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Rap music can be fun and thought provoking, bringing people together and introducing differing perspectives, but in its essence, the genre is very much a sport for verbal gladiators. Beef in hip-hop may be frowned upon and looked at as a disservice to the culture, but a slight towards the opposition has been a calling card in the culture dating back to the ’80s, when names like Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee, and KRS-One and MC Shan were immortalized for their respective lyrical duels.
Just last year, the summer of 2015 was a highlight in large part due to the spat between rap superstar Drake and the highly touted underdog Meek Mill, which took the rap world – and mainstream America’s – attention hostage after the former dropped his diss record aimed at his friend-turned-foe, “Back to Back.” A number of critics and fans pegged the track as “scathing” and possibly the most damaging diss record of all time, but those that were around twenty years ago are aware that “Back To Back” is just a love tap in comparison to the bludgeoning that occurred on Tupac Shakur‘s 1996 release, “Hit ‘Em Up,” which saw the charismatic superstar spewing vitriol in the direction of The Notorious B.I.G., the Bad Boy Records family, as well as a host of other casualties.
The attack, which would alter the course of hip-hop history and have a seismic impact on all parties involved, would’ve been unforeseen by anyone who was in attendance at the Budweiser Superfest in 1993, where a pre-stardom Biggie would rock the crowd with a freestyle alongside Big Daddy Kane, Kane’s dancer Scoob, rap’s then-wonderkid in Shyheim, and last, but not least, 2Pac, whom Biggie had forged a friendship with after being introduced to him earlier that year.
However, the pair’s bond would forever be broken after the infamous 1994 shooting at Quad Studios in New York, during which Shakur was ambushed by assailants, shot, and robbed of his jewelry while attempting to go visit B.I.G., who happened to be recording in the studio when the incident took place.
Convinced that Biggie and his camp had played a part in – or at least had knowledge of – the stick-up kids’ plans, he quickly pointed a finger in the direction of Bad Boy Records and Biggie as culprits, publicly blasting them during interviews with the media. Part of Pac’s reasoning for believing Biggie was involved was the rapper’s release of a single, titled “Who Shot Ya,” which 2Pac assessed as being a veiled diss record mocking his near-death experience in the elevator at Quad Studios.
Incensed, even from a prison cell following his conviction on rape charges, ‘Pac vowed to get even. “Even if that song ain’t about me, you should be, like, ‘I’m not putting it out, ‘cause he might think it’s about him,” the rapper said in an interview with VIBE Magazine.
The supposed beef between ‘Pac and Bad Boy would not go unnoticed by the hip-hop community and the media, forcing Puff Daddy, the CEO of Bad Boy, to make statement on the beef. “I’m not saying that I’m ignorant to the rumors,” he said in a separate interview with VIBE. “But if you got a problem and somebody wants to get your ass, they don’t talk about it. What it’s been right now is a lot of moviemaking and a lot of entertainment drama. Bad boys move in silence. If somebody wants to get your ass, you’re gonna wake up in heaven. There ain’t no record gonna be made about it. It ain’t gonna be no interviews.”
2Pac, who was steadfast in his stance that Biggie and his crew were involved, continued to accuse them of partaking in his near-demise. “Fear got stronger than love, and n—-s did things they weren’t supposed to do. They know in their hearts—that’s why they’re in hell now,” he said. “They can’t sleep. That’s why they’re telling all the reporters and all the people, ‘Why they doing this? They f—ing up hip-hop’ and blah-blah-blah,’ cause they in hell. They can’t make money, they can’t go anywhere. They can’t look at themselves, ‘cause they know the prodigal son has returned.”
After his release from prison, ‘Pac began alluding to having relations with B.I.G’s then-wife, R&B singer Faith Evans. But the late Brooklyn rapper never put much stock in it. “If the motherf—er really did f— Fay, that’s foul how he’s just blowin’ her like that,” Biggie said in the 1995 VIBE cover story, during the height of the East Coast/West Coast beef. “Never once did he say that Fay did some foul s— to him. If honey was to give you that p—-, why would you disrespect her like that? If you had beef with me, you’re like, ‘Boom, I’ma f— his wife,’ would you be so harsh on her? Like you got beef with her? That s— doesn’t make sense. That’s why I don’t believe it.”
