We Did Not Ask for a Biggie Hologram
Leave the dead to their rest.
Image by Lia Kantrowitz
Over the weekend it was revealed that singer Faith Evans, the Notorious B.I.G.’s widow, Voletta Wallace, his mother, and ByStorm Entertainment, the company that handles the rappers estate, have allowed the holographic tech company ARHT Media to secure the rights to a Biggie hologram. Evans’ long-threatened Biggie duets album The King and I is soon to come down the pipeline as well. The hologram is promised to appear in a music video with Faith and rumored to be a special guest for the spring’s Puff Daddy and the Family reunion shows at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, as well as a possible King and I tour. We did not ask for this.
The business of posthumous hip-hop releases is a strange one, rifled with tussles for artistic control and accusations of cashing out on legacies whose curators are no longer around to steer. At best, you get a situation like 2pac's, where a formidable cache of leftovers is parceled out into loving releases of a quality that dwindles over the years as the vault gets skimpier and people who never met the man worm their way onto tracks with him. Sometimes you get a situation like J. Dilla’s, where quality releases trickle out but squabbles between friends, family, and business partners make it impossible to tell whether it’s wise as a fan to even support “new” product. The albums produced after the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 killing in a Los Angeles drive-by shooting were hit or miss in large part due to the Brooklyn heavyweight not having left much behind. Somehow this didn’t stop them from coming out.
1999’s Born Again tarnished what could’ve stood for the ages as a perfect discography (1994’s classic Ready to Die, 1997’s eerily prescient Life After Death, gobstopping loosies and guest verses, a killer demo) by nudging B.I.G.’s voice into the present alongside stars of the moment like Eminem, the Cash Money Millionaires, Busta Rhymes, and more. Even when the experiment appeared to work (“Dead Wrong,” “Dangerous MCs”), the technique of reverse engineering production around pre-existing verses made a rapper whose calling card was godlike command and control sound a hair out of step. 2005’s Duets: The Final Chapter took even more liberties, sewing memorable B.I.G. vocals into songs featuring a who’s who of “What the fuck?” ranging from the Bob Marley to 2pac to Korn and leaving many wishing the promise in its title that Biggie Duets would be the last project of its nature would stick.
A decade later it hasn’t. While it’s possible for The King and I to be a great album—Faith is a great singer and this is doubtlessly a very important project to her—there just isn’t a precedent for it in the Biggie discography. It’s hard to trust a new album after the last two played fast and loose with the legacy (with Faith and Puff as executive producers), but Faith seems aware of the trepidation; in a late 2014 with HuffPost Live she promised “completely new records” utilizing B.I.G. raps to craft something more than the glorified remixes of Born Again and Duets. One hopes for a better turnout, but the history of tinkering with this man’s already perfect music gives pause. Why not let an ace producer into the vaults to sample the classics and make brand new music out of that? The urge to trot Biggie out and perform alongside him is peculiar.
This hologram business is especially troubling in light of recent posthumous “performances” by 2pac, Eazy-E, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Michael Jackson, spectacles that came across unnerving in spite of being borne out of a place of love and adulation. 2pac shouting out Coachella ranks among the most confounding festival moments of our time, and the ODB Rock the Bells appearance was the pinnacle of a show so beset by technical difficulties Method Man himself checked out. These aren’t events fans are clamoring for. We’re happy to let our heroes live on in our record collections and in music videos and old performance footage, snapshots of greats at their greatest. We don’t need carefully engineered “experiences” to bring us shows from artists on the other side of the barrier of mortality.
Surely there is a better use for this technology and a better way to honor our legends than floating the bluish wraiths of the long dead back out onto the festival circuit to spook audiences by affecting their mannerisms to pre-recorded backing tracks. It chips away at a hero’s greatness to keep making peculiar use of their likenesses and leftovers. We won’t ever forget the Notorious B.I.G., and it doesn’t take a slow drip of “new” Biggie content and “appearances” to keep his name warm in conversations about the greatest rappers of all time. Biggie didn’t leave any flops behind. Let’s stop creating them for him.
Craig is still gassed about the Bad Boy show. Follow him on Twitter.