“Sippin on booze in the House of Blues” – The Notorious B.I.G.
Tupac and Biggie may have claimed to not have much in common (the former more loudly than the latter) but they both knew a cool club to chill at or perform in when they saw one. Over the years though some in the hip-hop biz have accused the House of Blues of discriminating against rap tours, in effect not wanting them in their venues and not being willing to promote them if they are. Just to see if that still holds true in 2005 I visited their homepage on October 10th and although I had to scroll over halfway down the page I did find The Roots as well as “The Breed Love Odyssey,” a tour featuring Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch among other people. That’s cool. Even if those claims about not booking rappers may have been true in the past, it certainly doesn’t seem to hold weight today.
In fact one might suspect if the House of Blues really had a problem with hip-hop, they wouldn’t want their name used for a simultaneous album and DVD release called “Tupac Live at the House of Blues.” Hell if they were that wary one suspects they wouldn’t have booked Tupac Shakur in the first place. After all controversy and in many cases violence seemed to follow Shakur wherever he went in his career, from the West coast to the East and back again. Even though he had roots on both sides of the country, it was California that Shakur most often showed his love for, and not surprisingly this performance is from one of their venues in Southern California. In particular this recording and movie eminate from the Sunset Strip location, and oddly enough the date that it takes places is July 4th. Besides being historically significant as when the U.S. celebrates Independence Day, it is also just a little over two months before he was hit in driveby shooting on September 7th from which he never recovered – passing away on September 13th.
This album for better or worse represents Tupac right at the apex of his fame and popularity while he was still alive to enjoy it. The Shakur heard here is not a martyr or a tragic figure but someone who thrives on the adulation his fearless bravado receives. It’s little wonder then that his set opens with the war cry song “Ambitions Az a Ridah.” His homies from the Outlawz share the stage and his frentic energy. Shakur is either so high or so amped up that at times he can’t finish his own lines, letting the homies finish his sentences for him. The song is in some ways ironic though, as Shakur foreshadows his own death:
“Now these money hungry bitches gettin suspicious
Started plottin and plannin on schemes, to come and trick us
But Thug niggaz be on point and game tight
Me, Syke and Bogart, wrap it up the same night
Got problems then handle it, motherfuckers see me
These niggaz is jealous cause deep in they heart they wanna be me”
Before Shakur can bust into the song’s even more prescient second verse, the live set immediately morphs into the somber song “So Many Tears.” This performance is sadly even less satisfying, as ‘Pac doesn’t even finish the first verse before he cuts it off and professes he wants to do some new shit about Nas, Mobb Deep and Bad Boy. That new song is “Troublesome ’96,” although you’ll recognize the beat as being from the Nas’ song “If I Ruled the World” (which itself borrowed from the song of the same name by Kurtis Blow among other sources). This comes as close to being a complete performance as any of his songs do, only cutting off the shoutouts at the end. Given all of the barbs he aimed at his self-proclaimed enemies at the start of the song you might have thought he would perform “Hit ‘Em Up” – which in fact he still does, only it’s the next number after “Troublesome.” The rest of his far too brief set includes classics like “All About You” and “How Do You Want It” featuring K-Ci and JoJo, who also do an improptu acapella of “Freek’n You” leading into the song.
As quickly and as loudly as he arrived is as quickly and as quietly as he goes. “Thank y’all L.A., one love.” That’s it. Before you even have time to pause and reflect on this being the last and only chance there ever was for a live Tupac set to be recorded, Tha Dogg Pound take over the stage. Despite what the album’s title and cover art might otherwise lead you to believe, it is they who actually hold down 60% of this album’s tracks and they who have the longest set of the CD. Obviously “Tha Dogg Pound All-Stars at the House of Blues featuring Tupac” wouldn’t have been nearly as marketable. Callous or not you can’t fault Death Row and their partner for the way they’ve packaged and sold this release. Tupac does return at the close of the performance and the album to duet with Snoop on the song “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” Even though it’s not near as much as a hardcore Shakur fan might hope for, it’s hard to ignore the historical value or the well-recorded quality of this album. Venues like the House of Blues are known for their artist friendly performance theatres and this is no exception even when it comes to hip-hop. Despite being recorded live there is very little distortion and the levels of the instrumentals mixed with the on stage vocals is just right. While “Live at the House of Blues” may not be for everyone, there’s no reason for a faithful follower to not pick this up for a chance to hear Shakur in his glory days long before he had become more myth than man.