Daily Archives: April 6, 2017

Review: Country Stars Honor Waylon Jennings on Live 'Outlaw' LP

It’s fitting that Chris and Morgane Stapleton open this homage to Waylon Jennings – they’re a spiritual echo of Jennings and Jessi Colter, the duke and duchess of Seventies outlaw country, and emblematic of how the movement shaped generations of acts who chafe at Nashville conservatism but refuse to be marginalized. Recorded live in July 2015, this concert LP gathers Jennings’ family and friends with all-star acolytes for the rarest of things: a tribute album that almost never flags, with performances that approach or match the originals.

Jennings was both interpreter and writer, and when heclaimed a song, he owned it. But the gender flips here are illuminating: KaceyMusgraves teases the pathos from “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to GetOver You),” from Waylon & Willie; Alison Krauss reprises herheavenly cover of “Dreaming My Dreams With You.” Jennings’ runningbuddies shine, among them Bobby Bare, Willie Nelson, of course, and KrisKristofferson, whose ravaged “I Do Believe” – Jennings’ masterpiecefrom their Highwaymen days – is a tear-jerker. That said, the set’s highlightis “Freedom to Stay” by Jamey Johnson, perhaps the Waylon-est of theman’s heirs (dude, where’s that new album?). Slowing the tempo to a crawl, he pondersthe song’s contradictions in his stentorian, Jennings-like baritone, laying outthe highly personal good-vs.-bad cage match that defines the soul of the bestcountry music, and of Jennings’ in particular.

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Review: Future Islands Open Up New Romantic Heart on 'The Far Field'

On the fifth album from Baltimore’s Future Islands,frontman Samuel T. Herring continues to put a begging, pleading soulman spin onthe moony affliction of the Cure and New Order – slathering his ganglysandpaper croon all over songs like the dance-pop gallop “Ran.” Theresults are comically over-the-top but still warmly moving; he’s the kind ofguy who can make the line “we were the candles that lit up the snow ondusty roads” seem poignant. Debbie Harry of Blondie swings by to help moanthe tenderly gloomy “Shadows,” and the whole thing nicely evokes arainy Eighties afternoon awash in heartache and MTV.

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Review: Father John Misty Mixes Humor, Classic Melodies on 'Pure Comedy'

Under the guise of Father John Misty, Josh Tillman has been updating the singer-songwriter tradition for our post-ironic era, tapping and tweaking its melodicism and “sincerity.” After devoting his last FJM album, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, to unpacking romantic love, Tillman ups the ante on his third album to take on the whole human condition.

That’s the comedy in Pure Comedy’s title track: Echoing his Seventies forebears, Randy Newman above all, he discourses on the evolutionary roots of gender inequity and our insatiable appetite for painkillers and religion. “They get terribly upset/When you question their sacred texts/Written by woman-hating epileptics,” Tillman croons, in verses that will have listeners Googling furiously as they sing along.

As many of us navigate between headline-driven panic attacks and insomniac socialmedia tantrums, Pure Comedy distills terabytes-worth of doomsaying Facebook rants into a 75-minute comic-existential opus that functions like a despair inoculation. The humor is strictly gallows, even when it seems quipped. “Total Entertainment Forever” begins, “Bedding Taylor Swift/Every night inside the Oculus Rift,” soon becoming an apocalyptic vision of a culture amusing itself to death. Our dystopian future is a through line. “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” describes global warming apparently giving way to a new ice age: “The tribe at the former airport/Some nights has meat and dancing/If you don’t mind gathering and hunting/We’re all still pretty good at eating on the run.”

What makes this more than glib is a golden-era songwriting craft evidently shaped by Tillman’s tenure with Fleet Foxes, and his unsparing self-examination. See “Leaving L.A.,” a 13-minute antihero epic for voice, guitar and strings spiritually perched between “Desolation Row” and “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” At one point, someone issues the singer a takedown: “Oh, great, that’s just what we all need/Another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.” That he can’t help but agree is one more nail in his coffin.

Tillman has spoken about his struggles with severedepression, and you can read Pure Comedy as his attempt to wrestle withpsychic malaise. On the finale, “In Twenty Years or So,” the singerorders more drinks while some pianist plays “This Must Be the Place,”Talking Heads’ classic paean to home as a psychological state. “There’snothing to fear,” Tillman sings, soaring up to falsetto on the last word,lying through his teeth, maybe, but understanding how music keeps us sane.

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Review: Diet Cig's 'Swear I'm Good At This' Is Fantastic Fuzz-Pop Debut

“Can we hang, no strings attached? Listen to ‘N Sync cassettes?” A typical come-on from Diet Cig, and an invitation tough to resist. The New York boy/girl duo specialize in lovesick fuzz-pop on their fantastic debut album Swear I’m Good At This. Guitar-toting firecracker Alex Luciano keeps tripping over her own reluctant sentimental streak in these sardonic modern-love vignettes – as she sings, “It’s hard to be punk while wearing a skirt.” Even when her melodies get sugary, Luciano never wusses out as she contemplates the anxieties of youth, the terror of adulthood and the ever-astonishing lameness of the male. “Sixteen” has to be the best song ever written about dating somebody with the same name (“It was weird in the back of his truck/Moaning my own name while trying to fuck”) while “Tummy Ache,” “I Don’t Know Her” and “Link In Bio” raise the aggression level. The highlight: “Maid of the Mist,” where she announces, “I want to hold a séance for every heart I’ve broken/Put them all in a room and say, get over it.” 

