As one of the most anticipated hip-hop festivals of the year, Rock the Bells typically has a lot to live up to when it comes to pulling out the next big attraction for their main stage. But in a post-Tupac hologram world, those expectations got a little bigger for them this year. Chang Weisberg, founder of festival presenter Guerilla Union and creator of Rock the Bells, seemed more than happy to oblige our new fascination with the resurrection of rap stars by unveiling plans to have N.W.A.'s Eazy-E and Wu Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard come back as avatars on stage. In a recent interview for this week's cover story on the sons of N.W.A. and their new Lake Forest recording venture, The DNA Project, Weisberg clued us in on how the idea for bringing Eazy-E and ODB back to life came about and how their avatars were constructed.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): Talk about the process of using the children of both Eazy-E and 'Ol Dirty Bastard to come up with the virtual likeness of their dads for Rock the Bells.
Chang Weisberg: If you're familiar with the Tupac virtual performance at Coachella, that was basically a computer animation as well as a capture of an actor playing Tupac. We decided to take it a step further and incorporate the family members, the children of these two icons [Eazy-E and Ol Dirty Bastard] to help recreate these icons with an authenticity and integrity that would be unmatched. Lil Eazy-E is gonna be the body of Eazy, E3—or Derrick—is gonna be the voice, and to my surprise, E.B., or Erin his daughter, is gonna be the face. As far as working with Tomica Wright, I'm normally used to working with acts, but to work with Eazy's widow on this avatar was an experience in itself. Because you put yourself in that person's shoes and think about all the things you'd want to have for the avatar—from the way pants are creased to the way he holds his mic, to the way he looks and sounds.
Then to work with Young Dirty Bastard, Barson [Jones] who is his oldest son, to help channel all of that stage charisma that ODB had is incredible. We worked with a company called Rezin8 that used motion capture video and 3-D animated graphics that involved heavy computer programming and 3-D modeling to create the 3-D avatars. And it's also a mix of 3-D projection and other technologies to enable or create what people think looks like a hologram. It's so close to life and authentic and real. Once you see these virtual performances with Eazy-E and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and ODB with the Wu Tang Clan, it's gonna change your perspective on entertainment. Because its much bigger than hip-hop, it's bigger than music, what we're dabbling in.
How did you choose Eazy E and ODB to be represented in this way for RTB? Almost 10 years ago, ODB's last performance was at Rock the Bells. It's something I'd been talking about with RZA for a while and it felt like almost a no-brainer. Last year, we got to work with all five members of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony for their reunion and in those conversations several times, they wanted to do a tribute to Eazy-E, which they did as far as an audio/visual one. At that point, everyone already saw what Coachella and Tupac and Dr. Dre had done and I asked Bone Thugs if they'd be interested in doing something similar. Just working with them, I felt comfortable that Bone would be committed to the rehearsals and there was a lot of groundwork to be laid out. And the fact that it was Bone, who I'd helped bring back together last year and continue to work with, I thought they'd be a perfect candidate to get this started. So why not have an east coast legend and a west coast legend since we've got two days for the festival and each one could both have a virtual performance.
You've also said that Bone Thugs themselves also have their own special place in hip-hop history that made you want to work with them.
A lot of people don't realize, that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony is the one group in hip-hop who can claim a collaborative record not only with Eazy-E, but with 2 Pac, Biggie and Big Pun. So Bone is actually this amazing group who has had the pleasure of working with several iconic rap figures that are no longer with us. It begs the question, it happened this year with Eazy-E, who knows what could happen in the future.
As far as your interactions with Lil Eazy E, did you guys talk at all about what it meant to him to be a part of this?
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I've had a handful of interactions with Lil E now and I have a lot of respect for him. I sense a lot of his father in him—truthfully I didn't know his father but I have a stereotype in my head that's positive, and I'm very conscious of what NWA and Eazy-E both mean to west coast hip-hop and the music business in general. And Lil Eazy carries himself extremely well in all of the meetings we've had, the creative sessions, the brainstorms, I've had a chance to hang out with him. The kid is very humble, he's smart, he's balanced, he's witty, I haven't heard him rap anything other than "For the Love of Money" but just getting a sense of who he is, he was never about himself. He's been on Power 106 talking to Big Boy about holograms, he's even been on the phone with CNN, but he's never pumped his own projects. He's always been very thankful and humble and gracious.
As far as the DNA Project he's doing with Dre's son, the label and management definitely reached out to us. Unfortunately we were already booked, I can't support it this year, but I'm gonna root for it. And you best believe Rock the Bells isn't the only concert we throw and I will do anything in my power to see Lil Eazy-E succeed because he's helping us and contributing to one of the most historic moments in hip-hop and he's deserving of any opportunity he has and anything he does, I'd be very supportive of it.
So in the end will Lil Eazy and his family be present for the performance? He'll be front and center, him and his brother, sister, his mom, uncles, cousins, it's gonna be a big family affair and I want everyone to enjoy it.