Dr. Dre is 47 years old, Snoop is 40, and Hologram Tupac is forever 25. Hip-hop may have finally aged into an era of Oldies Revues—lavish and ludicrously expensive Oldies Revues, but Oldies Revues nonetheless—and Hologram Tupac stands as a marker of faux vitality, a callback to glory days, a nod to a crowd geeked on nostalgic sentiment. Seen in this light, Hologram Tupac starts to feel crass and exploitative, a mutually agreed-upon sham between performer and audience, the high-tech evolution of the Elvis impersonator.
What if maybe Tupac isn’t hip-hop’s James Dean, but rather its Elvis? The similarities are there: the good looks, the mediocre movies, even the stupid fake-death rumors. As dead pop stars go, Elvis commands a singular position, an artist who died young but really didn’t. And much as we’ve wondered what hip-hop might sound like were Tupac still here, I’ve sometimes found myself wondering what we’d think of Elvis if he retired after recording “Mystery Train” in 1955, known only to cultish record collectors as a flash-in-the-pan kid from Memphis who cut a small handful of the best 45s in the history of music.