Tupac Shakur: Live at the House of Blues in 1996

Tupac performed at the House of Blues on July 4th, 1996, and here we are, near the twentieth anniversary of that date, and no rapper has emerged who possessed the magnetic passion of Tupac Shakur. The DVD of Tupac’s performance at the House of Blues opens as the concert opens, wasting no time and fading in as the curtains open.

On the first song, “Ambitions Az a Ridah,” from his album, “All Eyes on Me,” Tupac starts the show with his usual blend of charisma and undeniable energy. On the mic he sounds almost as good as he does on records; most rappers don’t even come close, sounding almost unrecognizable in live performances. But Tupac avoids this familiar pitfall for rappers, infusing each sing with clarity while maintaining a cocky swagger.

The second song is “Shed So Many Tears,” which he cuts off early to get to what at the time was a brand new song, “Troublesome.” He introduces the song by calling out Nas, Mobb Deep, and Bad Boy Records. “They talk a lot of shit, but that’s after I’m gone. Cause they fear me in the physical form.” Even when he wasn’t trying to talk about his own death, he still was, evident from such lines as: “Afraid to sleep, having crazy dreams,” and “I ain’t begging for my life.”

The next song is “Hit ’em Up,” which he performs with controlled rage, bad-guy charisma, confidence, arrogance, and just plain joy. He follows that song with “Tattoo Tears,” a song where he flexes his ability to connect with the audience. He raps to them; “They don’t understand what we go through,” with a look on his face that makes you feel his pain, his desire to relate to you, support you, give you solace and also seek solace from you.

For it always seemed as if Tupac needed the audience as much as they needed him in regards to emotional support. He was an extremely introspective person, even shy by some accounts, and it was through the audience that he most fully expressed himself. That’s why his subject matter was so often controversial, because he wanted you talking about him, not just listening to him.

He follows that with “All About You,” a radio hit and one of his more commercial songs. The next song is “Never Call U B***h Again,” which is his attempt to reconcile with the ladies for using derogatory names towards women, which has since become an acceptable standard in hip-hop. With “How Do You Want it,” Tupac completes his seduction of the females. He apologized to them with the last song, and now he brings on K-Ci & JoJo to seal the deal and send the women into frenzy.

Tupac wasn’t even the headliner of this concert, Snoop Dogg was, but there was little denying that it was Pac that stole the show. He simply connects with the audience on a more visceral level than most artists. The second half of the DVD contains a set by Snoop Dogg, who in 1996 was an emerging star and rapping with a hunger that we no longer see in the laid-back rapper. This is especially evident on “Murder Was the Case,” one of the best examples of ghetto storytelling in rap, and an obvious product of Slick Rick’s influence of Snoop.

While Snoop’s set is entertaining and on point, it’s a little disappointing that Tupac’s set ends so quickly, especially since his is the only picture on the cover and the only name in the DVD title. And while more than half of the DVD is Snoop’s set, it’s more of a Death Row party than a solo concert, as we see the label at it’s prime with rising stars Kurupt, Daz, and Nate Dogg just coming into their own.

Tupac reappears at the end of the show to perform “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” with Snoop. Tupac appears free on stage, as if he’s more secure and safe there than anywhere else in the world. His paranoia is well documented in his songs, and is justified by the fact that he was shot multiple times and personally infuriated an entire coast, but when he’s on stage there is not a trace of that paranoia to be found.

Tupac was America’s favorite outlaw, and in many circles still is to this day; with the unhurried charisma of a James Dean and the passion of a Che Guervera. This was his final recorded performance, making him a man at the doorstep of death, but at least his presence was undeniably felt, and still permeates American culture to this day.

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