Tupac Estate Gets ‘Total Reset’: New Music and More on the Way
By Steve Baltin | March 27, 2015 12:00 PM EDT
As the 20th anniversary of the rapper’s 1996 death approaches, an evocative Powerade ad sets the tone for a reimagination of his legacy.
Tupac Shakur photographed in New York City on April 2, 1994. – Ron Galella Collection/WireImage
Late in February, Powerade premiered a commercial starring Chicago Bulls all-star Derrick Rose and the voice of the late Tupac Shakur reading poetry taken from his song “Mama’s Just a Little Girl.” As a child, representing Rose, rides his bike through an inner-city neighborhood, the voiceover intones, “You wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals.”
The spot marks the beginning of a “total reset of the Shakur estate,” says Jeff Jampol, whose JAM Inc. was brought in by Afeni Shakur early in 2013 to oversee her son’s business. In partnership with Tom Whalley — current head of Loma Vista Records, who signed Shakur to Interscope in 1991 — the company plans to mirror the work it has done managing the legacies of the Doors, Rick James, Janis Joplin, the Ramones and Otis Redding, and consulting the Michael Jackson estate — specifically overseeing licensing, apparel and other media ventures. As the 20th anniversary of the rapper’s September 1996 death approaches, elements in the works include new apparel rolling out later in 2015, collections like a recent Grammy Museum exhibit showcasing Shakur’s writing, and a biography by a “very serious writer” whose deal is being finalized, Jampol says.
But top of the list is the rapper’s creative work — “Almost an embarrassment of riches,” Jampol says, listing “unreleased music, released music, remixes, original demos, writings, scripts, plans, video treatments, poems.” And although multiple posthumous albums have been issued since Shakur’s death (to strong sales and mixed reviews), Jampol and Whalley contend a wealth of still-untapped material remains — the value of which can’t be understated, considering 33.8 million Tupac albums have been sold in the U.S. alone since 1991, according to Nielsen Music.
“Some of [the material] is in bits and pieces, some of it is complete; some of it is good, some of it needs work,” says Whalley, who has explored much of the archive. “But I think the work that is left can be completed, and is worth his fans hearing.”
For proof, look no further than the buzz around “Mortal Man” from Kendrick Lamar’s new LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, which includes a 1994 Shakur interview refashioned into a conversation between the two MCs. “I thought it was a brilliant idea, and they sent me portions of what he was thinking of doing, and I supported it. I think if Tupac was here, he would have tremendous respect for Kendrick Lamar’s work.”
In fact, Lamar’s name came up even before the estate was approached about “Mortal Man,” when Whalley and Jampol were exploring options for the Shakur recordings. One scenario involved having contemporary artists set Shakur’s words to music a la 2014′s Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, which recontextualized unused Bob Dylan lyrics from 1967. Whalley confirms that such an approach is under consideration, and adds, “At some point in time, Kendrick would be brilliant to work with Tupac’s [material]. He’s one of the new great poets.”
The Doors, Radiohead, Joan Baez Added to National Recording Registry
BY DANIEL KREPS March 25, 2015
Radiohead’s OK Computer, the Doors’ self-titled 1967 debut and Joan Baez’ 1960 album Joan Baez are among the 25 recorded works that have been selected for inclusion into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand!, the Righteous Brothers’ 1964 single “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me” were also picked for the Library of Congress’ Class of 2014, bringing the total number of inducted recordings to 425, Variety reports.
The list’s choices range from comedic (Steve Martin’s 1978 LP A Wild and Crazy Guy) and historic (radio coverage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral from April 14, 1945) to influential (Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1928 blues single “Black Snake Moan” and “Match Box Blues”) and educational (a 1995 collection of Sesame Street‘s “all-time platinum hits”).
The earliest recording from the Class of 2014 is a collection of Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings from the University of California, Santa Barbara, consisting of “over 600 homemade cylinder recordings made primarily in the 1890s, 1900s and 1910s,” the Library of Congress writes. The most contemporary recording, edging out Radiohead and Hill, is the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s 1999 performance of Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. While nearly every decade from the 1890s to the 1990s is represented, nothing from the 1980s was deemed Congress-worthy this time around.
In their explanations of why each recording was selected, the Library of Congress writes of Radiohead’s OK Computer, “On their third album, Radiohead create an information-age dystopia characterized by psychopaths, corrupt politicians, ill-behaved consumers, tyrannical robots, airline disasters, car crashes and failed safety protocols. For the album, the band had mostly stripped away such alt-rock signposts as personalized lyrics, sinus-clearing guitars and thunderous bass and drums. The ghosts of the Pixies and Nirvana have been decisively exorcised. The presence of fin de siècle electronic dance music, jazz, 20th-century classical and dub are all palpable.”
