On Friday, Biggie Smalls was the sole man performing. He was the centre of attention in his red velvet suit as he sang the words to “Mo Money, Mo Problems” to pre-recorded cheers, swaying to the music in his orange sneakers.
Confusion is a reasonable emotion to feel. Smalls, one of the best rappers of all time, passed away in 1997 after being shot at the age of 24, leaving behind a massive musical and cultural legacy. But on Meta’s Horizon Worlds metaverse platform on Friday, Smalls—real name Christopher Wallace—was in excellent condition, heaving between stanzas, rhythmically pumping his fist, and otherwise appearing to be very much alive. You can see the performance here, albeit it might require going onto Facebook.
The hyperrealistic avatar created by Smalls is a remarkable technical achievement. It also serves as a key test for two significant issues that would arise if metaverse platforms take off: whether or not people will pay to watch an avatar of a deceased artist perform, and whether or not that business model is moral.
Not the first deceased artist to be revived is Smalls. Buddy Holly, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse have all been transformed into holograms for performances held after their passing. Hologram performances have long been a contentious but well-liked method of resurrecting deceased singers. Tupac Shakur, who competed with Smalls but passed away in 1996, put on one of the most significant holographic performances at Coachella in 2012.