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra Founder Paul O'Neill Dead at 61

Paul O’Neill, the producer who put together Christmas-inspired prog-metal group Trans-Siberian Orchestra, has died. The group’s Facebook page reported the news Wednesday night, saying he had been suffering from a chronic illness. He was 61.

“The entire Trans-Siberian Orchestra family, past and present, is heartbroken to share the devastating news that Paul O’Neill has passed away from chronic illness,” the group’s Facebook page announced. “He was our friend and our leader – a truly creative spirit and an altruistic soul. This is a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”

O’Neill co-wrote “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” which combined the yuletide staples “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells,” with Jon Oliva, the keyboardist and sometime lead singer for the metal band Savatage, for that band’s 1995 album Dead Winter Dead. Wanting to expand his vision on that song, he assembled Trans-Siberian Orchestra with Oliva and Savatage guitarist Al Pitrelli and keyboardist Robert Kinkel; they put out the album Christmas Eve and Other Stories and released the song as a single.

The song has since been certified gold and has made appearances on Billboard’s rock and adult-contemporary charts in 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2004. The album was subsequently certified three-times platinum, and the group has issued five other LPs, scoring another multi-platinum release with 2004’s The Lost Christmas Eve and Top 10 releases with 2009’s Night Castle and their most recent album, 2015’s Letters From the Labyrinth.

The group regularly embarked on winter tours, mostly in the U.S., staging over-the-top arena shows with lasers and fire displays. Blabbermouth reports that last year, Trans-Siberian Orchestra sold more than 927,000 tickets, grossing more than $56.9 million. Billboard ranked them Number 25 on its list of Top Touring Artists of the Decade in 2009. They regularly donated portions of their earnings to various charities.

O’Neill explained the influences that led to his vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra in an interview with The Morning Call last year. “[Effects-heavy concert production] was always part of the vision for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, [and] the mixing classical with rock, which I obviously got from bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer,” he said. “The rock-opera aspect, which I love because it gives a third dimension, which I plagiarized from The Who.”

He began his music-industry career as personal assistant to manager David Krebs at Leber-Krebs, a management company that worked with Aerosmith, AC/DC and others. O’Neill promoted tours in Japan and co-produced Aerosmith’s two Classics Live! volumes in the mid-Eighties. Around that time, he also forged a relationship with Savatage, a dramatic power-metal band from Tarpon Springs, Florida, producing their 1987 LP, Hall of the Mountain King, and each of their subsequent releases through 2001’s Poets and Madmen. He also produced albums by Badlands, Heaven and Metal Church.

In Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s announcement of O’Neill’s death, they asked for fans to respect the privacy of his family. While a specific cause of death remains unknown, the band wrote that they would be sharing more news about his death soon.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Christmas Canon”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Wizards in Winter”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “A Mad Russian’s Christmas”

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I Get Around: The Oral History of 2Pac's Digital Underground Years

On Friday, Tupac Shakur becomes the first solo rapper in history to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His legacy as a one-of-a-kind lyricist is undeniable: a socialist rabble-rouser with scabrous attacks on the status quo, a deep-hearted poet who reclaimed the word “thug” for a generation, an emotional purger who could write about paranoia, nihilism and love with equal aplomb. In 1995, a pair of Number One hits – “California Love” and “How Do U Want It” – on the Death Row label, coupled with and a maelstrom of controversy, rocketed him to fame and infamy, and his intense 1996 album as Makaveli, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, would lay the blueprint for diaristic darkness-plunging that would provide a model for 20 years of street-level mixtape rappers.

But, as Digital Underground ringleader Shock G says, “He was on TNT Records [with us] for four years. He was with Death Row for nine months. So do the math. He did five tours with us, including Japan. Over those three or four years that he was around us, we did a lot of touring and a lot of living together on the tour bus and that’s how we know the man.”

Before he was an icon and movie star, Tupac was doing the “Humpty Dance” with Oakland’s own funkadelic freaks of the industry, taking on roadie work as a stopgap measure while Shock G and manager Atron Gregory shopped a demo that had future single “Trapped.” In his years with the group, Digital Underground would give Tupac his first tour (with Big Daddy Kane), his first released verse (“Same Song”) and his first movie role (1991’s Nothing but Trouble). They produced and rapped on his first Top 10 single, “I Get Around.” However, as Shock points out, “It’s a lucky thing in the other direction. Pac discovered us, man, we didn’t discover his ass. No way.”

In honor of his Hall of Fame induction, Digital Underground’s core members – Shock G, Chopmaster J, Money-B and DJ Fuze – along with Gregory tell the story of Tupac’s early years.

Part 1: Packet Prelude

Shock G: Leila Steinberg, she was a hip-hop concert promoter. And she knew him first. She thought his poetry was very important and he just said, “You’re managing me.” She knew at that moment when Pac said that, it was her duty under God to manage him. One of her first orders of business was, “Hey, I know a friend from high school who manages Digital Underground, maybe he can do something.”

Atron Gregory: I said, “Sure, send me a videotape.”

Shock G: Pac didn’t have nothing, so they did a concert right in front of Leila’s house. Right there. No audience. Just Tupac concert to the camera and that’s what Atron got.

Gregory: Of course, I loved the videotape. And I said, “OK, next step is for Shock to see him.”

Shock G: I think we were mixing something from [1990’s] Sex Packets. I’m at the mixing board, and he kind of stood right over me. … He goes, “You want me to do it right now?” He had that whole Scarface, “Is we doing this drug deal or not, nigga?” It had that urgency to it. [Engineer] Steve Counter took that over and we go in the piano room and Pac just stood there and busted a few rhymes for me. And looked me in the eye, moved around a little bit. Pac’s diction impressed me that I could hear what he was saying. But he still had that you know, Chuck D/KRS-One/LL clarity about his words. It didn’t have that Oakland kind of curly-fry drawl that that [Too] $hort and E-40 had. At that point, he was talking about real goofy hip-hop stuff. One of the songs was called “The Case of the Misplaced Mic.” He busted something like that and then he busted something that was more political. I hit Atron like, “He’s good, he’s good.”

