One of Tupac's biggest crossover hits was "Thugz Mansion," a posthumous single released in 2002. The track appeared on the album Better Dayz, and the radio version eventually climbed to No. 19 on the Hot 100. "Thugz Mansion" still seems to resonate over a decade later as pop singer Justin Bieber recently covered the song during a live session for BBC Radio 1.
Two versions of "Thugz Mansion" were released, including an acoustic rendition featuring rapper Nas and singer J. Phoenix and the version that permeated airwaves with stirring vocals from soul singer-songwriter Anthony Hamilton. His collaboration with 'Pac arrived a year before Hamilton would release his breakout album, 2003's Comin' From Where I'm From.
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In honor of the 20th anniversary of 'Pac's death, Hamilton chatted with Billboard over e-mail to recall working with the late rap poet on "Thugz Mansion."
Do you remember the first time you heard Tupac?
I think we all remember the first time we heard Tupac. He had a voice that stood out and was different. Even when he was in Digital Underground, he stood out. I was young and enjoying life, enjoying videos. I thought to myself, "Who is this guy with this grown voice?"
What did you like about his sound?
It was a mature voice. He had his own tone and delivery. He didn't follow a trend in terms of delivering a message. He used his own voice and own spirit.
Did you ever meet him in person?
I met him at an industry party years ago. He was full of energy and excited.
How did you initially get involved with the "Thugz Mansion" remix?
I was added to the project by mixed engineer Claudio Cueni, who was working on Tupac's album, and Molly Monjauze, who works for the Shakur family.
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How did you approach the track in the studio?
The song had a movement behind it. I wanted to add something that would champion the people. I wanted to enhance that "paradise" that he spoke about, this amazing place for the people.
What was the record like when you heard it the first time?
When I originally heard the track, it was just Tupac's vocals. This gave me flexibility to create freely.
How long did it take to nail your part?
It took me maybe an hour.
The track became one of Tupac's biggest hits. Why do you think it resonated?
His whole legacy was always powerful to people. The fact that he was gone, it became even more powerful. He lived through that song and it had a whole different meaning. It was the spirit of what he left behind.
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The song was released before your debut Comin' From Where I'm From. Do you think the success of the track helped expose you to a bigger audience?
It all played an important part in my debut album. People were watching like, "Who is this guy singing with 'Pac? How did he get this position?" People were wondering.
Is it strange to work on a posthumous record? Do you worry about not knowing the creator's original intentions with the track?
I didn't worry about that. If you know the character of the person then you know what to give it. When they come to you, they know that you can deliver. It's like an arranged marriage. You just do your part.