Early Political Tupac Shakur Track To Be Released

Previously unreleased song shows off the rapper's early style.

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

more personal."

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

Bull) album.

"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

boasts.

"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.

"Static" was

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,"

said J.

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]