The East-West Coast hip-hop rivalry dangerously framed the rap scene in the early to mid 90’s. East Coast vs. West Coast, Tupac vs. Biggie, Death Row vs. Bad Boy --- no matter how you look at it, it’s safe to say that rappers from opposite corners of the nation we’re having trouble seeing eye to eye.
Everyone knows the origins of hip-hop are New York based. Bread in the Bronx in the 1970s, New York city remained at the forefront of rap throughout the mid 80’s.
This remained true, until a collection of West-Coast hopefuls decided to give the old rap scene a new paint job. Over the next few years, Eazy E, Dr. Dre and the rest of the N*ggaz wit Attitudes stole the show with their West Coast rhymes. With the help of management figure Jerry Keller, they formed their group “NWA” and established Ruthless Records.
The attention of record labels had fled from the East to the West, naturally creating jealousy amongst hopeful East-Coast rappers. Bronx rapper Tim Dog angrily dropped a single titled “F*ck Compton” which composed of a series of shots at the entire L.A. rap scene. The anything but subtle video featured an array of lookalikes posed as Ruthless Records artists, including Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and DJ Quik. Of course, the West Coast artist responded with multiple diss tracks, but the most notable was Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg’s “Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin').”
On the West Side of things, a series of fallouts and money mishaps led to the fall of one empire and the rising of another. Dr. Dre parted ways from Eazy-E and Ruthless Records to team up with Suge Knight and The D.O.C. They went on to found Death Row Records, which little did they know, would become the starting point of a long-winded beef.
In the East, A&R executive and record producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs founded the New York-centered hip-hop label “Bad Boy Records,” of which Notorious B.I.G became the front runner. In August 1995, Death Row CEO Suge Knight took a dig at Bad Boy and 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!”
His statement was an obvious shot at Diddy’s tendency to insert his adlibs on his artists tracks and appear dancing in their music videos. Since the award show was hosted in NY, Suge’s comments were seen as a declaration of war. Months later, tensions were escalated even further with the release of Tha Dogg Pound's music video for their song "New York, New York", which featured a gigantic Snoop Dogg destroying various New York buildings.
And if that wasn’t enough, Tupac joining Death Row certainly added fuel to the flame. Pac & Biggie already had beef outside of Death Row and Bad Boy over the whole “Who Shot Ya,” conspiracy. As a result, Tupac’s songs "Against All Odds", "Bomb First (My Second Reply)" and, most notably, "Hit 'Em Up" were all seen as threats against Biggie, Bad Boy Records, and anyone associated with the label. To no surprise, the media amped the feud, forcing fans to pick sides and thus creating the biggest coastal war in hip-hop history.
The tale of two coasts comes with a tragic ending. Tupac was shot and killed in Los Vegas in 1996, and within 6 months, Notorious B.I.G. was targeted in Los Angeles, where he was murdered as well. Both tragedies were deemed unsolved, but public opinions continue to whisper conspiracy theories. It’s speculated that Suge Knight was involved in both of the rapper’s shootings, making it a cold end to one of the hottest beefs of the century.