As for why The Doors was picked, “The Doors as a rock group was an unusual assemblage – a jazz keyboardist, a flamenco guitarist, a jazz drummer and a poet vocalist – that somehow coalesced into a band with a sound unlike that of its peers.” Check out the Library of Congress for the full list.
“Congress understood the importance of protecting America’s aural patrimony when it passed the National Recording Preservation Act 15 years ago,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement. “By preserving these recordings, we safeguard the words, sounds and music that embody who we are as a people and a nation.”
Check out the brand new Taco Bell commercial featuring “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones
JAMPOL ARTIST MANAGEMENT, INC. CELEBRATING RECORD STORE DAY
The Doors, Otis Redding, the Ramones
All To Issue Special Limited Edition Releases For
Record Store Day
Available Only At Participating Independent Record Stores
On April 18
LOS ANGELES: Music icons The Doors, Otis Redding and the Ramones are all releasing special items for this year’s Record Store Day April 18. Under the direction of Jampol Artist Management, Inc. (www.wemanagelegends.com), the artists’ music will be available in record stores as part of the event that celebrates independent music retailers worldwide.
The Doors – Strange Days
180-gram virgin vinyl
Limited edition of 12,500 copies
Reissue of short-lived mono version from 1967. Cut from the original masters by The Doors’ co-producer and engineer Bruce Botnick. Commercially released on vinyl in 1967 for a limited time, first vinyl reissue since then.
Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
50th Anniversary Edition
2-LP (1 stereo, 1 mono)
Limited edition of 7,500 copies
Plus bonus mono 45 on blue vinyl – “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” b/w “I’m Depending On You.”
This double mono/stereo version is being released for the first time on vinyl. The bonus 45 is a replica-like reissue of the original 1965 single.
Ramones Cruiser (Crosley) Record Store Day Turntable
The Ramones has a long history with independent record stores, and this makes the Crosley Ramones Cruiser a perfect fit for Record Store day.
Exclusive to RSD
“Record Store Day is really important for our clients,” says JAM President Jeff Jampol. “We all grew up digging through record stores to find the latest music and share with our friends, and we think it is crucial to keep that tradition alive.”
Plus, we will have a very special surprise that will be announced the morning of Record Store Day.
Record Store Day is “a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally.” Learn more at www.recordstoreday.com and www.wemanagelegends.com
Restored ‘FIVE DEADLY VENOMS’ Screening at SXSW Alamo Drafthouse reveals the true RZA
March 19, 2015
By John Gholson
RZA with Alamo Drafthouse Founder and CEO Tim League (Photo by Jack Plunkett)
RZA is a serious movie geek. We get jaded by the entertainment industry’s hobbyists—actors who want to dance, models who want to sing, and MMA fighters who want to act—so that when someone displays real, palpable fandom, a passion that goes beyond dabbling, we sit up and take notice. I knew RZA peppered his albums with kung fu references, and I knew he was a playable martial artist in the Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style Playstation game. Yet, somehow, I didn’t fully grasp the true depths of his own personal fandom until I was seated a row behind him for El Rey Network’s screening of a restored print of the animal-style cult classic Five Deadly Venoms.
“I think I saw my first kung fu film at the age of nine years old. That was a Bruce Lee edit film called Fear the Other Dragon, and it wasn’t a ‘real’ movie. They took different parts of The Green Hornet series, cut it up, made a movie, put it in a grindhouse theater. It was a double-feature with a Jim Kelly feature called Black Samurai. I got addicted at that time, but then the following weekend, my cousins took me to 42nd Street in Manhattan, and they had a triple-feature kung fu bill. To my memory, it was Godfather of Hong Kong, The Fist of Double K, and maybe Hammer of God,” he told the small crowd at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse.
“Even though I was enjoying what I was watching, they showed the trailer of Five Deadly Venoms and I was blown away [by] the imagination of the film, the fight techniques – the lizard, the scorpion, the toad. I read a book when I was a kid called The Five Chinese Brothers and in my mind? ‘Hey! They made a movie about The Five Chinese Brothers!’ Me and my cousins all saved up our nickels and dimes, bagging groceries at the local grocery store, and the next weekend we saw Five Deadly Venoms.”
Director Chang Cheh helmed ninety-two films from 1950 to 1995; many of them, including 1978’s Five Deadly Venoms, for notorious Hong Kong producers the Shaw Brothers. The film is surprisingly light on fight scenes considering its reputation as a must for fans. A dying master sends his last pupil (Kuo Chue) to seek out the master’s former students, each trained with specific skills related to venomous animals (the snake, the toad, the scorpion, the lizard, and the centipede). He’s concerned that some of his more treacherous pupils may be planning on using their forbidden fighting styles to steal a treasure.
