiracy theories give fans comfort but, in truth, the brilliant artist was ‘a sacrificial lamb in thug clothing’

It’s time to stop wondering who killed Tupac Shakur.

America has spent the past two decades fishing at red herrings and inventing theories about how our brilliant brother could be gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip at age 25. The real answer is obvious, yet too many of us who love the culture avoid the facts: Tupac sealed his fate with one punch to a Crip’s face.

Heartbreak can teach powerful lessons. But instead of admitting that Tupac’s genius was extinguished because he chose to play gangster, we continue to rationalize and glamorize his Thug Life, aided and abetted by a corrupt justice system that denies us much-needed closure. To prevent more Tupac tragedies, we need to understand what happened, and why:

On Sept. 7, 1996, Tupac, Death Row Records kingpin Marion “Suge” Knight and Suge’s gang of Bloods beat up a Southside Crip named Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson in a Las Vegas casino lobby. Anderson and three other Crips went looking for payback. A few hours later, cruising the Vegas Strip in Anderson’s rented white Cadillac, they saw Suge driving a BMW with Tupac in the front passenger seat. Anderson shot Tupac from the back seat of the Caddy.

Ain’t no skullduggery to it. Just the basic street arithmetic that continues to send thousands of black males to their graves.

Anderson’s beatdown was captured on security video. Suge’s gangsters quickly spread the word that the killer was Anderson, according to what informants told police in the chaotic days after the shooting. Those anonymous sources were confirmed more than a decade later by the eyewitness account of Anderson’s uncle, Southside Crip boss Duane “Keffe D” Davis, who says he was in the car and handed Anderson the murder weapon. Keffe D’s statements are detailed in the 2011 book Murder Rap, by retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective Greg Kading.

But thanks to Internet-borne conspiracies and institutional injustice toward black life, the question of who murked Pac has never been murkier. The new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, offers little clarity. Legend has enveloped Tupac’s death like barnacles on a sunken ship. But if you scrape all that away …


The machinery of Pac’s demise was set in motion in July 1996, when a crew of Crips snatched a Death Row pendant from a Blood named Trevon “Tray” Lane at Lakewood Mall near Compton, California, according to a Compton police affidavit. Two months later, Tray Lane was with Tupac and Suge at a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. After the heavyweight champ knocked out Bruce Seldon in the first round, the Death Row clique left the MGM Grand arena and spotted Anderson in the lobby. Tray identified Anderson as one of the Crips who snatched his chain.

The intersection of Harmon Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard is pictured on Sept. 8, 1996, the day after rap superstar Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight were both shot. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Tupac rolled up on Anderson, rhetorically demanded, “You from the South?” and punched him in the face. Tupac, Suge and their gang proceeded to stomp Anderson out, right there in the MGM lobby.

“In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible.”

These are indisputable facts, backed by witness testimony, police reports and videotape. I first saw them gathered in one place in the May 1997 issue of Vibe magazine, in a story by Rob Marriott. The report detailed how after Tupac’s slaying, Bloods launched a full-out war on Compton Crips. Suge’s henchmen told other Bloods that Tupac’s killer was Keffe D’s nephew, according to the Compton police affidavit. When the bullets stopped flying, 13 gangsters had been shot, three fatally.

“There are no easy answers to the myriad questions surrounding Tupac’s death,” Marriott wrote after his harrowing experience reporting from the streets of gangland Compton. “But it has become clear that the rap star’s death — and the three homicides that followed — are only the most visible tragedies in a web of intrigue that extends deep into the L.A. underworld.”

That web was real. At the center was the tarantula Suge Knight, who, according to evidence detailed in Murder Rap and the book LAbyrinth by Randall Sullivan, ran Death Row like a Mafia boss. Suge’s violence is well-documented. He fueled a bicoastal beef with Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records and its superstar rapper Biggie Smalls, who was killed six months after Tupac. Suge had LAPD cops on his payroll, according to LAbyrinth. On top of all that, shortly before his death Tupac argued with Suge over unpaid royalties, fired Death Row lawyer David Kenner and planned to leave the label.

Police, meanwhile, added to the confusion. Las Vegas cops told LAPD detective Russell Poole, according to LAbyrinth, that “the main reason they would never solve this case is that the politicians didn’t want them to. They said the powers that be had let them know the city didn’t need an O.J.-style circus.” Poole was investigating the Biggie killing. He said that LAPD brass, bracing for a lawsuit from Biggie’s family, blocked him from following numerous leads that might have connected black LAPD cops to Death Row. Poole was ultimately removed from the case and resigned from the LAPD in 1999.

Marion “Suge” Knight and Tupac Shakur during the 10th annual Soul Train Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1996.

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Anderson denied killing Tupac and was never charged. In 1998, Anderson was shot dead outside a Compton car wash over what police there said was a drug debt. Anderson’s killer is serving three life terms.

In 2006, Kading, the LAPD detective, was assigned to reopen the Biggie Smalls homicide case. In Murder Rap, Kading says he and his team kept hearing about Keffe D, Anderson’s uncle, who saw Smalls at the Soul Train Music Awards after-party hosted by Vibe magazine shortly before the Brooklyn rapper was killed. Kading set up a drug deal sting to coerce Keffe D into talking about Biggie’s murder. The trap worked. Kading writes that in December 2008, facing decades in prison, Keffe D sat down to work out a deal — but denied any knowledge of Smalls’ killers.

