THE LAST SUPPER: A COMMERCIALIZATION OF ARTISTS’ LEGACIES
The idea is ingenious: take an already popular restaurant, give it a gimmick and prey on our sentimentality. It may be morbid to think so little of human life, but death is the businessman’s gain. The passing of Prince and Bowie ushered in a wave of tribute parties, paying homage to the musical visionaries but at the same time incorporating a neat little profit margin. With the travelling David Bowie Is retrospective in Tokyo further prolonging the Bowie experience through a pop-up café featuring British-themed food, notably fish and chips, it would seem that the artist-inspired temporary café is the new ‘concert t-shirt’ du jour. Does an artist ever truly die? To the contrary. Their presence lives on, be it through their music, poetry, prose, film or fine art. They would have made such a significant contribution to the way we see, think or be that it can be difficult to let go. Taking Tupac as an example, his death left an open wound in pop culture. As a rap artist who shook up the industry, he gave a voice to the hurt and suffering happening in society. Also going by the names 2Pac, Pac and Makaveli, his biography lists him as a record producer, actor and poet. He was a man who had many identities, with his fingers in many pies. Yet this did not until recently come to encompass a restaurant. Sweet Chick, the Lower East Side restaurant renowned for its fried chicken and waffles, decided to give life to ‘Powamekka Cafe’ based on ideas discovered in the artist’s notebook. In association with Tupac’s estate and the merchandising company Bravado, the pop-up restaurant also served to commemorate Tupac’s induction into the 2017 Rock ’N’ Roll Hall of Fame.
“Powamekka”, Tupac’s play on words ‘power’ and ‘mecca’, was envisioned as a “passionate paradise 4 people with power 2 play and parlay.” Despite his Harlem roots, some time in Baltimore and then some years in California that would prove a crucial influence on his music, the menu provided “the finest in Southern fare.” Either simply being the kind of food he craved or else possibly demonstrating the influence of his mother’s southern roots (a North Carolinian), the menu included Southern staples such as Chicken and Waffles, Rice and Beans, Gumbo, and the all-important Fried Chicken Bucket. In terms of authenticity, Sweet Chick CEO’s John Seymour and Nas were very particular in getting this right, with Seymour eventually flying out to meet with Pac’s estate. It was while there that he was shown additional pages from Pac’s notebook outlining a full menu, including appetizers, mains and desserts as well as cocktails. It was also revealed during Seymour’s time with the estate that Pac’s cousin Jamala lived with and cooked for him. Pac’s Wingz (Moo Style) are her recipe for Pac’s favorite chicken wings. With some childhood photos and poems displayed on the walls, the playlist a combination of classic Pac in addition to some new releases, fans were treated to a multi-sensory experience of the essence of Tupac, a place where they could “escape the worldz cold reality.”
Despite his short career, his influence is ageless. With his raw emotion and brutally honest lyrics influencing MC’s ranging from Eminem to Kendrick Lamar, Tupac’s spirit is constantly invoked, and this pop-up was no exception. Bringing the soul of Tupac to New York City drew out thousands of fans as they waited to feast on food that their hero would have eaten. Feeding them both literally and metaphorically in their quest to reunite with Tupac, he is someone that is continually resurrected, if you will, in various fashions, such as at Coachella’s 2012 festival with Snoop Dogg where he appeared as a hologram. Then in 2016 Powamekka Café made its first appearance in Fresno, California to commemorate his 20-year death anniversary. His biopic “All Eyez On Me” is now in cinemas nationwide.
As a three-day restaurant, it was a short but sweet homage to its creator. Through linking the past with the present, Powamekka Cafe continued society’s gratitude towards Pac while also reaffirming our connectedness with the artist and his music; that his memory and influence aren’t simply forgotten. The combination of legacy, the ephemerality of the pop-up and the need to have some sort of connection with a hero is quite a powerful combination for business, with a pop-up also appearing in March, for example, to commemorate the 20-year death anniversary of Notorious B.I.G, a.k.a Biggie. However, whereas Tupac left instructions for Powamekka Café, the Biggie pop-up menu drew inspiration from Biggie’s music, notably the song ‘Big Poppa’. Offering a breakfast consisting of T-Bone Steak, cheesy eggs and Welch’s grape juice, the restaurant opened at 5.46 a.m. in keeping with another song “Warning”. While there is no doubt as to the commercialization of these artists’ respective legacies, it is also a surefire way to prolong the artist’s memory, as exemplified by the collective Tupac memorabilia at Powamekka Café, giving the restaurant an added museum-like quality. With Tupac’s estate intermittently releasing new songs, and some fans promoting a conspiracy that Tupac is actually still alive and hiding in Cuba, there is a mighty resistance to let Tupac rest in peace.
With everyone congregated at Powamekka to break bread with the soul of Tupac, the café represented the priorities of today’s pop culture. Milking the millennials’ need to be in on the latest thing in combination with today’s severe shortage of heroes, we have gone from canonizing saints to canonizing celebrities. Peddling Southern treats in the endeavor to keep the fan base alive and hungry for more. Shall we soon be finding the restoration of Michael Jackson’s zoo in Neverland, taking tea in his namesake cafe? If the artist is our modern day god, its church would be the restaurant. All gathered together in the name of one person, gorging ourselves silly in the hope of being reunited with our hero, even if only for three days.