‘Who Shot Ya?’ by Biggie Smalls is one of the most influential songs in all of rap. The B-side to Biggie’s third single, ‘Big Poppa’, is one of the hottest talking points from the ’90s rap. Even Jay-Z says the song was so monumental that it “had an effect on everybody”.
The song is also notorious for the way it ramped up the East-West feud that would eventually claim both Biggie and 2Pac’s lives. Clocking in at just over five minutes, it set the standard for rap moving forward. His flow is insane, and it even features Puff Daddy in the introduction. It also just so happens to be one of Nashiem Myrick’s best beats.
“This record is probably one of the hip hop templates. It’s been used about 10 times at least.” Myrick explained to Dubspot, “Basically the drums are already in the record. We started to mix one night, and Puff said, ‘where is the rest of the track?’ I said ‘there’s no more track, its just a loop!’ This is where the second sample originated. Poke from the Trackmasters came through and give me drums that fit so lovely, fluffy drums that just put right in the mix. Then drums are knocking. Perfect situation, with those drums.”
Interestingly, ‘Who Shot Ya?’ was intended as an interlude for Mary J Blige’s classic record, My Life. Given the nature of rap at the time, it was rejected because it was regarded as being too violent for an RnB record. This is fair enough as the lyrics are brimming with references to guns and Glocks at christenings.
The track captures Biggie at his peak, and this is the main reason why it has endured as a go-to for hip-hop fans worldwide. Furthermore, the fact that his onetime friend, 2Pac was shot late that year during a robbery at a Manhattan recording studio says it all about the song’s huge mythos.
Tupac wasn’t a fan of the song’s timing, telling VIBE: “Even if that song ain’t about me, you should be, like, `I’m not putting it out, ’cause he might think it’s about him.'”
Pac’s seminal ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ was released as a response. One segment of the lyrics really catches the eye: “Biggie, remember when I used to let you sleep on the couch? Five shots couldn’t drop me : I took it and smiled. Now I’m back to set the record straight. With my AK, I’m still the thug that you love to hate and we bust on Bad Boys, niggas fucked for life”.
The feud would ramp up to astronomical proportions. In September 1996, Pac was shot and killed, and in March 1997, Biggie himself was shot in a drive-by shooting, and both cases remain unsolved. This gives the song a wickedly ironic twist.
It is said that LA Detective, Russel Poole was diverted away from leads as they began to point towards members of the force and their connection to the infamous former head of Death Row Records, Suge Knight. In the 2002 Nick Broomfield documentary, Biggie & Tupac, it is suggested that Knight had a vendetta against 2Pac, and that he ordered the hit on Biggie to divert attention away from himself.
Arsenio Hall, one of Pac’s close friends, who was with him the night he was killed, once told Rolling Stone: “Law enforcement around the country weren’t big Tupac fans. I’m absolutely positive they know what happened. This is America. We found Bin Laden. I believe that if Justin Bieber had gotten shot in Tupac’s car, we’d know more.”
Given the tragic and opaque backstory the song has, in addition to the legendary music, ‘Who Shot Ya?’ continues to be one the most contentious topics of conversation in the realm of hip-hop. Its intrinsic link to violence has given it a life of its own, a story that is all too familiar in the world of rap.
Listen to ‘Who Shot Ya?’ below.