Instead, Keffe D told them about Pac’s death. Kading was in the room questioning Keffe D. The interview was recorded. The gangster’s story went like this:


In 1991, when Keffe D’s Crip gang was selling dope nationwide, he was introduced to a Harlem drug dealer named Eric “Zip” Martin. They started doing business. Two years later, Zip, who was involved in the music business, brought Keffe D to a BET party at the Paradise Club in Los Angeles. At that party, Keffe said, Zip introduced him to Combs.

Keffe D said he maintained a relationship with Puffy, and he lent him the 1964 Chevy featured in Usher’s “Can U Get Wit It” video. When the East-West beef jumped off, Keffe D said, his Crips provided security for Bad Boy on the West Coast. At one point, Keffe D alleged, Combs said he would pay a million dollars for Pac and Suge to be killed. Kading quoted Keffe D in Murder Rap as saying: “(Puffy) was like, ‘I want to get rid of them dudes.’ … I was like, ‘Man, we’ll wipe their ass out, quick … it’s nothing. Consider that done.’ ”

Combs has adamantly denied soliciting any murder.

Keffe D told Kading that he went to Vegas simply to enjoy the Tyson fight and met up there with Zip, his nephew “Baby Lane” Anderson and other Crips. After the lobby rumble, when Keffe Dheard his nephew Anderson got stomped by Death Row, they immediately planned to retaliate. Zip gave Keffe D a .40-caliber Glock. Kading wrote:

“ ‘(Zip) said it’s perfect timing,’ Keffe D recounted, leaving the exact meaning of the words up to us. Was Zip talking about killing two birds with one stone, taking out Suge and Tupac as payback for the Baby Lane beating and in the process collecting Puffy’s million-dollar bounty? It was impossible to know for sure.”

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Keffe D said that Zip departed after giving them the gun. Anderson, Keffe D and two other Crips cruised the Strip in Anderson’s rented Cadillac and spotted Tupac’s caravan. They pulled alongside the BMW driven by Suge Knight. Keffe D was in the Cadillac’s front passenger seat with the Glock, prepared to shoot, but Tupac and the BMW were on the opposite side of the Caddy. “Lane was like, ‘Give it here,’ ” Keffe D said, “and popped the dude.”

Keffe D told Kading he never got a dime of Combs’ promised payoff, although he thought Zip might have collected and not shared the loot. “If (Puffy) would have just given us half the money, I would have stayed strong,” Keffe said, explaining why he was telling on Combs.

Combs has called all of this “pure fiction” — and has said he never even used Crips as security.

Kading knew he couldn’t make a good legal case on the word of a criminal like Keffe D. He tried to coerce Zip to corroborate the story and tell on Combs by setting up a sting with Keffe D. But before the trap could be sprung, Kading’s superiors removed him from the case in 2009.

“It was almost as if, in some surreal way, Poole was right all along,” Kading wrote. “The LAPD was trying to cover up the Biggie Smalls murder, not by protecting corrupt cops but by undercutting the ability of its own investigators to make the case.”


Neither Keffe D, Zip nor anyone else has ever been charged with killing Tupac or Biggie. Zip died in 2012. Keffe D is locked up on a marijuana distribution conviction. The Las Vegas police investigation into Tupac’s murder technically remains open. “In the vacuum created by lack of closure, everything, no matter how far-fetched, seems somehow possible,” Kading wrote. “When the truth is missing in action, anything can take its place.”

Like the theory that Suge conspired with Anderson to kill Tupac because the rapper was owed millions and about to leave Death Row, which former LAPD detective Poole believed. Or that Snoop Dogg’s cousin Lil’ Half Dead, mad at ’Pac because he allegedly stole the hit song “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” helped Suge’s wife and Death Row’s head of security try to kill Suge and take over the company — but they missed Suge and hit ’Pac instead. Or that the FBI didn’t want ’Pac starting a black revolution. Or that he’s in the witness protection program. Or alive and well in Cuba.

Trying to disprove these explanations is like arguing with someone who believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Not since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have conspiracy theories run so amok. But the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Of course a Crip came gunning for a crew of Bloods who dealt him a humiliating butt-whipping. Tupac beat up a killer, who then killed him. All over a piece of jewelry.

Tupac chose to live, and die, by the rules of Thug Life. Our inability to face that fact is a symptom of our inability to help our most troubled young black men.

A black BMW, riddled with bullet holes, sits in the police impound lot on Sept. 8, 1996, in Las Vegas. Rapper Tupac Shakur was shot and critically wounded while riding in the car driven by Death Row Records chairman Marion “Suge” Knight the previous night after attending the heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon.

AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

“It’s become obvious to anyone paying attention that the gangsta image — for all its force and bluster — is nothing if not tragic, a myth of empowerment with the capacity to rob our generation of its potential greatness,” Marriott wrote in the 1997 Vibe story that connected the dots of the tragedy. “If we as a Hip Hop Nation can ever move beyond the directionless violence and self-destruction gangsta sometimes glorifies, then maybe we’ll have ’Pac to thank for it. Perhaps, in the end, he was simply a sacrificial lamb in thug’s clothing.”

Hip-hop music still thrives on violence and self-destruction, despite the rise of many incredible positive emcees. Recognizing the facts of Tupac’s death could offer some measure of redemption. There will be no help from law enforcement, no deserved clarity and closure through the process of arrest, trial and punishment. If those of us who love the culture don’t want Tupac to have died in vain, we need to come to grips with reality on our own.

