The children’s foundation behind the viral phenomenon
A little after 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 14, the normally rowdy crowd at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was shocked into silence. Tupac Shakur, gone more than 15 years now, stood before them with a mic in his hand.
“What the fuck is up, Coachella!” bellowed the legendary rapper.
The unexpected moment came during a closing set by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The audience of more than 1, was already amped, thanks to earlier set appearances by 5 Cent and Wiz Khalifa.
Then, out of the darkness, none other than Makaveli himself appeared onstage and performed excerpts from two of his best-known singles, ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted’ (the latter a duet with Snoop Dogg).
As the crowd’s eyes adjusted, they realized the performer was not actually 2Pac, but a hyper-realistic image projection – only two-dimensional, but nonetheless convincing. From his swinging gold necklace to the gleam of his shaved head, the image captured every signature element of the late rapper with eerie authenticity.
By Sunday morning, the performance was a social media phenomenon. Video recordings from Coachella went viral, and Google recorded nearly 68 million searches related to the performance. Within days, @HologramTupac (who may or may not have been involved in the production) had more than 3, followers on Twitter.
Dr. Dre, the project’s mastermind, hired two cutting-edge companies to create the illusion. AV Concepts, based in Tempe, Ariz., produced the image and licensed a patent from London-based Musion Systems Ltd. to project digital 2Pac onto a Mylar-screen.
Digital Domain Media Productions, Inc. (DDMG), a company co-founded by film director James Cameron, provided animation for the image. According to Bloomberg, shares for the company rose 48 percent in the wake of the Coachella performance.
In an interview with MTV, AV Concepts president Nick Young said the image was created “under direction from Dr. Dre and his team.” The prolific rapper and producer forged a personal and professional relationship with 2Pac in the Death Row Records heyday of the mid-9s. The two rapped together in the smash hit, ‘California Love’, and Dre co-produced All Eyez On Me, the 1996 album on which the single appeared.
Before Dre consulted AV Concepts, DDMG or any other company about producing the image, he sought permission from his late associate’s mother, Afeni Shakur-Davis.
Over the years, Mrs. Shakur-Davis has been instrumental in preserving her late son’s musical and cultural legacy. In 1997, she founded the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF), an Atlanta-based non-profit organization that promotes artistic expression among young people.
Vernal Cambridge, III, Executive Director of the TASF, was with Mrs. Shakur-Davis when she received the initial phone call. He said she responded “favorably” to the request.
When the rapper’s mother and other relatives first saw the fully rendered likeness, Mr. Cambridge said they were thrilled with the results. “To see them see their loved one, someone they knew and raised, there and lifelike,” he said, “is an experience you won’t forget.”
As a gesture of thanks to Mrs. Shakur-Davis for her involvement with the project, Dr. Dre made a donation to the TASF.
Located a few miles outside of Atlanta, the TASF has been home to the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts & Peace Garden since 25. “We purchased the property in 21,” said Mr. Cambridge, “upon searching for land in the community of Stone Mountain and DeKalb County, Georgia where Tupac had bought a home for his mother.”
Though he is known most famously as a rapper, 2Pac was also an accomplished poet, actor and back-up dancer. The various programs offered by the TASF reflect the performer’s range of artistic talents.
Since 1999, the TASF’s annual Performing Arts Camps (PAC) have exposed participants to various forms of creative expression, such as acting, creative writing, dance, vocal training, set and stage design, entertainment business and video production.
In addition to the camps, the center hosts youth-oriented programs and events throughout the year.
The TASF cultural exchange program, which launched in 27, allows students to interact with children in other countries and learn about their customs. “Beyond that, they actually correspond and exchange gifts and artwork with students from other countries,” Mr. Cambridge said. “We identify a partner school or organization and create a pen-pal relationship with our students and the students in that particular country.”
The TASF previously connected with children in Japan and South Africa, and Mr. Cambridge says an exchange with a school in Canada is in the works.
The TASF also collaborated with Atlanta-based clothing retailer DTLR to create a youth-oriented book club. This program incorporates students from different schools in Atlanta and Baltimore. “We identify a book, send it out to different schools and they take a month or two to read. Then we come together for a book discussion,” he said about the year-round program.
He added that the center hosts family-friendly events and programs throughout the year. Mr. Cambridge said that more than 1, youths have participated in PAC camps and other TASF-sponsored activities. He believes the center fosters an appreciation for the arts among the young men and women who visit.