Biggie may have had his doubts about the validity of Pac’s jabs, but Kevin Alexander, Tupac Shakur’s former bodyguard, backed up ‘Pac’s claims during a 2011 interview in relation to his tenure with the late rapper. While it’s up for debate as to whether the rumors of Faith sleeping with ‘Pac were true, Suge Knight insists that Faith knew about “Hit ‘Em Up” beforehand and was playing both sides, essentially helping birth the concept for the 1995 Junior Mafia hit, “Get Money,” which also poked fun at Biggie and Faith’s marital issues.
“Misa [Hylton, Puff’s former girlfriend] and Faith was at the studio, our studio. And the ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ track was playing,” Knight said in a 2014 interview with BET.com. “[But it wasn’t] ‘Hit ‘Em Up.’ I don’t think it was Misa cause Misa is too down. And I think I made her feel a lot better than Pac made Faith feel. So, I think it was Faith that went and told him that Pac was doing that track and he was putting some lyrics to it. So, before we could finish that track they beat us to it and put out ‘Get Money.’”
Faith Evans, for her part, has refuted all talk of her having sexual relations with Pac and maintains that the extent of their relationship stopped at music, even going as far as claiming she was unaware that Tupac had signed to Death Row Records until showing up to record he verse for “Wonder Why They Call You Bitch” and noticed all of the label’s entourage present.
“I didn’t really know a lot of the details about what happened, but it was clear he took a jab at Puff at the Source Awards and stuff like that,” Evans said in an interview with DJ Vlad. “I was pretty oblivious to the a lot of the things that had gone on prior to that until probably a few years later. I just played it cool because I’m a people person and some of the people I had seen before or seen in passing or knew who they were so I gave them respect, gave them a dap. Kurupt, whoever, you know. Smokin’ with people, drinkin’ a Budweiser, just trying to, you know, be cool in the moment. Definitely not thinking about ‘I know this probably looks crazy’ and they probably looking at me like ‘What am I doing here?’”
She also claims that when she went to Tupac’s hotel room to get the $25,000 for her appearance on the song that ‘Pac requested oral sex in exchange for her services, an offer which the singer says she vehemently refused. However, all of the innuendo and rumors would get put on front street when “Hit ‘Em Up” hit the streets on June 4, 2016.
Released as the B-Side to “How Do U Want It,” the K-Ci & JoJo-assisted song may have been the favorite in the mainstream, but all diehard rap fans were concerned about was the vicious record that saw ‘Pac airing out Bad Boy Records and their affiliates alongside Dramacydal, his crew of New Jersey cronies who were rechristened as “Outlawz Immortalz” after the recording of the track. Produced by Johnny “J”, “Hit ‘Em Up” is incendiary from the start, with Tupac wasting no time dishing out the disrespect, beginning with the now-infamous opening line “That’s why I f—ed your bitch, you fat motherfucker,” putting Biggie – and the world – on notice that things were about to get really real.
And real did they get, with 2Pac throwing down the guantlet with the iconic bars “First off, f— your bitch and the clique you claim/Westside when we ride, come equipped with game / You claim to be a player, but I f—ed your wife / We bust on Bad Boys, n—-s f—ed for life” before tossing Junior Mafia members Lil Cease and Lil Kim in the bushes, delivering “Lil’ Caesar go ask your homie how I’ll leave you / Cut your young ass up, leave you in pieces, now be deceased / Lil’ Kim, don’t f— around with real G’s / Quick to snatch your ugly ass off the streets, so f— peace!”
The first verse on “Hit ‘Em Up” may be the most quotable, but perhaps its most measured lyrical work comes courtesy of Outlawz member Hussein Fatal, who turns in a noteworthy performance of his own that often gets overlooked, spilling, “Get out the way, yo, get out the way, yo/Biggie Smalls just got dropped/Little Moo’ pass the MAC and let me hit him in his back / Frank White needs to get spanked right for setting traps.” Tupac, who handles the hook-work on the track, mockingly singing “Grab your Glocks when you see 2Pac / Call the cops when you see 2Pac,” turns in a few more bars on “Hit ‘Em Up”s third verse, in which he references Biggie’s humble beginnings in the industry, as well as the shooting at Quad Studios that sparked the beef.
Rhyming “Biggie, remember when I used to let you sleep on the couch/And beg a bitch to let you sleep in the house? / Now it’s all about Versace, you copied my style / Five shots couldn’t drop me, I took it and smiled / Now I’m back to set the record straight/With my AK, I’m still the thug that you love to hate,” ‘Pac then lets Outlawz members Kadafi and E.D.I. Mean get in on the fun with their own verses, which includes highlights like “Lil’ Cease / I’ll bring you fake G’s to your knees, copping pleas in de Janeiro / Little Kim, is you coked up or doped up?/Get your little Junior Whopper click smoked up” in reference to her disparaging remarks about ‘Pac on her song, “Big Momma Thang.”