All Eyez on VIBE magazine’s 1996 Death Row cover The only thing wilder than Death Row Records’ rise was its public and violent fall

Appropriately titled “Live From Death Row,” VIBE ’s February 1996 cover featured the already-notorious label’s faces: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur in a Goodfellas-inspired collage. To understand the significance of the cover image is to understand the chain of events that led to it — and to the label’s downfall shortly thereafter.

Let’s take it back to an era before the internet, blogs and social media reigned, to when hip-hop magazines were the unrivaled scripture for America’s most beloved, bemoaned culture. By the outset of 1996, two publications were responsible for driving the conversation around hip-hop and R&B, its biggest stars and its most provocative news: VIBE (created by Quincy Jones in 1992) and The Source (launched in 1988). The transcendent XXL didn’t launch until the summer of 1997. These magazines satisfied a pre-Wi-Fi audience’s yearning for news and images about rap’s greatest, most dissected and, at its lowest, most heartbreaking era.

Amid financial disputes, Dr. Dre had split from Eazy E personally, N.W.A as a group and Ruthless Records in 1992. With Knight, a former bodyguard, Dre launched Death Row Records. Dre was already seen as a musical savant, a producer who helped make N.W.A a name America had come to love, loathe and fear. The decision to branch out on his own with a business partner known for violence and gang ties was potential career suicide, a possibility both Dre and The Source milked with its startling November 1992 cover. Then came Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic, one of rap’s most influential albums ever.

“We could’ve put Tupac on the cover every single month and it would’ve sold. There was nobody that our readership cared about and reacted to the way that they responded to him.”

A year later, with Doggystyle, Dre’s protégé Snoop Dogg became Death Row’s second bona fide star. Acts like Lady of Rage and The Dogg Pound filled out the roster as Suge Knight assumed a mafia-esque aura: rap’s John Gotti with a cigar. By the fall of 1995, Death Row was worth more than $100 million. This was in part due to urban legends about Suge’s violent style of persuasion and negotiation, as well as a bubbling beef with Sean “Puffy” Combs and Bad Boy Records. Death Row’s rebellious appeal increased as its aura of thuggishness swelled.


Tupac Shakur stewed in New York’s maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility for much of 1995. Less than a year prior, Shakur suffered an attempt on his life that left five bullet wounds in his body, including two to his head. Days after the shooting, he was found guilty of sexual assault. At his sentencing in February 1995, tears streamed down his face as he apologized to the victim, but he remained steadfast about having committed no crime.

Tupac Shakur and Marion Suge Knight

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

“I’m not apologizing for a crime,” he said in court. “I hope in time you’ll come forth and tell the truth.” The thought of being remembered as a sexual deviant had haunted Shakur before his conviction. “I cannot die with people thinking I’m a rapist or a criminal,” he said in a 1994 interview. “I can’t leave until this s— is straight.” Related and unrelated to the conviction, Shakur felt betrayed by some in his circle.

Suge Knight bailed Tupac out of prison on Oct. 19, 1995 — not even the biggest headline of the month, as it arrived roughly two weeks after O.J. Simpson’s divisive not-guilty verdict and only days after the Million Man March on Washington, D.C. Shakur signed a three-page handwritten contract, an agreement worth $3.5 million, for three albums.

The music, profoundly explicit, was the embodiment of neighborhoods and fractured households ripped to shreds by a society that would have forgotten about it had it not been for hip-hop.

Death Row had landed its crown jewel. Tupac was rap’s premier spark plug, perhaps its most eloquent thinker and America’s most controversial and popular artist. His 1995 opus Me Against The World became the first No. 1 album from an incarcerated artist. Death Row had only gotten stronger, thriving despite headlines that would cause most other companies to crumble. Snoop Dogg’s Los Angeles murder trial — he was acquitted of first- and second-degree murder — was still in progress when VIBE’s Death Row cover hit shelves in early 1996.

The February 1996 issue of Vibe Magazine featuring Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac and Suge Knight of Death Row Records.

If N.W.A had planted its flag as the “world’s most dangerous rap crew,” Suge and Death Row not only upped the ante, they drafted an entirely new set of rules. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac were all under contract, becoming at the time the greatest collection of superstar hip-hop talent on one label simultaneously. The cover captured the fleeting moment of Death Row Records at its apex.

The plummet began shortly after the cover’s ink dried.


Remembering how it all came together piece by piece is not necessarily a good time for Alan Light. How the media covered rap’s bloodiest and most territorial years remains a divisive topic. But in late 1995, Light, then editor-in-chief of VIBE, was about staying ahead of the curve. In a short time, the publication had established itself as a definitive hip-hop voice. And the magazine tracked Shakur’s story closer than any other.

“We could’ve put Tupac on the cover every single month and it would’ve sold. There was nobody that our readership cared about and reacted to the way that they responded to him,” said Light. “Every one of the stories we did with him, every cover we did with him was bigger each time. There was nobody who had an impact that was comparable.”

For Light, Shakur’s signing seemed inevitable. Shakur and Suge had been linked as far back as 1993, but Death Row’s interest in ’Pac peaked at the August 1995 Source Awards. Though remembered for Snoop saying, as he accompanied Dr. Dre on stage for his Producer of the Year Award, “The East Coast don’t love Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg?!” — the first major clue to Suge’s courting of Tupac was when he sent the incarcerated rapper a kite from the stage: “We riding for him.” Suge capitalized on Shakur’s vulnerability.

