Editor's Note: September 13, 2011 marked the 15th anniversary of Tupac Shakur's death. To commemorate, West Coast Sound will feature Tupac stories all week.
Bruce Hornsby has been a household name for 25 years. His 1986 album with the Range, The Way It Is, went triple platinum. But in hip-hop he's known for providing the sample to one of Tupac's most popular songs, “Changes,” which was culled from Hornby's breakout hit, “The Way It Is.”
On the heels of Hornsby's new live album Bride Of The Noisemakers, the Virginia native and devoted Christian Scientist tells us about how “Changes” came to be, his impressions of 'Pac, and a crazy story involving a former Virginia senator.
Did you ever get to meet Tupac?
No, I never did. As you know, of course, he recorded his version of my song, which I think was his biggest hit. A year after he was assassinated I got a cassette in the mail from the Shakur Foundation, saying “We found this song, it's going to be the single on his Greatest Hits album coming out.”
The original [“Changes”] was a lot dirtier, had a lot of the n-word. They took that out for the single. I didn't request it; it's their creation, it wasn't my place to say anything.
Did you like the song?
I really liked it. Lots of rappers have used “The Way It Is:” Wyclef, E-40, Snoop. I loved what [Tupac] did with it. I just said, “Go go go.”
Are you a fan of Tupac's music?
I'm a fan [now]. When the Greatest Hits record came out, they sent me it. I had never really dealt with him on a listening level. I was sort of floored by his creativity. I thought he was so clever, and really profound, and deep. There's a lot of gravitas to Tupac's music, to me.
Here's a funny story. The senator in Virginia for years was Chuck Robb. My wife and I supported him, and got invited to his Christmas party in the late '90s, when Greatest Hits came out. My wife decided we should listen to it on the drive. We get to Robb's house, and there were a bunch of black parking attendants. We opened the car, and — I didn't know this — but the next song to come on was [“Hit Em Up”]. The timing was hilarious. Right when the brothers were ready to take the keys the line “I fucked your bitch/ You fat motherfucker” came on. These guys fell out. They looked at me at first in horror, and then started laughing like crazy.
Do you find it weird that the chorus on “Changes” is “Things will never be the same,” while the chorus on “The Way It Is” is the opposite, “Some things will never change”?
Yeah, well, that's right, but I thought it was a positive message, I didn't think it was a negative message. And I must say I like the checks.
Which have you made more money from, “Changes,” or “The Way It Is”?
Probably the original itself. If you want to get into it…there's not much of an appetite in rap and R&B for oldies radio, even though it's pervasive as hell in rock. So I think my version just continues, it's a 'recurrent.' There's no real outlet for rap oldies.
Except KDAY! Speaking of which, you're from Virginia, but you lived in L.A. for a while, no?
I live back in Virginia now, but I lived in L.A. during the '80s, during what Tom Wolfe called the “Me” decade. I went out there to try to get something going, and I was lucky, and then I got the fuck out. I was never a big fan of the smog or the traffic.