Rock the Bells boss Chang Weisberg was in the crowd at Coachella last year when the audience had their minds blown by the surprise appearance of the Tupac hologram during Dr. Dre’s set. In fact, he said he was standing right next to Dre’s family when ‘Pac was brought back to (virtual) life and even though he knew it was coming, he was speechless.
“When it happened, I couldn’t explain it,” Weisberg said of the illusion. “I ran 20 feet to the right and 20 feet to the left [to try and figure out how they did it] and my phone just blew up.” The calls were mostly from friends and colleagues wondering which rapper Weisberg was going to resurrect for last year’s Rock the Bells tour: Notorious B.I.G.? Ol’ Dirty Bastard?
“I don’t even know what I saw yet,” he told them. There were no hip-hop holograms on last year’s tour, because Weisberg said he still had to figure a few things out. But after immersing himself in the world of digital projections, Weisberg announced earlier this year that he’d bring back two of rap’s biggest icons, N.W.A.’s Eazy-E and Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard .
The question up until now, though, was “how is he doing it?” The first, and perhaps hardest part, was getting the often-feuding late rappers’ families to get on board his plan, which he successfully did. With that difficult task accomplished, he set out to raise the bar by producing the first event in the history of live virtual musical performances that have actual family members involved.
“The family members were involved with the creation of the avatars,” Weisberg said. In fact, Eazy’s performance with his protégé’s, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, will come to life thanks to the help of his two sons and daughter. “Lil Eazy E [Eric Wright, Jr.] is the body of the avatar and his brother, E3 [Derrick Wright] is the voice,” said Weisberg. “Amazingly, his daughter, Erin, is the face of Eazy-E.”
Weisberg declined to give specific details on how the offspring’s contributions will be used, but promised that they will live up to the rappers’ legacies. The shows will take place at the San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California, on September 7-8, Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, on September 14-15, Festival Grounds @ RFK in Washington, D.C., on September 28-29 and Meadowlands Racetrack in Rutherford, New Jersey, on October 4-5.
Countering previous reports that the late MC’s estates were not on board with the plan, Weisberg said he could not have pulled off the holographic revival without their help and green light. “What a process to go through with [Eazy's] widow Tameka and have her share her most intimate knowledge and be the quality control on the recreation of her late husband,” he said. “We’re extending their legacies and educating fans around the world.”
For the ODB hologram, Weisberg and the team at AV Concepts [who were behind the Tupac hologram at Coachella as well] turned to one of the rapper’s sons, Young Dirty Bastard. “YDB is channeling the charisma of his father into his performance,” Weisberg said, preferring to keep further details of the set a secret. “He’s doing a bit more than that, but not the voice. YDB doesn’t sound like his father, so we have a cousin involved with the recreation of the voice.”
With lessons learned from Coachella, Weisberg said he’s been working with AV Concepts and another partner, Play Gig-It, to combine green screen capture, animation and multimedia aspects for the unique performances, which took nearly four months, and “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to build. The shows will have additional significance, since the last time ODB played with the Wu-Tang was on the inaugural 2003 Rock the Bells. The first date, September 7, also happens to fall on what would have been Eazy’s 50th birthday.
“I don’t think RZA or the estates would trust anyone else to do this,” said Weisberg, who has worked with the Wu-Tang for more than a decade. “I look at it as an amazing opportunity for the families to come together on both sides.”