The truth about Tupac and Biggie's notorious beef

The beef between 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. (Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace) is not only the most well-known and well-documented in rap history, but has come to embody the West Coast-East Coast hip-hop rivalry that took off in the 1990's. Ironically, both men were born in New York: 2Pac in Harlem in 1971, per Biography, and Biggie in Brooklyn in 1972. Both men grew up in troubled households, wound up selling drugs for money, had gifts for English and the arts that were clear from an early age, and worked their way into the rap game largely through pure grit and talent. 2Pac wound up moving out to California, and went on to be signed to Interscope Records, and later Death Row (home of Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg) in Los Angeles, and Biggie was signed by Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records in Manhattan. 

Both men were murdered in drive-bys under mysterious circumstances, and both of their cases remain unsolved to this day. 2Pac was gunned down in Los Vegas in 1996, and Biggie a mere six months later in 1997, in Los Angeles. Regardless of the fame they garnered while alive, 2Pac and Biggie have attained legendary posthumous statuses, to the point of martyrdom. They've come to embody both the spirit and dangers of the rap game, the struggle to survive, and the will to rise above the circumstances of one's birth. Their deaths, at the moments their careers were taking off, changed the course of not only rap history, but all of the music history.

While they were alive, 2Pac and Biggie began as friends. But by the time they died, they'd become not only diss track rivals, but bitter enemies to the point of hatred and actual gunfire.

Ambitionz az a ridah

Pac and Biggie met in 1993 at a house party at Pac's place in Los Angeles, according to a report by Vice. 2Pac had already started to come into fame with 1991's 2Pacalypse Now and was a platinum-selling artist. Biggie, like others, revered 2Pac and asked a local drug dealer in Los Angeles if he could get an into Pac's place for the party. The two met in the kitchen over steaks, french fries, bread, and Kool-Aid, and not only hit it off, but 2Pac gifted Biggie a bottle of his favorite drink, Hennessy.  

From that point on, 2Pac more or less took Biggie under his wing as his "lieutenant," he says. Biggie stayed at 2Pac's place whenever he visited Los Angeles, and 2Pac picked up Biggie in Brooklyn in a white limousine whenever he passed through New York. Biggie wasn't yet known outside of Brooklyn, and even though a lot of rappers were vying for 2Pac's attention, Pac gave special attention to Biggie, to the point of influencing not only his lyrical style, but his branding strategy (encouraging him to write for women, not men). Eventually, Biggie caught the attention of Puff Daddy at Bad Boy Records, which at the time was a nascent label yet to prove itself. Biggie, though, wanted 2Pac himself to be his manager. 2Pac declined, infamously remarking, "Nah, stay with Puff. He will make you a star."

This marked the beginning of the end of their friendship, and the rise of the notorious, vicious beef between both men that would lead to their deaths.

Mo money mo problems

In 1994 Tupac found himself embroiled in a court case involving rape allegations after becoming involved with a wealthy man known as Haitian Jack that he'd come across in clubs, according to Vice. Biggie had apparently warned Tupac to stay away from Jack, but to no avail. The court case drained Tupac's bank accounts, but he remained defiant and considered himself invincible. At that point he was invited to perform on a track for rapper Little Shawn, who knew Puff Daddy and Biggie. Tupac went to Quad Recording Studios and was greeted by men wearing camo and toting guns. Pac pulled his firearm and they gunned him down, stole some of his possessions, and fled. 2Pac played dead until they left, and then rode the elevator to an upper floor, where he was greeted by what he claimed were a guilty-looking Puff Daddy and Biggie.

An anonymous message was later relayed to the NYPD for Pac. It said, "Nobody came to rob you. They came to discipline you."

It didn't matter to Pac; he blamed Biggie and Puff Daddy and considered them traitors. His trial wasn't over, and he was sentenced to a year and a half in prison. While in prison his rage seethed even as Biggie's fame started to blow up. The situation was not made any better when Biggie released a track around this time called, "Who Shot Ya," which he swears was recorded before 2Pac's assault.

Where hip-hop lives

While 2Pac was in jail he was courted by Death Row representative Suge Knight, who traveled across the country on regular visits to convince Pac to join the label, which had a reputation for being a "family-based," wildly run operation. When Pac got out he went to work in the studio, spending 19 hours a day furiously writing music, according to Slate, including the diss track "Hit 'Em Up," a direct provocation towards Biggie that threatened violence and established 2Pac as an opposing representative of the West Coast rap scene.

The West Coast-East Coast rap rivalry had started well before that moment, with West Coast rappers, centered in Los Angeles, seeking respect and legitimacy in the eyes of East Coast rappers, centered in New York, the official birthplace of hip-hop in the early 1970's in the Bronx, per National Geographic. East Coast boom bap met West Coast g-funk, and as early as 1991 radio stations such as Power 106 (KPWR-FM) in LA launched slogans such as, "Where hip-hop lives," as described in AMNY. This rivalry didn't necessarily interact with 2Pac and Biggie until their beef became public, however. At that point, though, Death Row and Bad Boy did nothing to dispel the then-growing feud between coasts, and if anything, used it to their financial advantage, regardless of the effect on 2Pac and Biggie. 

As Biggie and 2Pac's beef fueled the rivalry between coasts, the popularity of hip-hop surged. But it would come at a high cost.

Thug life

Shortly thereafter, both men released their final albums, each on their year of their deaths: 2Pac's 1996 All Eyez on Me, and Biggie's 1997, eerily named Life After Death. Both men were gunned down before their careers could even peak. 2Pac was shot while in Las Vegas while in a car with Suge Knight (who survived), and passed away six days later on September 13th, 1996. Biggie Smalls was shot and killed on March 9th, 1997. While the perpetrators of these murders have never been found, plenty of theories and conspiracies have cropped up regarding both men's death, typically focused on some dealings between their respective record labels, the West Coast-East Coast beef, or the beef between 2Pac and Biggie itself.

Regardless of the cause, both 2Pac and Biggie left a legacy of music, rawness, and stories of the street that serve as both a monument to lives of struggle, and also a warning to avoid such lives altogether if possible. Out of all the lyrics written by 2Pac and Biggie, one quote from 2Pac, which he attributes to his mother, stands out, 'If you can't find somethin' to live for, you best find somethin' to die for.'"

Surely, 2Pac and Biggie did both.