Retro spin: Vitamin String Quartet salutes Tupac

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In 2007, the collective known as the Vitamin String Quartet, released a salute to rapper Tupac 10 years after his murder. Titled “String Quartet Tribute to Tupac,” the recording manages to capture a bit of the late rapper’s angst and energy using only violin, viola and cello.

The release seems to have occurred with less fanfare than other recordings associated with the rapper. Still, the project appears no less worthy of fans’ attention as the rapper’s original work.

Vitamin String Quartet: salutes Tupac and others

Vitamin String Quartet has been paying homage to popular recording artists since the late 1990s. The quartet isn’t a traditional one, and not just because of the music it tackles. Rather, it is unique because it is not a fixed quartet. Instead it is a collective of various musicians who form quartets to take on various artists from time to time. The group’s catalog is huge. Depending on how a music fan gets his or her information, it is possible that even devoted fans of certain performers would never have heard of Vitamin String Quartet, much less their expansive catalog.

It is possible to find the works of Vitamin String Quartet by accident. Google or Spotify searches for works by favorite performers, for example, can yield results that include a Vitamin String Quartet tribute to that artist.

The group apparently does not limit itself to just single artist projects. There are several “various artist” Vitamin String Quartet albums. Think the “NOW” yearly collection of songs, but done with a string quartet – – no singing, no humming.

Speaking of how it sounds, the first question that seems to arise in regard to Vitamin String Quartet is “How do they replicate the sounds so faithfully?” While the specific answer would require specialized knowledge, potential listeners should know that Vitamin String Quartet often uses instruments with higher registers to replicate voices and the deeper registered instruments to take the place of bass lines, whether originally created by bass machines or guitars.

In regard to Tupac, it was interesting to hear what the group was able to do with the late rapper’s most popular songs. Included in the collection are “How Do U Want It?” “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” and “California Love.” Each is dutifully rendered by the strange alchemy that allows string instruments to capture the anger and passion and deeply nuanced bass of some of Tupac’s best songs.

While the initial response to theĀ idea of Tupac’s work being done by a string quartet might be a deep cringe, the songs end up being more soothing than many listeners might expect.

Regardless of what people might think of the Vitamin String Quartet’s approach, that Tupac has earned their attention speaks volumes about the impact the rapper had on listeners’ lives and the way he changed rap music. In addition, his youth at the time of his death often strikes people as unfair, and an unusual, but arguably beautiful tribute with strings ultimately seems appropriate for Tupac.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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