Gregory: I signed [Tupac’s rap group] Strictly Dope; I didn’t sign Tupac. So why did Tupac only go down there? I don’t know.

Chopmaster J: Leila would drop Tupac, Ray Luv and Dize, the DJ, off to me. It was kind of like she was bringing the community center to me, and I was taking these three guys and I would go over to a friend of mine’s studio, and we would get to doing some things. … The group dynamic was something that I could kind of see probably wasn’t going to work with him. And looking back, this guy was on a mission. From day one. Maybe he knew he wasn’t going to be around seven years later.

Shock G: Outside of working with him, I didn’t see him much. I saw him every time I was in the studio with him – and even then didn’t see him much. Cause he would just pace, and he’d come back in the room. “Is the beat ready yet? Goddamn.” Restless. He’d go outside and smoke. Go across town or something. He’d come back. “Yo, can I rhyme? Can I rhyme?” Unlike most artists who want to sit there as we figured out where the string line is going, he didn’t sit for each listen. He would come back out of the booth and listen one time down. Once we started selecting reverbs and levels and all that, he would get bored and just tap me on the shoulder and say, “Alright, make that shit dope.”

Chopmaster J: We left and went to Europe and did a tour for like four weeks or five weeks over there. Came back, “Humpty Dance” is a hit. Blown up.

Gregory: There was the [2Pac] demo that had “Trapped” and some of the other songs on it. And that’s the demo that we shopped around. Digital Underground was hot. Being in this business, when the group is hot, there’s no one that won’t take the manager’s or production company’s call. So I literally took that demo to almost everybody. No one would sign him. The reactions? One was he sounded like Ice Cube [laughs].

Shock G: While we were shopping that, a year went by. And Pac sometimes would have to wait on us to come back from Germany to finish mixing. He got cold feet and was just like tired of waiting and decided to take up this position he got offered to be a chairman with the New Afrikan Panthers. Was at some college in Atlanta. He was on his way leaving for that when Atron said, “Look, he doesn’t want to wait anymore, he’s tired, he gave the music business a year.” [Laughs] It took us 10 years to get a record deal, and you talking about this ain’t moving fast enough.

He said, if we don’t do something, we’re going to lose him. But I would hate to ask Pac [to be our roadie]. I didn’t want to insult him and ask him to do the Humpty Dance and carry gear. Ten minutes later my phone rang and it was Tupac. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that shit. I might be dead the time y’all get back.” And from that point on he was always there.

Chopmaster J: A Digital Underground show was like a vaudevillian variety show. This guy was the guy who filled up the buckets with popcorn, filled up the buckets with confetti, made sure my champagne bottles, the cork was off. You know it’s Karate Kid, man. Wax on, wax off. Paint the house. That motherfucker was down to do these things. … No, he wasn’t a dancer, but he was a person willing to do things to get to where he wanted to go. He did what he had to do. He joined the circus, he came on out and he did everything he had to do ’til he became the star. He went from roadie to movie star in less than a year.

Part 2: Rebel of the Underground

Shock G: I think the first tour was Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte and Heavy D. And Kid ‘N Play and Digital Underground. That was the spring of the first year, 1990. Each tour, whoever the new jacks were, would have to load the equipment, the turntables, set the table up. Put the black drop thing over the table, hang the banner up. Setting the stage up was his thing. Of all the roadies we’ve had over the years, like in the 20 year period, they’d always wander off, get pulled into something by a chick, a party or getting high. Sometimes we’d get to the hotel and find, “Hey the turntables are still onstage at the Oakland Coliseum.” Nothing got lost on Pac’s watch. Nothing. He always handled his business. Pac was solid

“The very first day of the very first tour that we took him out on, he tried to swing on the soundman.” –Money-B

The real headache was the party pack. We always had to throw these party packs out, which was these Ziploc bags and each bag had to have a condom, a shot of liquor, gum, a bag of chips. Like everything you need for a good little hookup evening. Like sometimes every four days they would sit and make them at the hotel. And you put each thing in each bag and seal it. Nobody wanted to be on that detail, cause that and blowing up the dolls were the two most degrading parts of it. Whether Pac was a doll blower-upper or a turntable stacker, I don’t know.

The blowup dolls were cool because, it wasn’t just fucking dolls onstage. We had a choreographed routine that went along with “Sex Packets.” That slow beat [mimics beat], pelvic thrust [mimics beat]. We would hump the dolls to that. Me, Money-B and Tupac spread out onstage, all three in unison with our asses humping the dolls right to that. It used to kill. And then at the end of the day, we can fold them bitches up and put them back in the crate, throw them under the bus [laughs].

Money-B: The very first day of the very first tour that we took him out on, he tried to swing on the soundman. Luckily Atron caught his arm at the last minute and stopped him. “Yo, you can’t hit the soundman, because he controls our sound. You can’t do that.”

Chopmaster J: He was like the most obnoxious little cousin that you had to look out for. Pac put the mic in the monitor and it fed back, and he didn’t know that it was him who did that, not the sound guy. And because of it, he wanted to whoop the sound guy’s ass. I’m like, “Man, you need to calm the fuck down. You acting like this world owe you. Ain’t nobody owe you shit.” And that’s when he turned to me and said, “Let me tell you something, Jimmy. Every black man owes me.” We all looked at each other like, “What?” Lo and behold, later, he was right.

