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East Coast vs West Coast
Probably the most famous rap feud of recent times is the early to mid-1990s rivalry between the East Coast’s Bad Boy Records and the West Coast’s Death Row Records, which was widely thought of and reported in the media as an East Coast vs West Coast dispute.
Hip hop had originated in New York, and the city remained the undisputed capital of hip hop until 1992, when Dr. Dre’s The Chronic became one of the biggest-selling hip hop albums in history, followed shortly by Snoop Doggy Dogg’s breakout album Doggystyle in 1993. Dre was on Death Row Records, headed by Suge Knight, and he soon built up a roster of stars like Warren G, Tupac Shakur, Tha Dogg Pound and Snoop Doggy Dogg that reigned on the charts, and Los Angeles begun to rival New York for its place as the center for mainstream hip hop. This had already, and somewhat inevitably, created a tension between certain industry heavyweights on both coast, each hungry for control of an increasingly lucrative market.
The biggest stars on the East Coast at this time were Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records crew, which was founded in 1993 and included Craig Mack, Mase and the Notorious B.I.G.. Bad Boy and Death Row were thrown into conflict with one another after Tupac Shakur was shot five times at a New York recording studio on November 30, 1994, and publically blamed his former close friend Notorious B.I.G and his Bad Boy Records cohorts. This feud escalated after Suge Knight mocked Puff Daddy at the Source Awards in August 1995, announcing to the assembly of artists and industry figures : "If you don’t want the owner of your label on your album or in your video or on your tour, come sign with Death Row." Despite Puff Daddy himself attempting to defuse the situation with a speech later in the evening, a later performance by Death Row’s Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg was booed (to which Snoop famously responded "The East Coast ain’t got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg ?").
The feud continued to escalate through numerous incidents. First, in September 1995, a close friend of Knight’s was gunned down at a birthday party thrown for producer Jermaine Dupri in Atlanta, Georgia, for which Knight publically blamed Bad Boy Records. Then, in December, while filming the video for the Dogg Pound’s New York, New York in Manhattan, Snoop Dogg’s trailer was shot at numerous times (though the trailer was in fact empty at the time). The video itself then become the source of further controversy on its release, featuring Death Row artists knocking over New York skyscrapers and landmarks, to which many East Coast artists and fans took offense.
There was also suspicion that the song itself was also targeted at Bad Boy Records and New York in general, though this is unlikely as the song is in fact a remake of a Grandmaster Flash song, features only generic, non-specific braggadocio/battle rhymes with nothing that could be interpreted as a specific attack on any specific individuals, and was written and recorded before the Bad Boy/Death Row feud got off the ground.
The feud moved onto wax in early 1996 when Tupac recorded Hit ’Em Up, in which he claimed to have had sex with the Notorious B.I.G’s wife Faith Evans and that "this ain’t no freestyle battle, y’all niggas getting killed". B.I.G. soon responded on Jay-Z’s track Brooklyn’s Finest (a move which also caused Jay-Z to become embroiled in the dispute). In March 1996, at the Soul Train Awards in Miami, there was a confrontation in the parking lot between the respective entourages of Bad Boy and Death Row in which guns were drawn. Although an armed staring contest was all this confrontation eventually amounted to, it was readily apparent to hip hop fans and artists that this rivalry was getting very out of hand, and going far beyond the peaceful if heated lyrical battles for superiority of the past.
On September 7, 1996 Tupac Shakur was shot several times in Las Vegas, dying a few days later. On March 9, 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed in California. Both murders remain unsolved, and numerous theories (some of them conspiracy theories) have sprung up. These include, most notoriously, that Shakur’s death was faked.
In 1997, several rappers, including Bizzy Bone, Doug E. Fresh and Snoop Dogg met at the request of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam and pledged to forgive any slights that may be related to the rivalry and deaths of Shakur and Biggie.
Prior to his death, 2Pac had also come into separate disputes with several other East Coast rappers. Some friends of 2Pac had been apparently snubbed by the group Mobb Deep at one of their concerts, and when word of the incident reached a then-jailed 2Pac he sent out a message to Mobb Deep threatening violence. Mobb Deep immediately responded with the track Drop A Gem On ’Em which although its official release on the Hell On Earth album occurred after 2Pac’s Hit Em Up single which mocked Mobb Deep, it had been circulating on mixtapes and radio in New York long before. Nas also angered 2Pac by appearing to mock Tupac with a line Fake thug, no love, you get the slug, CB4 gusto your luck blow... in the track The Message, although Nas denied that this line was ever aimed at Pac.
Even Chino XL, a underground rapper from New Jersey with no eye on mainstream domination and no ties to Bad Boy Records, Nas or Mobb Deep, incurred 2Pac’s wrath on Hit Em Up by using him in a somewhat ambiguous simile "By this industry, I’m trying not to get fucked like 2Pac in jail" (ironically, the track to which this line belongs is a duet with proud West Coast representative Ras Kass). Chino soon responded with a freestyle on live radio, but it was either ignored or not heard by 2Pac. Because these rappers were all East Coast artists, and because they were often insulted in the same songs as in which 2Pac insulted Bad Boy Records, they are often believed to be part of a greater "East Coast vs West Coast" war driven by allegiance and territory. In fact, these disputes were for entirely separate reasons to the Bad Boy/Death Row dispute, and the ties between these artists and Bad Boy Records were either very limited or non-existent (Nas had in fact collaborated with Death Row’s Dr. Dre far more often than he had collaborated with Bad Boy Records artists). For these reasons, as well as the fact that many prominent artists from both coasts such as Redman, Busta Rhymes, E-40 and the Wu-Tang Clan were not involved in the dispute at all, it has become a widely held belief that the media’s labeling of the Death Row/Bad Boy feud as an East Coast vs West Coast battle driven purely by territory and allegiance is misleading and amounts to sensationalism.
Soon after the death of Shakur, Death Row Records folded as Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, sued the label for allegedly cheating her son out of millions. Label head Suge Knight ended up in jail for unrelated probation violations. Lady of Rage and Nate Dogg have also filed suits against Death Row with similar allegations. Puff Daddy has also had multiple legal troubles, including a much-publicized case resulting from a shooting in a New York club ; he has been acquitted, though fellow rapper Shyne was not. Bad Boy Records had for the most part maintained its place at the top of the industry since the death of Notorious B.I.G, with artist Mase achieving success before his early retirement (and un-retirement) and Puff Daddy (now P Diddy) himself achieving considerable commercial success.
More recently, Bad Boy has struggled as a record label due to a lack of marketable talent and allegations that Puff is more concerned with his other ventures (i.e., Sean Jean clothing). After Suge Knight’s release from prison, Death Row Records was reborn as "Tha Row", signing many artists including acclaimed young rapper Crooked I, former Dogg Pound member Kurupt, and Lisa Left Eye Lopes. Unfortunately Lopes was killed in a car crash not long after signing to the label, and none of their other signings have achieved much in the way of commercial success.
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