You may have heard that the Force will be awakening on December 18. To provide an outlet for our excitement, we've assembled another Vulture Advent Calendar — in this case, 25 Star Wars–themed stories, one per day until Christmas. None of them will involve midi-chlorians.
If Life After Death Star — the new Notorious B.I.G.–meets–John Williams mash-up from Otaku Gang — wasn’t already available, Jedi minds would have gotten around to conjuring it into existence. Here are two producers, Richie Branson and Solar Slim, who internalized Biggie rapping “Hit ‘em with the force like Obi” on “Hypnotize” so fully that Life After Death Star presumably serves as the official soundtrack to their worldview. You can almost hear the elevator pitch: Combine one of the most beloved rappers of all time with the most popular movie franchise ever, time it to coincide with a new installment of said franchise, and you’ve got yourself a nerdy artifact of the pop-culture canon, not to mention one helluva T-shirt. If the emboldened creator executes the concept smartly and un-sloppily — well, Luke hit smaller targets with his T-16 back home.
Like most products tied to the release of The Force Awakens, Life After Death Star has nothing to do with the new set of films. It also doesn’t pretend to, instead making it clear from the get-go that this is an opportunistic collection, albeit a charming — if not particularly resonant — fan letter. There are, of course, moments that offer something more, most notably another testimony for how easily Biggie’s vocals can surf over extravagant production that might swallow a less booming, less magnetic presence. Some of these tracks, such as “Big Poppa,” feature clever tweaks of the beloved source material, to the point where Williams’s beloved score is more or less unrecognizable; other standouts, like “Ten Crack Commandments” or “Dead Wrong,” are much less subtle, but for that they are more effective. Pairing something like “The Imperial March” with Biggie’s particularly coldhearted “Dead Wrong” — Life After Death Star culls songs from B.I.G.’s entire career, not just his second and final album, 1997’s Life After Death — is a little obvious, but it amounts to a functional juxtaposition.
The concept of Biggie entering the Star Wars universe prickles the imagination. Someone must own the rights to his hologram, and at this point would anyone really bet against it showing up during one of the infinite Star Wars to come? (Simon Pegg is in The Force Awakens, for Christ's sake.) (Also, keep in mind that in this fantasy, Biggie’s hologram would sadly be just the third black character to appear in Star Wars over the years, not counting voice/CGI actors.) Though Life After Death Star has genuine intentions — it was released as a free download in multiple formats two weeks ago — further hypothetical crossovers could easily be cringe-worthy. Imagine Yoda in a Coogi sweater, Han Solo clutching a bottle of Welch’s grape. Life After Death avoids that kind of overly generalized pop-culture tourism, albeit narrowly. Listening to Life After Death Star, even for 30 seconds, communicates the nerdy passion of the producers behind it. But can such fundamentally disparate iconography of American culture ever truly click, let alone achieve more than novelty status?
The challenge of Life After Death Star, and perhaps all musical mash-ups, is to entertain throughout the run time, long after the initial thrill of “OMG someone actually took the time to make this” wears off. Connecting strands of fandom and having it make sense is detail-oriented work, the kind only a fool or a superfan would commit to. For every Grey Album — a mash-up that eventually delivered us the mixed blessing of Danger Mouse’s rise to ubiquity — there’s a Yeezer, the kind of thing your favorite millennial blog aggregates on a slow news day. The best mash-ups of all time, like Grey Album and Girl Talk’s Night Ripper, illuminate musical relationships that you never would have imagined existing — like Night Ripper’s seamless segue between Clipse’s “Grindin’” and Phantom Planet’s “California” — by tearing the sources apart at the seams. Failing that kind of meta-commentary, though, mash-ups become something like the double-sided lightsaber of the Star Wars universe: fun but terribly fleeting. Finding a combination that escapes the shadows of Notorious B.I.G. and Star Wars mythologies is a tough proposition; you’d have an easier time finding a Rodian on Kashyyyk. But all of this might be beside the point.
Like basically anything that happens in the prequel saga, the underlying premise of Life After Death Star wears thin faster than you’d like. Well before they even hit the second interlude and head into collages of “Brooklyn’s Finest” or “Machine Gun Funk,” the cross section of fandom that will most appreciate this mash-up can see all of its moves laid out, as if they were the blueprints to the first Death Star. Life After Death is innocuous, so bereft of any kind of comment about anything Star Wars or Notorious B.I.G. that it’s impossible to get mad at it. It exists because it can — after all, 2015 has delivered us the righteous bounty of not only an album by the pope, but a crowdsourced rap album featuring many, many cats. At this moment, Star Wars demand is insatiable; I saw a half-dozen kids wearing store-bought Kylo Ren costumes this Halloween despite that Kylo Ren could very well be the galaxy’s most savage puppy murderer, for all we know about the plot of The Force Awakens. You take that kind of hype and throw in a monolithic figure like Biggie — one who’s been increasingly made safe over the years — and it’s too big to fail to connect, even it’s the rare premise that might have actually been better as a TED Talk (sample title: “Player’s Ball: How BB-8 Became the Droid America Was Looking For”).
If something can exist in the universe, does it mean it will exist? The concept has been debated for centuries, but when it comes to all things Star Wars, the answer is usually yes. Should is a different story; we may want to (retroactively) consult Yoda there.