But as ruthless as the verses may be, the true magic of “Hit ‘Em Up” occurs when no rhymes are being spat and Tupac is simply giving the opposition of piece of his mind during the outset of the track. Turning in a rant that would make Kanye West’s most epic tirade come across as timid, the Death Row mercenary goes off the deep end with his vitriol, directing his barbs at any and everybody he feels he’s been slighted by, starting with Prodigy of Mobb Deep.
Apparently ruffling ‘Pac’s feathers after chanting “Thug Life, we still living it” on Mobb Deep’s 1995 track, “Survival Of The Fittest,” Prodigy got a mean tongue lashing as a response, with ‘Pac poking fun at the Queensbridge rapper’s diminutive height and for being stricken with sickle cell anemia. “Oh yeah, Mobb Deep: you wanna f— with us?” Pac snarls. “You little young-ass motherfuckers/Don’t one of you niggas got sickle-cell or something? / You’re f—ing with me, n—-You f— around and catch a seizure or a heart attack.” Tupac’s words caught the group by surprise, according to a interview Prodigy did speaking on the situation.
“I was, like, Oh S—. Them n—-s is s—-in’ on me,” Prodigy offered. “He’s talking about my health. Yo, he doesn’t even know me, to be talking about s— like that.” He also admits to being taken aback by ‘Pac bringing his health to the forefront. “I never had any beef with Tupac. I never said his name. So that s— just hurt. I’m, like, ‘Yeah, all right, whatever. I just gotta handle that s—.'” Asked what he means by “handling” it, Prodigy replies, “I don’t know, son. We gonna see that n—- somewhere and—whatever. I don’t know what it’s gonna be.”
Although the diss came a little too late, Mobb Deep would ultimately release a retort to “Hit ‘Em Up” on their 1996 album, Hell On Earth, titled “Drop A Gem On ‘Em,” which saw the QB duo referencing rumors of Pac allegedly being the victim of a jailhouse rape, as well as falling victim at the hands of gangsters from their hometown.
Speaking of that jailhouse rape rumor, Prodigy and Mobb Deep weren’t the only casualties, as Pac also took aim at rapper Chino XL, who spat “by this industry I’m trying not to get raped like 2Pac in jail,” on the song, “Riiiot!” from his debut LP “Here To Save You All.” While other parties named on the song would all unleash their own responses, Chino XL and Pac were able to rectify the situation prior to Pac’s death, according to Chino. “I’ve got a chance to see him on Venice Beach one time right before he passed and I let him know that if I would have known [my lyrics] would have [upset] him like that, I would never have said it. I mean I was a fan of his like everyone else was. Everything was straight though and the Outlawz are my peeps from Jersey so it was all peace,” the rapper said in an interview with Hip-HopDX.
‘Pac’s tirade also included him taking shots at the whole east coast out of anger due to a bevy of artists and executives chiming in on the tension between the east coast and west coast in record and in song. Stating “Any of you niggas from New York that want to bring it: bring it!” and “Now when I came out, I told you it was just about Biggie/Then everybody had to open their mouth with a motherf—ing opinion,” ‘Pac’s words would eventually prove to be based purely on emotion in light of the One Nation project he had in the works with east coast talent like Greg Nice of Nice & Smooth, Buckshot of Black Moon, and the rest of the Boot Camp Clique, but still lives in the minds of a number of New York natives who have been slow to forgive Pac for his outburst and still harbor resent for the hip-hop deity.
The Notorious B.I.G., who coyly addressed the rumors of Faith Evans’ infidelity on “Brooklyn’s Finest,” his collaboration with Jay Z, as well as his rift with Pac throughout his Life After Death LP, would remain diplomatic about the situation in the public eye. Unfortunately, on September 7, 1996, Shakur would be critically wounded after being a victim of a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas and would pass away on September 13, 1996, leaving a void in hip-hop that has yet to be filled.
There are a number of diss records in rap that have helped to define the culture, including Boogie Down Productions’ take-down of The Juice Crew, Nas on “Ether,” and many records in between, but twenty years later, it’s safe to say that hip-hop had never heard anything as personal, or riveting, as “Hit ‘Em Up.” And it still has yet to be usurped as the most historic diss song in hip-hop history since.