“I don’t know that it felt shocking,” said Light, an author who was also editor-in-chief of SPIN and now hosts Sirius XM’s popular Debatable. “It felt like, Yeah, OK. Once again, [Suge] had an opportunity and he took it.”Discussions regarding Death Row coverage began in the VIBE offices almost immediately thereafter. The magazine and the label had established a straightforward rapport. “[Death Row] respected you if they trusted you,” said Light. “It’s not like our coverage of Death Row was uncritical. [But] at that time in particular, how could you hurt them?”

Everyone seemingly had a rap sheet to go along with platinum plaques. Dre and Suge had their own run-ins with the law stemming from assault allegations, Dre most notably after his violent encounter with journalist Dee Barnes. Dre told Light, then a journalist for Rolling Stone in 1991, that he “just threw [Barnes] through a door.” (Andre Young released a statement in 2015 apologizing; Dee Barnes accepted.) Johnnie Cochran was representing Snoop at his trial. And ’Pac’s relationship with law enforcement and courtrooms nationwide made him seem like a modern-day Jesse James. “Anything you said about them being threatening or violent or dangerous,” Light said, “was more power to them.”


By the time of the VIBE shoot, the storylines surrounding Death Row were intense. Could Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, unequivocally hip-hop’s most anticipated album, live up to the hype (it went on to sell more than 10 million albums)? How would the rising tensions between two coasts influence the label’s direction? Did the reality of Death Row eclipse its increasingly notorious myth?

Kevin Powell — who wrote VIBE’s first cover story, about Snoop — became Shakur’s unofficial biographer in the years since. He was assigned to the story, providing an in-depth glimpse into the life of rap’s “ferocious first family.” But how to portray them on the cover proved a less straightforward mission. Ken Nahoum was Death Row’s in-house photographer, a gig “the white Jewish guy from New York” stumbled into via a prior relationship with George Pryce, Death Row’s former director of communications and media relations. Pryce had created the short-lived Modern Black Man magazine in the ’80s for which Nahoum had done a series of shoots. Once in the Death Row fold, Nahoum essentially followed its artists everywhere. He’d shot portraits and album-related images for Snoop Dogg and Dogg Pound.

There was an unavoidable sense of tension surrounding the label. Nahoum says he purposely chose not to involve himself in the rumors — about musical rights, about financial back-and-forths — surrounding Suge and the label. Each person approached the VIBE shoot differently.

“Snoop didn’t give a s— about anything but eating his Popeye’s,” says Nahoum. “Dre was quiet, very businesslike … very professional … very serious about the photos. … Suge was sweating, intense about everything. [Tupac] was in his own world, like sort of above the fray.”

Party given by Interscope/Death Row Records for Snoop Doggy Dogg record “Murder was the Case”.

Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

Tupac and Suge, Nahoum remembers, wore ankle bracelets. “They all had issues. It was a wild scene. It wasn’t record company business as usual. These were gangsters on the run. Everywhere I went, I went through metal detectors. When I hung out in the recording studio with them, I had to go through metal detectors.”

“It’s not like our coverage of Death Row was uncritical. At that time in particular, how could you hurt them?”

Nahoum shot them all, although he had no idea how the photos would be used in print. That responsibility fell to Diddo Ramm, VIBE’s lead in art direction for the issue. The shoot was unusual, with VIBE opting not to send its own photo unit to California but rather working with what Death Row sent back, pending an agreement with regard to wardrobe and style semantics.

Ramm pieced together photos; it was not created in Photoshop, as the application was not yet in wide use. “[It was] a composition of four different images in the style of a medieval painting where the kings always used a thinking position and the young princes a more agile position,” said Ramm, now CEO and creative director of RELEVANCE, a media agency based in Hamburg, Germany.

Ramm saw Death Row as a “little bit [of] a house of secrets.” Powell’s piece revealed the inner workings of the label, but Ramm desired a more mysterious ambiance, in the tenor of a secret society. He had the work digitally composed, and darkened so that only part of the light fell on Snoop, Dre, Tupac and Suge’s faces. The trick was to do a lot without doing too much. “The faces are placed like a cross,” said Ramm, “giving a subtle thought of the secret power of the protagonists.”

A Death Row Records medallion.

Ken Lubas/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

They were protagonists — rap superheroes to many. So much of what made Death Row a cultural fixture of the mid-’90s was its willingness to create timeless art through the lens of tragedy. Death Row Records was a byproduct of the post-Reaganomics, crack-cocaine era that transformed South Central Los Angeles into a 1980s war zone. The music, profoundly explicit, was the embodiment of neighborhoods and fractured households ripped to shreds by a society that would have forgotten about it had it not been for hip-hop.

1990s rap wasn’t a perfect art form, but neither were the conditions birthing it. When VIBE’s February 1996 issue hit shelves, spearheaded by its simple yet intoxicating cover, art would soon become life. Death Row’s end wasn’t far behind. “There was just no way,” said Light, “that all of that energy and madness could hold for very long.”


