The East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry was an on-going dispute in the early-mid 1990s rivalry between artists and fans of the East Coast and West Coast hip-hop scenes. Seeming focal points of the feud were west coast rapper 2Pac (and his label, Death Row Records), and east coast rapper The Notorious BIG (and his label, Bad Boy Records.)
Suge Knight vs. Puff Daddy
In 1993, fledgling A&R executive and record producer Sean “Puffy” Combs founded the New York-centered hip-hop label, Bad Boy Records. The next year, the label’s debut releases by Brooklyn-based rapper Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (also referred to as ‘Biggie Smalls’) and South Bronx-based rapper Craig Mack became immediate critical and commercial successes, and seemed to revitalize the east coast hip-hop scene by 1995. Death Row Records weren’t contented about its iron grip on the commercial hip-hop scene now being challenged by the emergence of Bad Boy. Oakland-based rapper Tupac “2Pac” Shakur, meanwhile, forged an embittered rivalry with Biggie—publicly accusing he and Combs of having facilitated his being robbed and shot five times in the lobby of a New York recording studio in late 1994. Shortly after 2Pac’s shooting, “Who Shot Ya,” a track from Biggie’s album, Ready to Die, was released. Although Combs and Wallace emphatically denied having anything to do with the shooting and insisted that “Who Shot Ya” had been recorded before his shooting, 2Pac interpreted it as BIG’s way of teasing him, and claimed it proved that Bad Boy had set him up.
In August 1995, Death Row CEO Suge Knight mocked Bad Boy CEO Sean “Puffy” Combs at that year's Source Awards, announcing to the assembly of artists and industry figures, “Any artist out there that want to be an artist and stay a star, and don’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos…all on the records…dancing, come to Death Row”—a direct reference to Combs’ tendency of ad-libbing on his artists’ songs and dancing in their videos. With the ceremony being held in New York, to the audience, Knight’s comments seemed a slight to the entire east-coast hip-hop scene, and resulted in a heavy mass of boos from the crowd. Combs attempted to defuse the growing hostility in the air with a speech denouncing the rivalry, to little avail. Later that evening, a performance by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg was jeered by New Yorkers in attendance, to which Snoop famously responded, “The east coast ain’t got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and Death Row?!”
Tensions were escalated when Knight later attended a party for producer Jermaine Dupri in Atlanta. During the bash, a close friend of Suge’s was fatally shot outside. Knight accused Combs—who was also in attendance—of having something to do with the shooting. The same year, Knight posted the 1.4-million dollar bail of the then-incarcerated 2Pac, in exchange for his signing with Death Row Records. Shortly after the rapper's release in October 1995, he proceeded to join Knight in openly slandering Bad Boy Records, and the east coast hip-hop scene in general.
In 1996, the Death Row act Tha Dogg Pound released a music video for their single “New York, New York” in which they are seen knocking over New York skyscrapers and landmarks, a gesture to which many east coast artists and music fans took offense. This led to suspicion that the song itself was targeted at Bad Boy Records and New York in general. Queens, New York-based artists Capone-N-Noreaga and Mobb Deep responded with the released of “L.A., L.A.” aimed at Tha Dogg Pound. In the music video, members of Tha Dogg Pound are kidnapped and thrown off the Queensboro Bridge.
2Pac vs. Biggie
From late 1995 into early 1996, 2Pac would appear on numerous tracks aiming threatening and/or antagonistic slants at the Notorious B.I.G., Bad Boy as a label, and anyone affiliated with them. During this time, although B.I.G. never directly responded, the media became heavily involved and dubbed the rivalry a “coastal rap war,” reporting on it continuously. This caused fans from both scenes to take sides with one set of artists or another.
In spring 1996, the music video for 2Pac’s song, “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” began with a lampooning of Biggie and Combs, in which 2Pac and his guards pull pistols from their jackets ready to shoot them as the song intro begins. That summer, 2Pac continued his antagonism toward Biggie with the infamous track “Hit 'Em Up,” in which he claimed to have had sex with the Notorious B.I.G's wife, singer Faith Evans, and proceeded to threaten the lives of Biggie and Puffy. The song’s brutal content was viewed by many as Shakur having gone too far, and taking the feud to another level.