Chue’s character is kind of a bumpkin. He knows a little bit of each style, but isn’t good enough at any one of them to do any real damage. He follows a lead to a small town and starts asking questions right away like a dope, which only accelerates the villains’ plans to steal the treasure. The former pupils have complicated relationships where some of them know they were mutual students of the master but not all of them know each other, nor know that they all live in the same town. While some of the fighters are villains, some are not, and how those relationships play out is really what moves the plot—not the fight scenes, surprisingly enough.
Once the treasure is stolen and the police get involved, their individual identities and fighting styles quickly come to light. Each unique style gets a moment to shine, and the individual fights are short enough (and fierce enough) to always leave you wanting more.
For RZA, they consumed him. “They’re bad ass. You see these guys sticking to the walls and sliding on the floor? The imagination of the films was great. But also, for me, there was an escape from the reality that was around me. New York was a totally different place. The city has been really upgraded. I use that word ‘upgraded.’ It’s a really beautiful city, but I grew up in the Taxi Driver city,” RZA laughed. “To escape that, to go into a movie theater and see that light flickering, and not just go in and see black exploitation, but to go back 500 years or 1000 years and watch martial arts and watch men with no guns, use their bare hands to fight each other, to have that chivalry?”
“There’s other Shaw Brothers films, like Executioners from Shaolin, where you see generations of art taught from father to son and patriotism. 36 Chambers of Shaolin, one of my favorite films of all, where we learn that government oppression existed other places in the world. Watching these kinds of films, I’m seeing that this problem of oppression is everywhere in the world. Even in this film [Five Deadly Venoms], we’re watching the police, corrupt, getting paid, and letting the bad guys get away with things. It’s funny, in its own small way, it still resonates in today’s society, in one way or another. For me, it was big escapism and it gave me camaraderie with other people around the world.”
El Rey Network, started in part by filmmaker and cult cinema aficionado Robert Rodriguez, feels the same and is devoting a huge chunk of their programming to keep the Shaw Brothers alive on our TV sets in 2015. They’ve got over 255 titles from the Shaw library that they’re showcasing on the channel over the next five years, effectively turning America’s living rooms into smaller, cleaner grindhouses.
It didn’t take much prodding to get RZA to open up about the sleaziest glory days of New York’s all-night theaters. “I practically lived in those [42nd Street] theaters, from the age of 12, 13, 14, I cut school and was hanging out in movie theaters. And what was cool about it, you had all these martial arts double-features, triple-features, but two doors down you got all the porno triple-features. In those days, I promise you, you could walk down 42nd Street and if you looked to your left, there’d be an open door, woman on the steps, exposed. You could get a nice peek. Imagine being a kid? WOW! It was a crazy place but so exciting.”
He stops to consider that real-world Pleasure Island in the context of his own childhood development, “For me, these early experiences—martial arts films, R-rated films in particular, intoxications and stimulations—it probably accelerated my mind.”
At fourteen, RZA moved to Staten Island and met the friends who would eventually become his band mates, and that diet of martial arts movies was directly responsible for the formation of the band. “There was another film that the Shaw Brothers released called The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, and it was that film that really inspired the brotherhood of Wu-Tang. There was no more going to 42nd Street; we would cut school and go to RZA’s house, all right? I had all the VHS tapes of the kung fu films and that one was probably played the most. At the time, we’d be like ‘I’m the fifth brother! I’m the second brother! I’m the third brother! You’re the abbot!’ At the age of 18, I was like “Yo, we’re going to form the Wu-Tang Clan.” I started telling everybody I was part of the Wu-Tang Clan.”
The man can talk movies. He let us know he had just finished going through Woody Allen’s entire catalog and had moved on to Robert Altman. In the brief post-film Q-and-A, he recommended films in seemingly every sentence he uttered. Wu Tang Swordsman, Mystery of Chessboxing, One-Armed Swordsman, Avenging Eagle, Come Drink With Me, Lady Assassin, the Brave Archer trilogy, Dirty Ho, Opium and the Kung Fu Master, Chinatown Kid, Killer Constable, The Savage Five and more recent actioners like True Legend, Ip Man, The Raid, and The Raid 2 all got name-checked. Your streaming queue just got 99% more punchy and kicky. Thank RZA.
“They call us cinephiles, right? And it’s our job to study film,” RZA explained. “The Shaw Brothers have a catalog of study that can help you with many art forms. They helped me as a producer. You heard many of the music stabs from that film [Five Deadly Venoms] in my music. But it also can help you as a writer, as a cinematographer. There’s a lot of great film libraries out there and, to me, Shaw Brothers’ is one of the best.”