It’s impossible for Light to look at the cover the same way he did when he helped lead the charge. In the moment, Death Row had Tupac’s charisma, Dre’s vision, Snoop’s charm and Suge’s muscle. “That, to me,” Light said, “represents the absolute pinnacle moment, top of mountain for Death Row. At the time they felt unstoppable. You didn’t look at it then as, ‘We better do this right now because all hell’s gonna continue to break loose.’ But I feel like [the cover] was something that even months, if not weeks, later you wouldn’t have been able to pull off.”

He’s right. The cover had to happen then. Two months after the magazine’s release, Death Row experienced the first significant dent in its armor. On March 22, 1996, Dr. Dre officially split, opting to create his own imprint under Interscope. This label would eventually become Aftermath/Interscope, which went on to make Eminem and 50 Cent international superstars.

Music industry watchers expected the label to shake off the loss. Snoop Dogg had been acquitted a month earlier. Tupac’s All Eyez On Me — his defiant, post-prison, double-disc diatribe — introduced a more venomous and expectedly paranoid Shakur. It was his biggest album to date. Death Row’s, too.

“The faces are placed like a cross, giving a subtle thought of the secret power of the protagonists.”

The success came with a price tag. Tupac’s 1996 “Hit ’Em Up” — his now-legendary diss record to The Notorious B.I.G., Puffy, Bad Boy Records, Mobb Deep, Junior Mafia and more — planted the Death Row flag in a bicoastal war that had surfaced months earlier at The Source Awards. Chaos swallowed civility. The media covered what became an “East Coast vs. West Coast” rivalry.

Six months after Dre’s departure, Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas, 331 days after he was released from Clinton Correctional. In less than a year with the label, Tupac recorded two albums and filmed two movies (Gridlock’d and Bullet). By March 1997 — ironically, a week before the murder of The Notorious B.I.G. — Suge, on a probation violation, was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in stomping Orlando Anderson the night Tupac was shot. Only Snoop stood with the label (until his departure in early 1998 when Master P visited Knight in prison, where he agreed to buy out Snoop’s contract, signing him to No Limit Records). Hip-hop’s ferocious first family had caved in on itself.

In the 21 years since the February 1996 VIBE issue, Dr. Dre and Snoop have both seen their celebrity increase tenfold. Despite the stains of yester-decade, Dre has stayed relatively out of the spotlight, allowing business to speak for him. Snoop’s career transformation is unparalleled, having gone from Newsweek cover demon to sportsman to host of a cooking show with Martha Stewart. It’s difficult to think of a rapper who has been as popular for as long as Snoop Dogg. Tupac, in death, is the Hall of Fame patron saint of hip-hop, a martyr. The Benny Boom-directed film about Shakur’s life, called All Eyez on Me, is due in June, on his birthday.

Rappers Dr. Dre (L) and Snoop Dogg perform onstage during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella

In fact, the only diminished legacy is Suge’s. Death Row never rose again. During the week of his 52nd birthday, he is still awaiting trial for murder. He is accused by the state of California of running over a man with his vehicle in 2015 while visiting a Straight Outta Compton filming location.

“That to me,” said Light, “represents the absolute pinnacle moment, top of the mountain for Death Row. At the time they felt unstoppable.”

These days, another Compton-created startup, Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment, dominates discussion, although Snoop deaded those comparisons years back. For Death Row, it was kill or, as the label experienced firsthand, be killed.

“[Death Row] did it with a gangster approach,” Snoop said in 2013. (He would later tell TDE member Ab-Soul the group was a “mini Death Row.”) “We were smashing on n—, we was f— people up. We was determined to be the hardest, meanest, coldest, roughest, toughest in the game. That was our mission.”

Perhaps the brainchild of Suge Knight and Dr. Dre wasn’t supposed to live any longer than it did, roughly the equivalent of one presidential term. A business model based on violence, intimidation and manipulation doesn’t have a long shelf life. Get in. Get out. And hopefully leave with your life and dignity intact. Very few leave with both. The VIBE cover is a reminder. Two did. Two didn’t.

“Tupac was a poet. He was a person with a great vision in life,” Nahoum said. “Snoop is a pot smoker who lives life minute to minute. Dre was the businessman and artist. And Suge was a gangsta.

“They were four different people. But I would have to say Death Row … ”

Nahoum’s voice trails off. His life is a lot different these days. He wasn’t even aware of Suge’s current legal situation, although he wasn’t surprised to find out.

“It’s too bad it didn’t continue,” he said. “It had such an energy for a couple of years … they could have ruled the business. They had the whole world in their hands, and they gave it right up.”

I can’t handle Kendrick Lamar We don’t normally get this much from a singular rap artist

It doesn’t matter whether you think Kendrick Lamar is the so-called best rapper on earth. It doesn’t particularly matter if you like his music. It also doesn’t really matter if you even claim to care about hip-hop. From a creative output standpoint, KDot is doing something that this game has never seen. At the height of his powers, he is a solo artist who is outputting at his most effective level, with the world watching and eagerly waiting.

We do not usually get this in the rap game. For whatever reason, things get shortchanged. Sometimes it’s death. Sometimes it’s petty crew battles that screw up careers or whatever music industry nonsense du jour that just plain prevents rappers from doing the most. Lamar is doing it, and doing it better than everyone.

There’s no need to take a superlong-lens look at the history of rap to understand this. Kung Fu Kenny is not just in a zone. He’s making the type of art that forces you to re-evaluate what you’re doing with yourself. The tracks make people eagerly want to hear them in public spaces. The videos have you grabbing your phone to contact people you care deeply about to talk to them about it.