Money-B: One thing Tupac hated is when I used to tell him to calm down. “Don’t tell me to fucking calm down!” That was like a trigger word

Chopmaster J: He’s the guy who wants to be, you know, at 3 o’clock in the morning, you’re pulling through a truck stop in Oklahoma somewhere and he wants to curse the waitress out for bringing him a dirty fork. I’m like, “Dude. You know, you’re going to get us all killed out here with this shit.” So, you kind of had to help him pick his fights.

Gregory: I mean maybe on occasion he had a short temper, but more than a short temper, he hated injustice. So you take the Atlanta shooting [in 1993, when he shot two off-duty police officers]. The reason that happened was because of injustice that he saw happening in the middle of the night after a show, that some white guys were doing to this black kid. Someone was disrespecting someone and instead of him allowing his people or his security people to handle it, he took it upon himself to say, “This is not right.” And that got him in trouble.

Fuze: OK, so we were in the Bible Belt down south. And security guard comes up to us before we play, and says, “Yo, you can’t swear.” Shock G being brilliant, but also being somewhat insolent to authority [laughs] … You tell him, don’t cuss, he’s probably going to cuss. Anyway they swore through the whole show, so Nzazi, our security guard walked around to each of us and said, “As soon as the show is over, jump into the audience and just get out. Get to the hotel however you can. Or else you’re going to jail.” We all just dove into the audience. The only person who got caught was Tupac, out of all of us. The rest of us, we were trying to bob and weave and get out of there. He was probably like, “Fuck that, man!”

Chopmaster J: I was his roommate. And it was a headache. Pac would invite everybody back. So we’re like, “No, Pac, we just invite the girls.” So everybody is up in the room. That’s Pac being a pied piper type of dude. He was a guy for the people. But for me, I had had enough of that and felt as though I deserved my own room. Because it just got too wild.

Money-B: It was almost like the Odd Couple, Oscar-and-Felix type of deal [when we were roommates]. He was really slovenly; he’s a messy guy. He didn’t clean up behind himself. He would just clean out his blunt and leave the tobacco whatever table he opened it up on. He would leave his clothes anywhere and wouldn’t pick up his towels. He didn’t clean up behind himself.

I think because Tupac grew up not really having anything and living from here to there, living in unstable situations, he never had something that he called his own that he needed to take care of. We thought once he finally got his own apartment, maybe it’ll give him some responsibility and he’ll start cleaning up, but he never really did because that’s just what he was.

The thing about Tupac, too, rooming with him, he loved the women, but what he loved more than women was weed. That was one thing he had to have. I wasn’t that much of a weed smoker. But because he was so irritable when he didn’t have it and used to get on my nerves, I used to try to get it as much if not more than him, just to calm him down and, you know, not be a bitch, basically.

Chopmaster J: I’ve never seen him eat nothing but chicken fingers and Coca-Cola. He lives on a diet of chicken fingers and Coca-Cola, man [laughs]That was the breakfast of champions for that motherfucker.

Money-B: I’d like to think of it as, in his mind, he had more important things to do than to clean up behind himself. He was like a tireless worker; he was focused exactly on what he wanted to do that nothing else was important.

Chopmaster J: He probably left more clothes and shoes in hotel rooms … He stayed at swap meets or different malls through the country and stayed buying whatever the latest shit was out. Fila or designer sweatsuits or knockoff versions of those designer sweatsuits. He wasn’t making the kind of money that I was making or that Shock was making. But he was shopping just as much. So every time we got back from the tour, he’d always come back owing the tour.

Part 3: Flowin’ on the D-Line

Money-B: Big Daddy Kane was like the first rap sex symbol. After shows, his whole floor of whatever hotel room he was in, would just be filled with women, trying to get into his hotel room. Girls would never come to concerts by themselves. So if Kane had a girl, her friend had to wait in the lobby for her to come down. So that’s how we used to get our girls. We were getting the friends that were waiting.

One night it just didn’t work for me or Pac and we’re just sad. And Kane, I guess he’s walking the girl he just got finished with, and he sees us and he’s like, “Yo, what’s up? What y’all doing down here?” Oh, man, Kane, man, we ain’t got no bitches, we ain’t never going to get no bitches. Kane goes, “Don’t worry. When I used to DJ for Roxanne Shanté, I didn’t get no bitches but then it started to work. Don’t worry, you’ll get ’em.” And then me and Tupac looked at each other like … you ever seen the Coca-Cola commercial with Mean Joe Green? Like he installed the belief that we were going to get bitches … and then we did [laughs].

“He could freestyle. He sounded how he sounds when he writes. He was the one that we brought to the battles. He was our soldier.” –Shock G

Shock G: We gave him eight bars of freestyle on the tour usually and then the after-parties of each show. You’re doing 50 shows in the United States twice a year, and those after-parties, he would touch the mic and stay on the mic. I would sit at the piano until there was not one person rhyming no more. And Pac would stay there and rhyme as long as I played. The other MCs would be MC Serch sometimes, Flavor Flav sometimes, Ed Lover sometimes. Maybe anybody from the tour once or twice, but Pac and Serch always there, every night. My piano playing style is like DJ’ing. I would just throw the beats as if I was a hip hop DJ and just keep changing the beats every 18 bars or so to the next, you know, hip-hop breakbeat that was piano-able. We would play until they’d say, “Yo, we’ve got to get on the bus and go to the next city,” run up and grab our bags and then go crash in our bunk. And we never slept at night. At any hotel with a piano, we didn’t sleep.

