Magazine deadlines are inevitably a bit stressy. But nothing relaxes the nerves and smoothes the furrowed brow like a good browse through the latest pop music videos on iTunes.
It’s always interesting to peruse the ‘Hip Hop & Hot’ section. As you’d expect, the various Dog(g)s were all present: Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Bow Wow (née Little Bow Wow and not to be confused with Bow Wow Wow), as well as all the other hiphop-hippotomuses like Eminem, Kanye West etc etc. But much to my surprise I saw a ‘new’ and ‘hot’ cut from the greatest hip hop messiah of them all, Tupac Shakur… and what’s more he was dueting with none other than Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Wiggie… okay, maybe I made the last alias up.
Does any of this strike you as slightly odd? Maybe I’m being old fashioned here but in ‘my day’ being deceased was generally a fairly serious impediment to releasing a new track. And we’re not talking about a warm corpse here… Tupac has been dead a long, long time; long enough to support half a dozen fawning tribute videos and enough T-shirts to topple Che Guevera off the top of the icon pops. And let’s not forget Notorious. I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead here… but he’s well and truly dead.
So what gives?
I decided to hit Google and find out what manner of hiphop-hypocrisy was going on here. Surely this was nothing more than a Kleenex-thin fabrication… a cynical mash-up of ‘previously unreleased material’ that was so bad that it was self evidently left in the vault through sheer lack of artistic merit. That’s what I decided to do… but the phone rang, and then I was feeling a little peckish, and, well… then I forgot all about it.
But, nonetheless, shoddy journalism should never get in the way of a darn good rant, and I’m shaking with rage. I’m sick to the core about Runnin’. Not because it’s diabolical — I’ve heard worse — I’m livid because it’s a track that feeds, worm-like, off the cadaver of a once proud, bullet-dodging rap giant. It’s so full of half-cocked, Ron Howard-like sentiment, all you need is some Radox and you could soak for hours in the hokey symbolism. (Which in itself wouldn’t be quite so bad if you didn’t know the strings were being pulled by a room full of cigar-chomping Caucasians each with a girth big enough to give Biggie ‘small man’ syndrome.)
Let’s see here… We’ve got a serious-looking Harlem String Philharmonic (if such a thing existed) ramping up the emotion… there’s, of course, images of ambulances… candlelit vigils… empty recording studios… and even a Notorious Smalls soundbite offering profound insight into the demise of the Pac — “so when he died I was like… woah”.
But the lingering image is of a burning, old-skool microphone. Such is the potency of the flaming mic motif, the video makers feel compelled to run it four or five times. I’m not one to quibble too much — doubtlessly, pouring metho on audio equipment and sparking it up is fun… I’d recommend it to anyone — but how is it a fitting emblem of a short tragic life of rhyme?
The final insult in my opinion is the sped-up chorus… it’s nothing short of a joke. Gluing a bunch of ‘archival’ material together isn’t easy. But, as a producer, if you find your raw material sounding like the Smurfs then it should set off some alarm bells. Apparently the batteries needed replacing in the studio’s ‘cheese alarm’ because the producers of Runnin’ kept cranking it to the point where you feel like reaching for the virtual 33 1/3 RPM switch — sampling the Chipmunks’ rendition of My Sharona would have been more effective. That said, one line of the chorus sticks out: “I wonder if they’ll laugh when I die?”. I think the answer is a resounding ‘Word!’… all the way to the Chase Manhatten Bank.
I’m not sure how the music moguls can possibly milk any more out of Tupac’s career. Short of posthumously getting him onto Denton’s Enough Rope, I think the bloke should be left to rest in some sort of peace. —CH.