The West Coast vs East Coast feud that plagued hip hop during the 1990s, as much as it may have entertained the culture, was an amalgamation of bloodshed and pure horror that ultimately ended with the deaths of two amazingly talented rappers: Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. However, the origin of the beef is complex and often misunderstood.
The landscape of hip-hop looked vastly different in the 1990s than how it does today. When we’re looking at 1990s hip hop, we’re looking (for the most part) at two feuding record labels, Death Row Records on the West Coast and Badboy Entertainment on the East Coast. Both companies had their own stars, with Pac signed to Death Row, and The Notorious B.I.G signed to Bad Boy.
Respectively, these two artists, with their affiliates, i.e. Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Suge Knight, Lil Kim, Faith Evans and Diddy, were ruling the rap charts and selling unfathomable amounts of records with their feud actually fuelling sales.
However, the so-called ‘East Coast vs West Coast’ feud really had nothing to do with the coasts. It was to do with two states. New York vs California. Baltimore lies on America’s East Coast. However, Pac once lived in Baltimore and, most probably, had nothing against rappers from Baltimore. Neither did he have any issues with rappers from Philadelphia or Miami. It was New York that was the problem.
The origin of the regional feud actually began with 2pac and B.I.G’s friendship. The two, as the biggest rap stars in the US, were, at first, close friends. Pac (real name Tupac Shakur) was born in New York, so he initially had nothing against New York. However, one incident changed all of that.
Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls used to hang out all the time, and according to Snoop Dogg, the Brooklyn rapper was one of Shakur’s best industry friends. In an interview, Justin Tinsley explained how with regard to Shakur and Wallace, “They instantly hit it off. They were both Geminis, so they were Gemini twins in a way. These guys were incredibly close. Tupac would have Biggie over his house when he was in LA, even [have him] sleep on his couch.”
He continued, “Tupac respected that Big was really in the streets, and he was doing what he was rapping about. And obviously, he loved the fact that Biggie was such a gifted lyricist and wordsmith. Meanwhile, Biggie really appreciated the fact that Tupac came from a freedom-fighter lineage, and he always stood up for what he believed were the best interests of Black people.”
In 1993, while the two rappers were smoking and talking, a cameraman got them to perform a freestyle for a video. You can watch this legendary salvaged footage from 1993 in the video below.