When Bay Area producer Chopmaster J talks about "back in the day" with
Tupac Shakur, he really means back in the day, at least in the
lightning fast world of hip-hop. J, a founding member of humorous
hip-hoppers Digital Underground (best known for their 1990 Grammy nominated
"The Humpty Dance"), brought Shakur into that group's fold back in 1990.
Before the rapper left the Underground to achieve mega-stardom on his own,
he spent time recording with Chopmaster J. "A lot of people never really got to hear 'Pac in his political hip-hop days," J said by phone from a San
Francisco office. "Even though with the music he was making
later, he was a political figure, the message changed a bit because he got
Now Force One Network, J's post-D.U. outfit, is set to release one of
Shakur's earliest unheard tracks, a political rap from 1991 called
"Static." The cut, along with two remixes, will be released early next
month on Force One's Soul Network--Program II (Blue Dolphin/Raging
"The song itself is more of a political thing," said J. "Back in those days, Public Enemy was the flavor of the
hip-hop nation. (On 'Static') it's some high energy stuff he's rapping. He's spitting
words like bullets."
Indeed, phrases like "Static is the last thing you
need when you see me/ Better have a bat or a gat to defeat me" fly in rapid
fire succession. "Nigga, I'm a whole posse rolled into one shot," Shakur
"The song itself was a political tune about people catching hell," J said.
"That was a real thing about people getting static. People getting static
from all kinds of ways."
The Shakur material is by no means the first to be released since the
rapper was gunned down gangland style in Las Vegas a year ago this month.
Most recently, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony included a duet with Shakur called
"Thug Love," recorded shortly before his murder, on their #1 album The
Art of War. Still "Static" is among the more interesting of the
tracks to surface, as it provides an example of the developing rapper's work.
J said Shakur originally laid down the track as a favor to Force One member
David Hollister (ex-BLACKstreet), who himself had added vocals to two
Shakur hits -- "Brenda's Got a Baby" and "Keep Ya Head Up" -- that appeared on his debut solo album, 2Pacalypse Now.
intended to be included on the Force One's 1992 debut album for Qwest
label, MME Program 1. The label, however -- which is run by music
legend Quincy Jones, the father of Tupac's girlfriend Kidada -- decided to
leave it off the disc. The original version now featured on Soul
Network--Program II also features the work of Jamaican toasters Cooley
Ranks and Wicked J, "which back then was a very innovative thing to do,"
The album's two remixes were produced in club style. "We took it as far
away from street as possible," J said. "When you're doing music now, you
have to be a marketing person as well. It's an up tempo kind of thing, and
hip-hop has slowed down a lot more since then."
Shakur and Chopmaster J first began working together in 1989, when the
rapper was just 18. He both recorded and toured with Digital Underground
until he was tapped mid-tour in 1991 to begin working on the film
Juice released a year later. J said that working with Shakur, whose
family background included strong ties with the Black Panther Party, was "a
blessing and a headache at the same time.
"As much as I loved him, I saved his life 50 times, just from him being a
high energy person," the producer said. "He would constantly challenge the
situation. From the way that he was raised, from what I believe, he wasn't
really taught to respect the establishment, to respect society as it was.
He was taught to go out there and make change, you gotta make things
happen. So that's the way he lived his whole life.
"If you were the
soundman on a tour, and you fucked the sound up, he'd be wanting to beat
you up," J recalled. " We had to restrain him from doing stuff like that. He was no
joke. He was like the obnoxious little brother, but you loved him because
he wanted answers. It wasn't just for no reason it all. You had to
provide 'em, and if you didn't, he might get in your ass."
Chopmaster J parted ways with Digital Underground in 1991, not long after
he had already formed Force One Network. The band's first single,
"Spirit," was included on the soundtrack to Boyz N the Hood. J
called the 15-track (including the "Static" remixes) Soul Network
"an eclectic mix of R&B, hip-hop, soul, jazz fusion, new age, rap--it's got
everything." In addition to Shakur, Hollister and rapper Saafir, the album
also features J's 10-piece "urban hippie soul" band, Big Brutha Soul.
According to J, Shakur's post-D.U. career has revealed a mission-like
journey the producer was unable to envision clearly before Shakur's death.
"Now to see the way that things have unraveled, the way they've ended up,
you can see that this brother was on a path," J said. "He had somewhere to
be. It was different messages for different times." [Thurs., Sept. 18, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]