The East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry was a feud in the 1990s between artists and fans of the East Coast hip hop and West Coast hip hop scenes in the United States. The two main parties involved were West Coast-based rapper Tupac Shakur and his Los Angeles-based label Death Row Records, and East Coast-based rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and his New York-based label Bad Boy Records. Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were killed by unknown assailants in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
Hip hop emerged in the 1970s on the streets of the South Bronx, New York. Powered by DJs such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa, the new genre became popular throughout the city's neighborhoods. The New York City area remained at the forefront of hip hop music throughout the early-to-mid-1980s and was the home of most popular hip hop acts.
In 1986, inspired by Philadelphia-based rapper Schoolly D, Los Angeles rapper Ice-T released the song "6 in the Mornin'". It is considered by many music writers as the very first gangsta rap song and assisted with the emergence of the burgeoning West Coast hip hop scene. A young drug dealer named Eric "Eazy-E" Wright saw the potential profits and fame of the hip hop lifestyle, so he founded the group N.W.A with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince. The group released their groundbreaking debut album, Straight Outta Compton, in 1988, and redefined the hip hop genre and cemented the West Coast's presence in the nation's hip hop scene. Financial issues led to the disestablishment of the group. Eazy-E remained as the wealthy owner and manager of his Ruthless Records label, Ice Cube released a string of successful albums starting with 1990's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, and Dr. Dre went on to co-found Death Row Records with Suge Knight, The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey.
During his tenure at Death Row, Dr. Dre released one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time with The Chronic in 1992. The album singlehandedly revolutionized the G-funk movement. Other successful stars on the Death Row label included Snoop Doggy Dogg, The Lady of Rage, Nate Dogg, and Daz Dillinger and Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound. By the early 1990s, the West Coast had separated itself as the dominant region in hip hop.
In 1991, disgruntled by the record companies' rejection of East Coast artists in favor of West Coast ones, Bronx rapper Tim Dog decided to voice his anger on the infamous song "Fuck Compton". It contained shots at the entire Los Angeles rap scene, particularly the members of N.W.A, and had a music video contained violent gestures towards Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and DJ Quik lookalikes.
The song received many responses, with the most notable being "Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg from The Chronic. Compton's Most Wanted, DJ Quik, Rodney-O & Joe Cooley and Tweedy Bird Loc also made response songs.
Bad Boy vs. Death Row
In 1993, fledgling A&R executive and record producer Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs founded the New York-based label Bad Boy Records. The next year, the label's debut releases by Brooklyn-based rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and Long Island-based rapper Craig Mack became immediate critical and commercial successes and seemed to revitalize the East Coast hip hop scene by 1994.
On 30 November 1994, California-based rapper Tupac Shakur was shot five times and robbed in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. Shakur accused The Notorious B.I.G., Sean Combs and Andre Harrell of being involved. Shortly after 2Pac's shooting, "Who Shot Ya", a B-side track from B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" single was released. Although Combs and B.I.G. denied having anything to do with the shooting and stated that "Who Shot Ya?" was recorded before the shooting, 2Pac and the majority of the hip hop community interpreted it as B.I.G.'s way of taunting him.
In August 1995, Death Row CEO Suge Knight took a shot 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!". It was a direct reference to Combs' tendency to ad-lib on his artist's songs and appear dancing in their videos. With the ceremony being held in New York, to the audience, Knight's comments appeared to be an attack on the entire East Coast hip hop scene and resulted in many boos from the crowd.
That same year, Knight posted the $1.4 million bail of the then-incarcerated Shakur, in exchange for his signing with Death Row. Shortly after the rapper's release for five counts of sexual abuse in October 1995, he proceeded to join Knight in furthering Death Row's feud with Bad Boy Records.
Tensions were further escalated 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. It was interpreted by many as a direct insult towards New York and the East Coast, although the song itself does not feature any disses. Tha Dogg Pound was allegedly even shot at while making the video in New York City.
2Pac vs. The Notorious B.I.G.
After the release of "Who Shot Ya?", 2Pac appeared on numerous tracks aiming threatening and antagonistic insults at Biggie, Bad Boy and anyone affiliated with them from late 1995 to 1996. Examples include the songs "Against All Odds", "Bomb First (My Second Reply)" and, most notably, "Hit 'Em Up". During this time, the media became heavily involved and dubbed the rivalry a coastal rap war, reporting on it continually. This resulted in fans choosing sides.
Although an official retaliation record was never released by B.I.G., certain lyrics from his catalog were interpreted by listeners as subliminal shots aimed at Shakur, in particular, the track "Long Kiss Goodnight". Combs denied these theories, claiming that B.I.G. would call Shakur out by name if he were to diss him.
On 13 September 1996, Tupac Shakur died after being shot multiple times six days earlier in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although the gunman remains unknown, the murder is generally attributed to the Southside Crips street gang, who are believed to have shot Shakur to avenge the beating of one of its members by Shakur and his entourage a few hours earlier. Six months after Shakur's death, The Notorious B.I.G. was killed in a drive-by shooting by an unknown assailant in Los Angeles, California on 9 March 1997. To this day, both murders remained officially unsolved, yet many believe Suge Knight to be involved in the death of both artists.