“First and foremost, it gives them a safe space to express themselves. Additionally, students don’t have to audition to work with us, which opens this amazing opportunity up for so many children that might otherwise miss out on a whole world of artistic expression. Further, we provide a positive learning environment and quality arts training,” he said.
In addition to artistic skills, he noted that TASF students learn how to be responsible leaders and resolve conflicts in a positive manner. He also said that the TASF strives to include adult family members.
“Parent involvement usually leads to family involvement. People use our space for family events. Families in need benefit from our food and clothes drives, and lost loved ones are memorialized in our Peace Garden through memorial plantings and by commemorative bricks,” he said.
Bringing the arts to young people is one goal of the TASF. Another goal of the foundation is preservation of its namesake’s artistic legacy. In September 211, the TASF and the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library debuted the Tupac Amaru Shakur Collection.
This ongoing display includes handwritten lyrics, journals and handwritten notes. Mr. Cambridge described one particular piece of correspondence that sheds new light on a 2Pac performance at the House of Blues in West Hollywood.
“[Mr. Shakur] was very adamant about people he associated with supporting the charities he supported. There’s a letter that he wrote to people in the industry [regarding the HOB performance]. The purpose of that concert was to raise money for A Place Called Home. He wrote this letter to his friends in the industry, demanding their support. If they didn’t support this concert and organization, he would disassociate himself from them. He was that kind of person.”
Mr. Cambridge believes Dr. Dre’s recent donation is a gesture that would please Mr. Shakur, were he alive today.
The TASF plans to grow considerably in the coming years. The second phase of construction – which Mr. Cambridge said is currently in development — would create a space roughly five times its current size. This larger space stands to greatly increase the center’s attendance.
“Phase two would allow us to open our doors to a larger audience. Among other things, we’ll have a stage and auditorium seating. Right now, our students train and have classes here, but every time they do a performance that demands an audience of more than 1 people, we actually have to go rent other venues for them to perform,” he said.
The completion date for this renovation has yet to be determined. Mr. Cambridge explained that the TASF raises funds for projects through general donations from the public and PAC Camp fees (all other programs are free). People who rent the center for weddings, birthday parties and other events are another source of income for the center.
He noted that Mr. Shakur’s successful career has also helped finance the TASF since its inception. “Initially and still to this day, a significant part of its contributions come from royalties, donations, and deals yielding from Tupac’s intellectual property,” he said. “In other words, Tupac’s art [and] expression 15-23 years ago has supported the youth we impact for the last 15 years!”
But he said the foundation is still in the process of funding the “million dollar” construction project. “The TASF still needs support. Ultimately, the idea is to be able to raise more money to be able to build the second phase. We’re actively trying to raise more money with grants and different fundraising events,” he said.
In the wake of Hologram Tupac’s instant popularity, Mr. Cambridge said the TASF is in the social media spotlight – for the moment, anyway. “We have received attention in direct connection with the hologram performance,” he said. “The amount of attention the performance may or may not generate is yet to be seen.”
He hopes the recent exposure on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter will inspire people to learn more about the organization that made the Coachella project possible.
“I would like to see more people [visit our website], and if they’re in Atlanta come visit. If they’re out of town, they put it on their radar for when they do come to Atlanta.”
He added that the TASF recently visited a local high school to promote the center’s activities. With the Coachella performance fresh in their minds, students were very enthusiastic about 2Pac – despite the fact that many of them have been born after the artist passed away. Conversations about Tupac Shakur in 212 are another great upside to the hologram story, he said.
“These high school students were able to have a dialogue because [2Pac recently performed at Coachella]. I hope to see more of that.”
Please visit the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation online for more information about upcoming programs and activities.
Note: Though ‘Hologram Tupac’ is now part of the popular web lexicon, the term is not technically accurate. A hologram is a three-dimensional image; as mentioned above, 2Pac at Coachella was a two-dimensional screen projection image.
And as for the rumors that Hologram Tupac may go on tour, Dr. Dre had this to say in a video statement recorded just before his second (and final) Coachella 212 performance: “[The image] was strictly for Coachella. Get it right. I wanna get rid of all the rumors out there. This was not done for a tour. If a tour happens, we’ll see. This was done strictly for Coachella 212 baby, just for you.”