He could freestyle. He sounded how he sounds when he writes. Pac was known as being one of the better, if not the best MCs of Digital Underground, without even having a feature in the show. He was the one that we brought to the battles. I’d always have a pre-written battle rap, in case I got backed in a corner. But to come off the head, we knew Pac was our dude. He was our soldier.

Chopmaster J: As much as Mon wants to act as though he was really down for Pac initially, he wasn’t. Pac was threatening. I tell Mon all the time, “Mon, it’s okay for you to be intimidated or feel threatened by another MC who happens to be Tupac Shakur. You don’t have to sit up and act like you was really, really down with that. You know you weren’t.”

Money-B: I never even thought of it that way. I was already established. When Pac came along, he was more like a little brother who I was just trying to show the ropes. Even though we were only a year and a half apart in age, but I had already been in the industry a year longer than him.

Chopmaster J: I don’t care what he says. He wasn’t. Mon is a cool motherfucker, but at the end of the day, that rapping thing is all about machismo and pecking order and all of that. God bless you, because that guy would upstage most people. He upstaged hip-hop itself.

Shock G: Then, summer of that year, another tour came up. The first offer was with Hammer, [Oaktown’s ] 357 and Jodeci. We was supposed to gross a quarter of a million. We got offered, for a hundred thousand dollars less, to go on tour with Public Enemy. When we got that PE news, we’re like, “What? What? Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah.” Because what Public Enemy meant in the hearts of all of us at the time. And so we turned down the Hammer tour. And I’ll never forget how Hammer got in my face and at the BAMmies backstage. Everybody thought we were about to fight. “You don’t never turn down money. Y’all messed up.” But when we found out Public Enemy wanted us, we had to go on that.

Chopmaster J: Public Enemy would travel with the Fruit of Islam security or they would meet us in each town. I don’t know what happened. Shock, Mon and Tupac were buzzed and partying and shit, and so I don’t know how they all pulled their dicks out, but they were, once again, that machismo, macho, who got the biggest dick. So they’re comparing each other’s dicks backstage and one of the brothers from the Fruit of Islam comes with the Boys and Girls Club, some kids that won a contest or whatever. And he knocks on the door and opens the door and each one of them got their dick in their hand.

Money-B: Yeah, and that’s not true. I don’t know if it happened between Shock and Tupac or whatever. But I’ve never stood in a circle with my stuff out with two other dudes, talking about, “Let’s see whose is bigger.” If you really think about it, I’m like 5’3”. And these guys are like six feet something. Why would I even be so bold?

Chuck D, Public Enemy: [That tour] was also the debut of Naughty By Nature by opening up with Latifah. So that’s where Treach and Pac had become boys. Him and Treach were on their P’s and Q’s doing they thing as young men. Pac one time came to the rescue of P.E. because somebody in Oklahoma City went into the dressing room and stole some equipment.

Gregory: Chuck D’s jacket got stolen. Everyone was enamored with Public Enemy and Chuck D just because of what they were talking about and what they stood for. So Tupac was one of the people that took it upon himself to find the culprit that stole Chuck D’s jacket. So we’re all sitting in the hotel lobby. And in runs this guy and it looks like he’s running for his life. Right behind him, Tupac’s chasing him. “He stole the jacket! He stole the jacket! He stole the jacket!” I can still picture this guy running and diving over the front desk of the hotel, with Tupac chasing him. 

Chuck D: Pac saw the guy running and pretty much was like, “This is the guy that did it and I’m gonna make him admit that he stole it.” He was a little bit over the top, but he was really, really adamant about unionizing and us all being in this thing together.

Gregory: It turns out that this guy was a friend of Money-B’s and that he probably didn’t steal the jacket.

Chuck D: We had to hold it together ’cause we had a tragedy on that tour when Trouble T-Roy [one of Heavy D’s dancers] died in Indianapolis.

Gregory: The guys were playing with this dumpster. Pushed the dumpster back and forth, hitting each other with it, just messing around. And the dumpster got pushed and Heavy D’s dancer [Trouble T-Roy] was sitting on the ledge. And when the dumpster hit him, he put his foot out to brace it and it knocked him over. Now I didn’t see it, but I understand Tupac saw it and it just, you know, obviously devastated him to see it and devastated everyone. The bigger thing, when you’re on the road and coming home, getting out there doing these shows and coming back home safely. T-Roy didn’t.

Part 4: Freaks of the Industry

Money-B: [Pac and I] were the youngest. So we were just running around wanting it all the time. But I think Tupac even wanted it a little bit more than me. Like I remember one night I literally watched him fuck six chicks in one night. I was in the room with the one chick that I had. He’s like, “Yo, Mon, that’s all you doing tonight?”

Chopmaster J: Yeah, I remember one night in particular in Phoenix, we was having a contest, how many can you do. I remember, I think, Pac had like seven that one day.

Shock G: We had a contest that it was a pot. Bring your used condoms to the road manager’s room at the end of the night. Everyone who doesn’t put a condom into the jar has to put a hundred bucks in. Two jars. One is money. One is condoms. By the end of the tour, whoever had the most condoms in there gets the pot. And the pot was up to almost five grand by the end of the tour. It was a nasty jar. And Pac won that shit. Actually maybe Money-B won it. But Pac should have won it because, man. … He would bed two at the soundcheck. And then sometimes right then, that initial venue meeting. Just those 50 people, of staff running around, friends of friends, secretaries and grips and whoever. And Pac would bed two then. So those condoms didn’t make it. Those times along the way on the road sometimes, the bus stops at Hooters or something and Pac would bed one. He had it, man. He had that allure that girls just couldn’t say no to.

