CHAD JOHNSTON AND HUVASAN REDDY
The late 80s and early 90s are commonly referred to as the golden age of hip-hop. The era was defined by the rise of legendary hip-hop acts such as N.W.A , Run-D.M.C., Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan. However, the era was dominated by two artists who are consistently referred to as the two most influential rappers of all time: The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. These two artists became central figures in the infamous East Coast vs West Coast saga, which ultimately led to both rappers being gunned down.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G. or “Biggie”, was born on 21 March 1971. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York City. At primary school level he excelled in school, winning several awards for English. At the age of 12, Wallace began dealing drugs and in 1989, at the age of 17, Wallace dropped out of high school and became heavily involved in crime. After Wallace was released from jail for dealing drugs, he made a demo tape under the name Biggie Smalls. In 1992, Biggie signed with Sean Combs’ new label, Bad Boy Records. Biggie released his debut album in 1994 titled Ready to Die and soon after became the face of East Coast hip-hop. A year later Biggie and his friends started the record label Junior M.A.F.I.A. which stands for “Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes”.
On 9 March 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed by an anonymous assailant in a drive-by shooting, which led to the end of Junior M.A.F.I.A. Sixteen days after he was killed, Biggie’s double disc album Life After Death shot to number one on the US album charts and was certified diamond in 2000. The album is one of the only hip-hop albums to receive this award. Biggie is remembered as a good storyteller whose loose, easy flow is regarded as one of the best ever. To date, his songs have sold up to 17 million units in the USA.
Tupac Amaru Shakur, better known by his stage names 2Pac or Makaveli, was born on 16 June 1971 in East Harlem, New York City, and moved to California at the age of 17. He was born one month after his mother, a former member of the now dissolved revolutionary Black Panther Party, was acquitted of over 150 charges of conspiracy against the US government. Shakur began his hip-hop career with alternative hip-hop group Digital Underground, before branching off into a solo career in 1991. His 1991 debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, has been certified platinum, as were his following albums Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z., Me Against the World, and All Eyez on Me. Shakur became the face of West Coast hip-hop.
Shakur encountered numerous troubles with the law and served nine months in jail in 1995 after being convicted on sexual assault charges in 1994, before Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight posted his bail of $1.4 million pending the outcome of the appeal of his conviction. Tupac was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on 7 September 1996. He died of his injuries on 13 September 1996.
Shakur repeatedly mentioned that he would die at a young age, and his fifth studio album, and first album to be released posthumously, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, depicts Shakur as being crucified on the album cover and led many to speculate that Shakur was not in fact dead and would later be “resurrected”.
The belief that Shakur is still alive has never truly died down, with many believing that he had hidden clues in the lyrics of songs on The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. This is supported by some conspiracy theorists relying on the fact that Tupac was quickly cremated after his death, without an autopsy report being released. Occasional news reports have been published claiming that Tupac has been sighted, many using photoshopped pictures of Tupac and R&B singer Rihanna. However, no conclusive evidence has been released which could prove that he is still alive.
The East Coast/West Coast rivalry
The East Coast/West Coast rivalry reached a tipping point after Tupac’s shooting in a hotel lobby in 1994, where he was shot five times but not fatally injured. A few months after the shooting, The Notorious B.I.G. released the diss track “Who shot ya?” aimed at Tupac’s shooting. Tupac responded with a parody of The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs in the prelude of the music video for “2 of Amerikaz most wanted” featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg. He then released the diss track “Hit ‘em up”, aimed directly at The Notorious B.I.G. and Bad Boy Records, in which Tupac claimed that he had slept with Faith Evans, The Notorious B.I.G.’s wife. He also addressed his 1994 shooting and his belief that The Notorious B.I.G. was involved in it.
Illustration: Asiphe Dlulane