2Pac vs. others
In addition to Biggie, in “Hit 'Em Up” Pac also slandered Mobb Deep and New Jersey-based rapper Chino XL, who joked that 2Pac had been raped in jail on his song “Riiiot!” 2pac only responded with the line “Chino XL, fuck you too,” saying it would be his only diss, because he felt Chino XL was trying to gain fame by slurring him.
2Pac would later go on to insult various others, including: Chicago, Illinois-based rapper, Da Brat, her label So So Def Recordings, and New Jersey-based group The Fugees as well. During this time, 2Pac met Nas and purportedly told him he didn’t have to be involved in the situation—however, a Nas radio freestyle seemingly slighting 2Pac, and several direct Nas slights from Shakur to Nas would both eventually turn up. On the introduction to Shakur’s final studio album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, he would bill Nas as the leader of a conspiracy against him, which included several of the artists he was having contentions with.
Rapper Jay-Z would also become embroiled in the rivalry when, in an appearance on Jay’s debut album Reasonable Doubt, Biggie recited the line: “If Faith have twins she’d probably have two Pacs, get it, 2… pacs…” in reference to the allegations that she had cheated on him with the rapper, though it’s unclear if he was snubbing her or 2Pac himself. Shakur took it as an affont and, since it was on Jay-Z’s song, went on to insult him as well. 2Pac originally called out Jay-Z during the outro of “Hit Em Up,” but later was convinced by Outlaw member, Hussein Fatal, that Jay was not part of the rivalry, and ultimately edited that part out. However, later in 1996, Pac would persist in slandering Jay-Z on the songs “Friends” and “Bomb First.” Posthumous material released underground following 2Pac’s death revealed that he had also slighted LL Cool J. There, though, appears to be no record of 2Pac saying why he had a problem with LL.
End of the Feud
In March 1996, during the Soul Train Awards ceremony in Miami, there was a confrontation in the parking lot between the respective entourages of Bad Boy and Death Row in which guns were drawn. Although an armed standoff was all it amounted to, it was becoming readily apparent to hip hop fans and artists that the situation was progressing into a serious issue. Local papers referred to the situation as, “the hip hop version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”[
Not long after, at the VIBE awards in New York, Nas and 2Pac also confronted each other outside the venue. Though accounts from Suge, The Outlawz, Snoop Dogg and Nas himself somewhat vary, most agreed that 2Pac said he would remove the insults to Nas from his next album, if Nas would in return refrain from insulting him. Their previous verbal abuse were, as found in the meeting, based on publicity. The media’s sensationalizing of the East vs. West Coast rivalry fueled record sales high. Nas kept his end of the bargain, although 2Pac was killed before he was able to do the same.
On September 7, 1996 Tupac Shakur was shot several times in Las Vegas, Nevada; dying six days later on Friday, September 13th. Six months later; on March 9, 1997, Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California. Both murders remain unsolved, and numerous theories (some of them conspiracy theories) have sprung up. These include, most notoriously, that Shakur faked his own death.
Following the rivalry…
The outcome of the feud—significantly due to the deaths of Shakur and Wallace—would shake the culture of hip hop, changing the way rap rivalries were both handled by artists, viewed by fans, and reported on by the media. In 1997, several rappers, including: Bizzy Bone, Doug E. Fresh and Snoop Dogg met at the request of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and pledged to forgive any slights that may be related to the rivalry and/or deaths of Shakur and Wallace.
Though rivalries in hip-hop continue to exist, since the deaths of Shakur and Wallace, there has not been a rivalry of such magnitude—which may be due largely to the fact that, seeing the outcome of this episode, artists and prominent industry figures have been mindful of tempering battles and commercializing contention, in a direct attempt to prevent them from reaching this level.