Money-B: The condom jar? I don’t know about that one. I wasn’t in that game. But what I do know: We had the Batman shirt. It was between us and Kid ‘N Play and Kwamé and it might have been some of the guys that was with Latifah. If you got caught taking a really ugly or unattractive chick to your room, then you had to wear the Batman shirt. But the thing about it is the Batman shirt never got washed. But you had to wear it the whole time during the show. So basically you performed in the shirt. So the shirt got sweaty and wet and you never washed it. So it was a shirt that stayed continually damp with everybody’s sweat. Luckily I never had to wear the Batman shirt. I don’t remember Pac ever wearing the Batman shirt.

“There is maybe literally 75 to 100-and-something girls lined up for the dick-sucking contest.” –Chopmaster J

Shock G: Pac was a ladies maaaaan. The oddest ones to me were soundchecks. Somehow in the big faculty locker room … One of those locker rooms they’d always have these little shower areas with the curtain. He would just get it done right there while everybody is talking.

If liked a girl, I would date her the whole tour sometimes. But him and Mon were every night. It’s not that I’m a better dude or nothing. It’s just that if I met a girl and it was good, I would hang with it. It used to make Pac mad when sometimes a girl would quit her job and roll with us for a few cities. He’s like, “Yo, why are you falling in love with these bitches?”

Gregory: Tupac would fall in love with girls. So he might get a girl and take her on the bus for five days. Tupac was, you know, a hopeless romantic. He would want to fall in love.

Shock G: Sometimes I have a kind of scrawny-looking hillbilly-ish white girl. When it would be a white chick, he would mind that I got this girl every city with us. Like, “Yo, what’s these devils doing on this bus?” If Chuck D and Big Daddy came on the bus, “What’s these devils doing.” Soon as nobody’s on the bus but the group, “Hey, what’s up with Blondie? Send her to the back.”

Chopmaster J: I remember this girl asking Shock, “I wanna do it, but could you leave the nose on, though?”

Shock G: It only happened once ever. Throughout the night, in the club here and there, every now and then I go into the Humpty voice to say something. I’m already wooing her with that. But then, when we got in the bedroom, I let that go. Now I’m on top of her and we’re making out. And when I go to unsnap the pants, she’s like, “Wait, wait, wait. Put the nose on.” She was serious. I’m walking around going through my bag trying to find it and it and I get it and come back and I’m hoping the mood isn’t lost. I come back and straddle her and I look down and go [Humpty voice] “Yo.” She just melted to me and the pants just slid off. And when I told everybody else the story the next day, they were all laughing. They were like, “Hahaha, Humpty stole a piece of Shock’s ass.” If I took the nose off, it wasn’t going to happen. More important than the condom was the nose.

Fuze: Pac probably had a little bit more immediate pull with the ladies, cause he was, like, the movie star. Pac had the Al Pacino thing kind of going on. The Marlon Brando. I was in the far background. I didn’t know how to work my look back then. So I looked like some Joe Neckbone office-supply dude. DJs get attention from male groupies. Like, “Oh dude, your scratching is off the hook, man.”

Chopmaster J: We basically ended up in Japan over in Yokohama. So these Japanese girls, they were flirting with us, you know, over there in the parking lot before we were even getting ready to go in. And Pac would be like, “You sure you can handle all this?” And he pulls his shit out and shows them. I don’t know where the cameras came from, but flashes started going off. They started taking these pictures. We were like, “We’re going to have a contest.” The club, people are tripping cause there’s a line that’s formulating from our dressing room through the club outside. There is maybe literally 75 to 100-and-something girls lined up for the dick-sucking contest. And the promoter was so ashamed and embarrassed. A lot of women … I guess other women thought it was the line for the bathroom. No, it was the line for Tupac.

Part 5: Nothing but Trouble

Shock G: Dan Aykroyd, he always has musicians in his movies. He asked for De La Soul and De La Soul was on tour in Europe at the time [the 1991 film Nothing but Trouble] was going to take place. So Tommy Boy, just being a label, as they said no, they sent press packets of all of the acts. Then Dan saw the picture of Humpty with the nose. So Dan pops up at one of our shows. This is mid-summer and “Humpty Dance” came out. We’re like hot as fuck right now. Anybody, anybody in the hip-hop industry was at the Palace that night. The best dressing room that could hold 15 people comfortably had 30 people in it. Eazy E is in the corner talking to Money-B. We’re all laughing and having fun and getting undressed. And the person to my left said, “You want to spark a doobie?” And I look over and the first thing I see is the little white twisted-up old-school blunt, used to be a “doobie,” they called it. I looked further to my left and see the face holding it, and it was fucking Dan Aykroyd. He passed me the weed, I hit it and passed me it back. We passed it around the room. And that’s when they said, “We got this movie thing.” Are you kidding me? Anything you want to do. I’m such a huge fan.

I was at home in Oakland and the call came. And he called and he said, “So we want to roll with you guys. There’s a little scene in the movie. You guys play yourselves and a song in the movie as well. There’s an organ bit, could there be an organ in it?” No problem. What are we rapping about? He said, “No, no, nothing special, man. Just keep that same song, just keep that same song you got.” I took it literally.

Fuze: That was Tupac’s first acting. I think Pac said one thing. I didn’t get a speaking role. I made some nice facial gestures though.

Money-B: I got my SAG card because of that.

Shock G: I would play the beat [to “Same Song,” featuring 2Pac’s first released verse] over the phone. We all heard each other’s verses for the first time at the studio. It was all rushed. All the good shit is rushed.

