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: 2pac 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 2pac 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, 2pac 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. 2pac (real name Tupac Shakur) was born in New York, so he initially had nothing against New York. However, one incident changed all of that.
In 1994, to work on his album Me Against The World and collaborate with East Coast artists, Shakur took a trip to New York. According to several police reports, Shakur was invited by a man by the name of Ron G to record some tracks with two upcoming rappers named Booker and Lil Shawn. He had been told it was all to be recorded at Quad Studios, located on Seventh Avenue between 48th and 49th street near the famous Times Square.
Shakur turned up for the recording as arranged, and all went as planned; however, upon his exit from the building while in the lobby, the rapper was ambushed and shot. According to the rapper, the shooters were wearing labelled garments worn by gangs in Brooklyn. The attackers thieved his jewellery, then shot him, hitting him in the chest. Shakur was shot five times. Twice in the head, twice in the groin area, and once in his left hand. According to the rapper, he recognised two of the three men as associates of his friend, The Notorious B.I.G.
This was the beginning. Despite The Notorious B.I.G’s insistence that he had not ordered any sort of hit on Shakur and would never do so, Shakur was insistent it was orchestrated by the Bad Boy rapper, and he remained on 2pac’s hit list until the day he died.
With 2pac effectively forcing his record label and crew to pick a side in what he considered a war, the two labels were officially enemies. With one headquartered on the West Coast in LA and one headquartered on the East Coast in New York, it spread like a virus going from two artists to two labels to two whole states.
In interviews, Suge Knight and Shakur would look down and send direct condescending taunts towards Bad Boy Records. However, there was never much response from the Notorious B.I.G. But it was not long after 2pac’s ‘Hit ’em Up’ diss track that he was murdered. After Shakur’s murder, it is widely agreed that B.I.G’s murder the following year was a retaliation killing.
This is why there was an East Coast vs West Coast rap feud. No one will ever know if it was set up by Wallace or not, but Shakur was so sure he declared war. You can hear more about the beef in the video below.