His latest, “DNA,” is a complete masterpiece. Let’s just start with the fact that Don Cheadle is in it. Let’s then think about the fact that Cheadle then TRADES BARS with Kendrick, showing off his 52-year-old rap hands with flawless execution. “Two first names, the f— is up with that?” might be the best line I’ve heard in all of 2017. After all that, we can get to what actually goes on in the rest of this gem, which ends with a blunt-smoking Schoolboy Q punching a camera.

I’ve been a hip-hop fan all my life. There’s never been a world I’ve lived in where it wasn’t the main life force of my creative mind. Same goes for most of my friends. The rubric that Kenny has created is sophisticated, elegant, rugged, whimsical, scary, fun, dark and joyous all at once. I can’t process anything he puts out fully until digesting it at least three times. The closest person I can even think of at that level of psychological immersion is Andre 3000, and even still, he will always have the probably unfair distinction of being part of a group. In short, I can’t handle it. I’m a grown man. I love it.

His entire oeuvre has moved from “Things I make sure I am a part of” to “Canon that I will force my future kids to listen to and recite back to me” levels. As my friend put it to me, his work affects you “in the best [way], makes me want to be better at my creativity every day” kind of way. If you’re an artist who’s anywhere near his lane, or even not, you’ve got to be afraid of looking like a complete basic in a world that Lamar is living, recording and shifting paradigms in.

The specific topics of his lyrics are obviously worth mentioning, too. There are quite a few people who believe that he’s a dressed-up hotep with a zany mind and some rap skills. Part of that is true. The discussion around his video for Humble is an example. By dropping the super problematic line of “I’m so f—king sick and tired of the Photoshop, show me something natural like Afros on Richard Pryor,” he quickly became the target of perfectly legitimate criticism of himself as a misogynist.

I don’t have the time or the inclination to break down rap’s relationship with that right now, but that must be said to point out that Kendrick is still an artist of his time. In this generational iteration of hip-hop, the foremost star in the game is not some fully formed feminist. But Lamar is an example of exactly where the genre is at its apex when blackness is not relegated to being a secondary element of presentation.

His latest Coachella is already the stuff of legend, and his upcoming interview with Zane Lowe is one of the most anticipated music sitdowns in recent history. There are pockets of the internet that believed he was going to drop a second album to complement DAMN on Easter Sunday, meaning people are mentioning his name in the same sentence as Jesus Christ, not even said in vain. It’s not even really about his popularity.

Once I saw him live. It was in Los Angeles at a private show, and even a short set was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Before that point, I’d very publicly praised Lamar for “good kid, m.A.A.d city” but didn’t honestly feel the full fervor of his energy. That night, I did.

After today’s drop though, I’m changed.

The strange legacy of Tupac’s ‘hologram’ lives on five years after its historic Coachella debut On Dr. Dre’s order, an Academy Award-winning visual effects studio spent weeks designing a virtual Makaveli

Expect me, n—a, like you expect Jesus to come back / Expect me … I’m coming.

— Tupac Shakur on the “Outro” of his fourth posthumous album, Better Dayz (2002)

The mood and scene were one and the same out in that empty Southern California field. Dark and ominous. A wind blew furiously as night fell. Time was running out.

With just four days until the start of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, there was no room for any more mistakes. Hip-hop impresario Andre “Dr. Dre” Young had a specific vision for his headlining performance with Snoop Dogg.

But the miscues were relentless: unanticipated flashes, rendering errors, plain old glitches, you name it. Nothing seemed to go right during rehearsal as Dr. Dre looked on with Eminem, who was a scheduled special guest for the show. The hood of Marshall Mathers’ jacket draped over his head as he watched in silence.

Oh, my God. We’re going to fail.

That’s what Janelle Croshaw, visual effects supervisor of Academy Award-winning studio Digital Domain, said she thought to herself in the moment. For six weeks, Croshaw, along with fellow supervisor Steve Preeg and their team, had worked tirelessly to make what seemed psychologically, and spiritually, unfathomable: They had to recreate Tupac Amaru Shakur.

And they did. Fifteen years, seven weeks and three days after he was pronounced dead as a result of internal bleeding from five gunshot wounds he sustained in a Las Vegas drive-by, Tupac performed again. It was April 15, 2012. During Dr. Dre and Snoop’s set, a shirtless figure emerged, with a “THUG LIFE” tattoo on his stomach, pinky rings on his hands, pants sagging and Timberlands on his feet. It was the perfect surprise for the final act of the night on the main stage — Dr. Dre and Snoop having already floated through nearly 20 tracks, though no moment would compare to what came next.

“What the f— is up, Coachellaaaaa!”

A computer-generated Tupac made this proclamation to the crowd of 80,000. It raised his arms to roars before he began to perform his posthumous 1998 single “Hail Mary” and 1996 hit collaboration with Snoop, “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” On this night, the “Tupac Hologram,” what many still call the virtual being, was born.

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing with Snoop Dogg during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Courtesy of Digital Domain

Technically? It wasn’t a hologram — which is defined as a light-beam-produced, three-dimensional image visible to the naked eye — but rather a two-dimensional projection that employed a theatrical technique first outlined more than 430 years ago.

Tupac made it to that stage because Andre “Dr. Dre” Young made sure of it.

