The East Coast Vs. West Coast Hip Hop Feud started on wax and ended in bloodshed. While several acts of violence could be traced to the rivalry, the crimes most closely associated with it were the dual murders of rappers Tupac “2Pac” Shakur and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. If the ‘90s saw the advent of gangsta rap, the still-unsolved homicides marked its figurative and literal death knell, as record companies distanced themselves from artists associated with the genre for safer musical fare.
Hip-hop music may have been born in the mean streets of 1970s New York, but by the following decade it had reached the other side of the country. East Coast artists rapped about the urban decay of black inner city life while West Coast rappers wrote about their own experiences, where beneath the endless summer’s sunny skies African-American street gangs the Bloods and Crips fought for primacy with multi-generational Latino gangs. As the popularity of West Coast “gangsta rap” groups grew, they were often critically rebuffed by the East Coast hip-hop cognoscenti, breeding inter-coastal resentment. A series of “diss records” flew back and forth, with rappers from either side trading barbs and boasts, stoking the rivalry.
While 2Pac’s music could hardly be pigeon-holed as merely gangsta rap, and despite his strong ties to both coast's hip-hop scenes, his beef with Brooklyn MC The Notorious B.I.G. caused the simmering coastal tensions to boil over into actual violence. 2Pac accused B.I.G and his producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs of setting up a robbery on November 30, 1994 at New York’s Quad Recording Studios, where he was shot three times and had $45,000 of jewelry stolen. When B.I.G. released the song “Who Shot Ya?” a month after Shakur’s shooting, many took the song to be an admission of such, despite the fact that it was recorded months earlier.
Shakur’s robbery and shooting came a day before his sentencing on sexual assault charges, for which he eventually received one-and-a-half to four-and-a half years in prison. At the time, 2Pac was unable to raise the requisite $1.4 million bail to secure his release. Enter Marion “Suge” Knight, the CEO of Los Angeles-based gangsta rap label Death Row Records, who agreed to pay Shakur’s bail in exchange for releasing his next three albums through the label.
The imposing 6’2” Knight was a former football player and a rumored associate of Compton’s infamous Mob Piru Bloods street gang. He was also no fan of Combs and his label Bad Boy Records, who he went out of his way to insult at the 1995 Source Awards. Upon his release from prison, 2Pac took up common cause with Knight, issuing blistering attacks in the hip-hop press and on songs like “Hit ‘Em Up,” released three months before his death, where he bragged about sleeping with The Notorious B.I.G.’s estranged wife, Faith Evans. As tensions escalated, The Notorious B.I.G. and Combs began hiring members of the South Side Compton Crips as security on their West Coast trips, the gang being natural enemies of the Mob Pirus.
On September 7, 1996, 2Pac, Knight and their entourage were at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas attending the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match, when they encountered South Side Compton Crips member Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson. They attacked him in retaliation for the robbery of a Death Row Records associate several months prior. Later that evening, Shakur and Knight were victims of a drive-by shooting, when Knight’s car was shot up as it cruised down the Vegas strip. 2Pac died from his injuries several days later. While the Las Vegas Police initially didn’t identify Anderson as a suspect in the shooting, he was later held by police in Compton, where gang violence exploded in the wake of the rapper’s killing. Adding to the mystery, Anderson was shot to death by a member of a rival Crips gang in an unrelated incident in 1998.
Just six months after Shakur’s killing, on March 9, 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was fatally shot four times while driving back to his hotel after attending a party hosted by Vibe magazine and Qwest Records at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California. A week after his murder, the Los Angeles Times cited unnamed sources in reporting that the killing was due to a financial dispute with members of the South Side Compton Crips, however, no arrests were ever made.
In fact, in the 21 years since the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, no arrests have ever been made in connection with either case. A litany of rumors and conspiracy theories have circulated over the years, fueling articles, books and documentaries, however, none have produced sufficient evidence for police to make an arrest. In 2006, Wallace’s mother Voletta Wallace filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Los Angeles, which dragged on for years before eventually being dismissed. Speaking of Wallace’s murder last March, Capt. William Hayes, who heads the the LAPD’s elite Robbery-Homicide Division, told the Los Angeles Times that "it is an open case.” Former investigator Kevin McClure added: “The shooter is most likely dead. You cannot ask him who paid him.”
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