Money-B: The misconception is that Tupac beat me out for the role in Juice. But I was actually reading for Steel, a different character. But I knew that Tupac had went to the School of Arts in Baltimore and he was an actor. Originally I asked him to help me prepare to read for the role. He didn’t bitch about it or complain and say, “I’m a real actor.” He was like, “Oh, that’s dope. This is how you do it.” He tried to help me as much as he could.

As I’m reading it, the character Bishop reminded me of Tupac. Remember, we said that Tupac had a temper. I knew that I couldn’t act. I knew that I probably wasn’t going to get the role. I knew there would be a possibility if Tupac did. We get to the audition and I go in there and I just totally fall on my face. I was terrible. I’m not going to lie. They were like, “Um, OK, next.” And I walk out. Tupac goes in there and he’s in the room auditioning. All the sudden you hear clapping.

Part 6: Trapped

Gregory: So I get the phone call [in October of 1991] – Tupac’s in jail. He was going to his bank and he just walked across the street and they’re harassing him about jaywalking. He’s telling these cops, “Don’t you have better things to do.” And Tupac being as expressive as he was, he was moving his arms around. Well, if you do that in front of cops, that’s their excuse if they want to, to say you’re a threat and you’re potentially going to assault them and that’s when they slammed him. I went to see him the next day and his face was all jacked up and he was pissed off. We decided we’re going to sue the Oakland PD.

One of the things that happened was, when Tupac had his first court date, Tupac literally went up to the court and then ran out of the courtroom. He’d never been in trouble. He’d never been in jail; he’d never been in court. That was his very first time. He literally ran out of the court, jumped in a cab and went back to his apartment. We had to get him and get him to come back to court, because he was so freaked out. His stepfather is in jail, his godfather is in jail, and they tried to put his mom in prison.

Part 7: All Eyez on Me

Money-B: What Atron did, he did a two-month block of Starlight Studios in Richmond. Eight hours would be the Raw Fusion [Fuze and Money-B] session. The next eight hours would be Tupac’s session. The next eight after that might be Digital Underground and then after that it was Gold Money [Bigg Money Odis and Pee-Wee]. [Shock] could spend two full sessions on one song. Well, with Tupac, he didn’t give a fuck about the production. All he wanted to do was say his raps and move on to the next thing. I’ve never met anybody with a work ethic like him in the studio. He was so fast that if he told you, “Hey you got eight bars for this? You want to get on this song?” You say, “Yeah.” By the time he was done he’d ask you if were ready to go. He didn’t care about the mix or engineering. Working like that, it’s easier for him to record three songs in the time it takes us to record one.

Fuze: He was always like, “Fuze, man, I need to record, man, I need to record.” I was like, “Hold on, I’m not ready.” And the funny thing was he did an interview once talking about that. About how producers hold him up. I was like, yeah, I was one of those producers. The way things all worked out, he was the brilliant one in the studio. He was more ready than I was.

Money-B: After Juice, he started becoming known as more than just a rapper. He was getting known more for being Tupac, as opposed to being known Tupac from Digital Underground. People always say that he thought he was Bishop after Juice. Well, the reason he went for the role is because Bishop reminded us of him. Tupac was always opinionated, he was always stubborn, he always believed in himself. But nobody was listening to him until after Juice. So it wasn’t that he changed, it was just that people started changing towards him.

Fuze: I think everyone knew it was on for him when “I Get Around” came out [in 1993].

Shock G: [For “I Get Around”], they were like, “Pac’s flying to town, he’s got to take the master with him. So you got to mix it right when you all finish that day.” That’s how Pac wound up writing my verse. Because I had been dumping tracks for all three groups on TNT that day and Pac was the last one. And he just looked at the look in my eye and didn’t have to say much more. He just started walking around the room with a pen and paper and looking at the sky. “Say this,” and handed me a paper five minutes later.

“He was the first person in three years to ask for Shock G and not Humpty. He gave me life.” –Shock G

My concern was here’s this song called “I Get Around” and I’m engaged. At that time, I was madly in love with this girl and I was worried about, “How am I going to be the freak of the industry while I’m engaged?” And when I got to the point in the verse, where he said, “just cause I’m a freak doesn’t mean that we could hit the sheets.” I knew he was honoring [my fiancée] just then. Cause Pac blessed our relationship. And when I got to that line, I could tell that he knew what my struggle was. He was the first person in three years to ask for Shock G and not Humpty. He gave me life. Pac freed me with that, man.

Fuze: I missed the video shoot because I had a hangover. That’s why I’m not in the “I Get Around” video. One of the top hundred songs in rap history and I’m not in the video.

Money-B: Oh, man, it was a party. That was one of the funnest days in my life. Point blank. Every time we had a break, Tupac was heading up to his private area with a different chick.

Fuze: I am in “Trapped.” I’m in “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” Both as cops. I had to be the cop in all the videos, because I was the only one that they felt comfortable letting me put my hands on ’em. Pac got mad at me in the “Trapped” video, because I pushed him against the wall too hard once. I was also the cop in the Too $hort “I Want to Be Free” video. Everyone wanted me to be the cop in their video in Oakland. I started turning it down, because people would walk up to me sometime, strangers and be like, “I recognize you. Are you the police?”

Part 8: Me Against the World

Shock G: From ’93 on, I didn’t see him no more. He was big Tupac and we watched it unfold with everybody else on TV. I only saw him for business. I showed up in L.A. to dump the tracks for [1995’s] Me Against the World. I did three tracks for that album, which they used two. When I was in L.A. dumping those three songs for him is when I said, “Yo, I need you on this Digital Underground song,” and I gave him the pre-beat to [1993’s] “Wussup Wit the Luv” and a couple weeks later he showed up in Berkeley where we did that shoot at a house.