“It really looked 3-D,” said Nick Smith, president of AV Concepts, the San Diego-based company that projected what he refers to as a “holographic effect.”

“It looked like there was really somebody onstage.”

There was something authentic and visceral about the projection of Tupac that Coachella attendees experienced. The Hall of Fame musical artist died at the age of 25, three years before Coachella debuted in 1999. But Tupac made it to that stage, because Dr. Dre made sure of it.


The technique is called “Pepper’s Ghost,” named after 19th-century British scientist John Henry Pepper, who adapted the method in 1862. The theater trick involves the projection of an image onto an angled piece of glass, which is reflected back onto the stage, providing the audience with the illusion of a ghostly presence.

Three hundred years before Pepper, 16th-century Italian scientist Giambattista della Porta was the first to conceptualize the illusion. In his 1558 Magia Naturalis (Natural Magic), Porta described what would ultimately take the form of the Pepper’s Ghost technique in a chapter he titled “How we may see in a Chamber things that are not.”

Tupac would have appreciated Porta’s work, given his affinity for Italian Renaissance literature during his nine-month prison sentence on sexual assault charges in 1995 (he denied the charges ever after). Most notably, he took a deep dive into Niccolo Machiavelli’s 1532 political treatise The Prince, finding solace in the words of the 16th-century Italian philosopher and political theorist, who in his work presented the idea of feigning death to exploit one’s enemies.

After his release from prison, ’Pac changed his stage name to “Makaveli,” and the final studio album he recorded before he was killed, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, was inspired by the legend that Machiavelli faked his death before reappearing seven days later to seek revenge upon his enemies. Tupac’s fascination, or borderline obsession, with Machiavelli in the final few years of his life remains at the heart of the rabbit-hole conspiracy theories surrounding what many still believe to be true: Tupac Shakur faked his death and is still alive.

And so in 2012, when Coachella had two of Tupac’s former Death Row Records labelmates in mind for the festival’s lineup, Dr. Dre toyed with this concept of ’Pac’s legend.

“It was Dre’s idea to bring Tupac back,” said Smith, whose company had been in previous talks with Dr. Dre about the possibility of the late artist performing again digitally. “He and his team had already seen the technology several times and were thinking about how to utilize it. So when Coachella asked them to perform there, that’s the idea he came up with.”

Dr. Dre and his production team were responsible for working with Tupac’s estate and handling the legal ramifications of using his likeness, which required the approval and blessing of his mother, Afeni Shakur (who died in 2016, four years after the Coachella performance). Smith and AV Concepts were responsible for bringing the projection technology to the United States. In place of the technique’s traditional use of glass, AV Concepts would use Mylar foil. And instead of a straightforward projected image, a bespoke computer-generated Tupac was envisioned for the performance.

“Some of the other team members didn’t quite understand. It was like, ‘Who’s Tu-PACK?’ ”

That’s where Digital Domain came in. The studio’s work on films such as X-Men: Days of Future Past, TRON: Legacy and 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which won an Academy Award for best visual effects, all caught Dr. Dre’s attention. While working on a project in New York, Croshaw received a call regarding the assignment and rushed back to Los Angeles to start working. It was mid-February, and Digital Domain had to have virtual Tupac ready for an April 15 curtain call.

“It was a lot of pressure — more than any project I’ve ever done,” said Croshaw. “Some of the other team members didn’t quite understand. It was like, ‘Who’s Tu-PACK?’ There were people who weren’t quite familiar with him, but those of us who were, the pressure to not fail was probably the biggest motivation to get as far as we did in six weeks. We just couldn’t fail.”

Croshaw and Preeg established a team of 20 — small for a project like this, she said. Their skills spanned every digital effects department imaginable. There were rotoscoping and paint teams to warp and pull the design to make it look like Tupac’s body. There was someone in charge of lighting. There was a technician who figured out ways to automate certain tasks in composite work, which Croshaw headed.

Preeg served as an animation director, heavily involved in the rigging of Tupac’s skeleton. Under him were two animators: one handling the animation for “Hail Mary” and the other for “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” And, last but certainly not least, there was a sculptor who worked down to the 11th hour to make sure Tupac’s face and mouth shapes illustrated his likenesses to a T.

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Courtesy of Digital Domain

They all packed in one room, where every single inch of the wall was covered with pictures of ’Pac for inspiration and reference. They blasted his records so much that Croshaw’s mother pointed out how much more her daughter had begun cursing. “When you’re making any character in digital effects, you really have to become that character,” Croshaw said, “and never in my life have I transformed into a character more than Tupac.”

They had to make their version of Tupac essentially from scratch. “Because he passed away in the late ’90s, it’s not like these days where a lot of actors have scans done of them. … With Tupac, we didn’t have anything.” They ended up using footage of Tupac’s final live performance from July 4, 1996, at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, which was released on DVD in 2005. The last song ’Pac performs on the tape is “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” So for one of the songs on virtual Tupac’s Coachella set list, there was a point of reference. For the other? Tupac never performed “Hail Mary,” which was released on The 7 Day Theory nearly two months after his death. Digital Domain possessed no footage to match to but had leeway in crafting his movements.

“We found that he has that smile, you know, that just lights up a room. That was something that we really wanted to embrace, so we spent a lot of time on the smile shape.”

