East Coast vs. West Coast: The Real Story Behind The Biggest Beef in Hip Hop

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the hottest feud in hip-hop, which spanned several years in the 90s. The beef divided the hip-hop community between East Coast and West Coast artists and their entourages, but the key players were Notorious B.I.G. (affiliated with Bad Boy Records/West Coast) and Tupac Shakur (affiliated with Death Row Records/East Coast). While today’s beefs are usually handled via Twitter and a microphone, unfortunately, this one ended in a far more tragic way.

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While Tupac and Biggie were definitely key players in the feud, as history indicates that the problems were there well before either man hit the scene. It appears that geography itself was a divide between rappers on either side of the country. There always seemed to be a resentment brewing just under the surface.

Because hip-hop is said to have started in New York, many West Coast performers felt like they weren’t getting the same attention on radio stations and television performances. Likewise, when NY performers visited LA, they felt like the people and the artists didn’t give them respect. Perhaps this was true, or maybe it was just an ill-conceived notion.

What’s interesting is that before there were problems, there was a friendship. Tupac and Biggie first met on the set of Poetic Justice in 1993. Biggie was just entering the music industry, so some people believed that they built a relationship similar to that of teacher and student. Tupac was constantly playing Biggie’s music on set, and it’s believed that Biggie was flattered that an established artist like Tupac was showing interesting in his skill.

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In fact, this simple gesture could have been something that stopped the undertones of hostility that existed between the East Coast and West Coast performers. And for a minute, it seemed to help.

The men were making moves within the industry, but it was a budding friendship outside of the industry, too. Biggie even visited Tupac at his LA home and commented on the fact that they had the same zodiac sign, which perhaps contributed to them connecting so easily in the beginning. They seemed to genuinely like spending time with each other.

Tupac traveled to NYC months later to make a track with another artist in the area, and he was shot and robbed. He survived this attack, but he always felt like Biggie knew who was involved. He didn’t go so far as to say he thought Biggie did it, but he thought that since it was Biggie’s stomping ground that he would at least be able to find out the details. Biggie remained adamant that he knew nothing about who was involved nor did he make any moves toward finding out.

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Perhaps with time, the men would have reconciled, but as all of this was going on, Biggie released “Who Shot Ya?” which didn’t name Tupac specifically, but certainly sounded like he was calling him out and even making a joke about it. Biggie went on to claim that he had recorded the track well before the incident, but I think we can all agree that it was unfortunate timing to release a track that sounded very similar to Tupac’s experience.

Of course, in true hip-hop fashion, Tupac released a response to Biggie in “Hit ‘Em Up”, where he goes on to claim to have had relations with Biggie’s wife, and called out Bad Boy Records specifically. It was a blatant personal attack, and if they had been flirting with a beef before, now it was an all-out war.

After the release of that song, both sides took cheap shots at each other in a variety of songs, interviews, and public appearances. Sadly, in 1996, Tupac was shot and killed in Las Vegas in a drive-by shooting. The rumor was that Biggie or someone close to him had called in the hit. Just six months later, Biggie was also murdered in his car as he was leaving an event. To this day, nobody has ever been arrested for either man’s death. The cases remain open.

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In 1999, Voletta Wallace (Biggie’s mother) and Afeni Shakur (Tupac’s mother) united on an MTV stage to discuss the legacy of their sons. This was the first step toward creating peace in the ongoing feud.

Now, years later, the beef is a thing of the past. Key artists from both sides have gone on to have rewarding careers. Fans are left with the memory of two exceptional artists, and the thought of what could have been.