Anytime Pac showed up to do stuff with us, it was the counter opposite of him spitting in the camera on TV and “gun battle with so-and-so” and fighting with a limo driver. My mother used to say, “Is your friend going to be there? I hope you have a metal detector.” I used to be like, “Mom, he’s not like that when he’s around us.” He was a like an old cousin, like a friend, family member. He wasn’t this this rowdy rogue thug that that you were hearing about on MTV News every five minutes.

I didn’t want just bubblegum, fun and games with Humpty to just be Digital’s only legacy. So I had to do something with some meaning to it. So [“Wussup Wit the Luv”] was a little forced. My mother was always over my neck the whole time, like, “You’re not a pornographer. Why does your video look like that? We didn’t raise you like that.” He dropped that verse on that and that little talking part, too. It’s a nice little thing he did. He was talking, “Yo, my man was driving down the street and they shot him,” and it’s still relevant right now what Pac said on that song.

Gregory: I visited Tupac at Clinton Correctional Facility [in 1995, where he served nine months for a sexual-assault charge] multiple times. He’s like, “Atron, I’m gonna go to Death Row.” I’m like, “Why?” This is when “Dear Mama” was out. I’m like, “You’re Number One.” “But, I see Biggie all over the television.” Well, you’re not out to be on the television. Interscope is doing videos without you. We’re doing everything we can, but until we can get you out of here, this is just what it is. He’s like, “I want to work with Dre. And I can’t work with Dre unless I’m with Death Row. Either you can make the call for me or I’m going to have someone make the call.” It was just what he wanted to do as an artist. As far as rap records were concerned, we were doing great. We were double platinum very quickly. That was huge. Now who knew that when he got out of jail and he did a two-record set that it would sell 5 million? Who knew that that connection between him and Dre would turn into that? You can’t predict that. But obviously there were people that knew better than me, including him [laughs].

Chopmaster J: I was really pissed at Atron and them didn’t go get Pac out of jail. Like when he came up for appeal, they left him in there. It was obvious that Interscope sent their guy that they were having a lot of success with at the time, Suge [Knight of Death Row Records], to go get him out of the thing.

Shock G: That’s a big misconception. Suge didn’t get Pac out of jail. They said to get him an appeal. … They had to put up $300,000 cash. And four people did it. One was Atron, one was Jasmine Guy, one was Kidada Jones and one was Madonna. Those are the four people who put up 75 grand each and got Pac out of jail. I’ve been spreading that story too that Suge got him out. That was just common knowledge to everyone in the music industry that that he did that deal with Suge on a napkin and Suge put up the money and he got out of jail. No. Suge didn’t put that money up come to find out. It was four people close to Tupac at the time. One was his manager, Atron Gregory, and Madonna, Jasmine Guy, the actress, and Kidada Jones, who he was dating at the time. He was also sneaking and dating Madonna, though [laughs].

But there was a reason that Pac ran to Suge when he first got out. He just wanted that muscle around him. He had just got shot. He was getting persecuted left and right. There were all these death threats out on him. You know how they say if you’ve got a big bodyguard, you won’t have to fight as much? Well Death Row offered that intimidation factor where Pac felt safe over there. It’s ironic that it brought more trouble into his life than it did safety. But Death Row did look like the big West Coast muscle, who you wouldn’t fuck with.

In ’95 when we were shooting [the] “Oregano Flow” video, him and Suge stopped by the shoot. It was my first time ever seeing Tupac in a dress shirt. And he had slacks on. He had on a Versace yellow-and-black, crazy-colored shirt and he had on shoes. Like hard shoes, like a cab driver would wear or a schoolteacher would wear. It was just a crazy sight to us to see Pac not in Karl Kani boots, not in the latest Jordans. We were all trying to tell him which numbers we liked off of [1996’s] All Eyez on Me. He’s like, “Oh, yeah. I just did that for Suge. This is my shit.” And he went and put a cassette in or a CD and it was was Makaveli. And he was real proud of the Makaveli album and he was playing that for us while All Eyez on Me had just come out.

Part 9: Changes

Shock G: The last time I ever saw Tupac alive is a magical story that almost sounds like fiction and it’s not. But that year that Pac died, that August, LL Cool J was doing a show at the House of Blues; the opening act was Outkast. Me and my four dudes, we get back to where the green room area is, they’re tripping on who they’re talking to. When they announce LL, I sneak away. Fuck all this smooching. I sneak away to get a good shot of the show. It was a dark area against the back wall of the middle of the House of Blues on the upper deck way to the extreme rear of the room. And I posted there. I’m against the wall and suddenly I look and Pac walks up. And I was like, “Yo, what the deal? What the fuck you doing here?” And before we could really say too much, Money-B walks up. “Yo, you’re here too. What the fuck are you doing here?” And we all answered each other’s sentence as we said it: “To see LL, nigga!” And then we stood there with our backs against the wall in the extreme rear of the place. And we all just stood there and rhymed along to LL’s show.

We had all shook our entourages to go catch LL, just like that. And that was the last time the three of us were ever together. The last time me and Mon saw Pac alive. And just when I think about that as a goodbye [crying] … That shit’s heavy. That’s shit’s so fucking heavy. Me, him and Mon. Backs against the wall in the worst seats in the house. Jumping every word to LL’s show. I can’t think of anything else besides that was some kind of angel putting us together to say peace in the right way. You know. Like kids at a concert together. That was my last vision of Pac, disappearing into the crowd. We all went our separate ways and that was it. 

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