“What makes him, him? What makes him have that spark? We found that he has that smile, you know, that just lights up a room. That was something that we really wanted to embrace, so we spent a lot of time on the smile shape,” Croshaw said. “Another one he has is this, like, kind of crooked sort of eyebrow raise, where one of his eyebrows goes up. These are two signature Tupac looks we really wanted to nail.”

Croshaw, who recalled the creation of Coachella’s digital Tupac via the phone while on maternity leave, didn’t sugarcoat the process. Creating a virtual human being is scary, she said, especially in the initial stages of the design. There was a moment early on when Dr. Dre got a glimpse of Tupac’s face — outside of old photographs and video clips — for the first time in years.

“They were just like, ‘That’s not Tupac. That’s not even close to Tupac,’ ” Croshaw recalled of the reactions of Dr. Dre and his partners for the performance, director Philip Atwell of Geronimo Productions and Dylan Brown of Yard Entertainment. “So there were a lot of moments when we had to reassure them, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ Even though we’re kind of going like, ‘Oh, s—. Is this going to be fine?”


The week of Coachella 2012, Croshaw began making daily 2 1/2-hour drives from Los Angeles to the festival site at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. She was hand-delivering hard drives containing 16,000 or so frames that would come together to form the digital being of one of the greatest rappers of all time. Yet the California desert wasn’t quite welcoming the virtual return of Makaveli.

“The effect itself is difficult to do. People think the hologram can just appear in thin air. It’s a very elaborate staging apparatus that has to be built to do this, and it has to be in the right conditions,” Smith said. “One of the challenges of doing this effect out at Coachella was you had everything working against you. You had heat, you had cold, you had rain, you had wind. It had to be dark. You had to control all of the lighting, including the moon, which is difficult to do. It’s a perfect effect for a theater, but it’s not the perfect effect for uncontrolled environments.”

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

Sunday, the point of no return, finally arrived. At the end of the night, Dr. Dre and Snoop took to the stage. When it was time, AV Concepts crew members had about 90 seconds to calibrate their screen in the wind before all systems were a go.

In a matter of moments, Tupac Shakur rose from the floor of the stage and greeted his Death Row brethren.

“What up, Dre!”

“I’m chillin’! What’s up, Pac!”

“What up, Snoop!”

“What’s up my n—a!”

“What the f— is up, Coachellaaaaa! Throw up a m—-f——’ finger, yeah! Makaveli in this —”

The drop of “Hail Mary” cut him off before the eerily real digital figure bounced and swayed to the beat, dancing his way over to Snoop to perform “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” in perfect cadence — like they were at the House of Blues and it was 1996.

The performance, which was livestreamed worldwide on YouTube, ended with the virtual Makaveli returning to center stage, bowing his head and then disappearing in a burst of fragments. Croshaw remembers dead silence from the crowd, before a heartbeat appeared on the LED screens flanking the stage and Eminem came out to the sounds of cheers.

“Relief,” said Croshaw. “That’s what I remember the most. The happiness at the end. Kind of like childbirth, actually … the hardest, most painful thing ever, and then after you have the baby you forget about all the pain.”

“When you’re making any character in digital effects, you have to become that character … and never in my life have I transformed into a character more than Tupac.”

If creating a virtual human being is scary, watching one is, as well. Upon seeing the “Tupac Hologram” (which went on to win Digital Domain the prestigious Cannes Lions Titanium Award in June 2012, for the most groundbreaking work in the creative communications field), many people didn’t know what to make of it.

“That Pac Hologram haunted me in my sleep,” musician and author Questlove tweeted. UPROXX Editor-in-Chief Brett Michael Dykes reached out to his friend, who saw the performance live. “I thought I was seeing things. One of my friends who was really high got really upset that 2Pac was dead and why are we doing this. A few were confused and thought he might be alive now. I knew it was a hologram right off the bat but then it looked so real …, ” she responded.

Billboard music editor Jason Lipshutz even penned a column, titled “The Problem with the Tupac Hologram,” that summed up his thoughts in a question he poses at the end of the piece: “Why do we need to watch an imitation of Tupac when we have an incomparable plethora of his own art at our disposal?And, of course, former Death Row CEO Suge Knight had something to say, citing one fundamental problem with the recreation of Tupac’s being: “At the end of the day, how you gonna take the Death Row chain off Pac?” Tupac’s hologram wore a gold cross chain.

A holographic image of Tupac Shakur is seen performing during day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 15, 2012 in Indio, California.

The debut performance sparked rumblings that Dr. Dre would be taking ’Pac on tour with him after the festival. But rumors were quickly squashed by the man himself. “It was strictly for Coachella — get it right,” Dr. Dre said in a video message to fans before taking the stage during the second weekend of the festival.

On that night, April 22, 2012, Dr. Dre and Snoop shared a stage with their virtual homie one more time. And, per Dr. Dre’s words, don’t expect them to do so again anytime soon. Tupac Shakur is dead. He’s not in Cuba, or working as a cashier at a Cluck-U Chicken on the campus of the University of Maryland. He was killed in 1996, and despite his bold lyrical professions, the closest he ever came to making a return to this earth was five years ago in digital form on the Coachella stage.

And if you’re looking for the hologram, you won’t find it at Digital Domain or AV Concepts. The digital asset that Digital Domain created has been archived. Only Tupac’s estate has access.

“Two weekends, two performances,” Janelle Croshaw says with the finality of accomplishment. “That was it.”