“Only God can Judge me now” -2Pac, from the multi-platimum selling double disc set “All Eyez On Me”, 1996 Death Row Records.
“NO human being, Korean or European be seeing what we be seeing” Notorious B.I.G, from the song “Da B Side” with Da Brat on the soundtrack to the film Bad Boys, 1995.
I do not deny the significance of the feud between Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur had on the history of Hip Hop music. Doing so would be absurd. I do, however, disagree vehemently with the narrative they were the two greatest rappers or most important rappers of all time. I was alive in the 90s. I followed Hip-Hop. They were both big names to be sure but there were tons of others being considered for greatest of the time.
Looking at their body of work during that time period. 2Pac grew as an artist, Biggie stagnated and became more pop under the direction of Sean Combs. The leadership of Bad Boy Records was not as tough or outspoken as the leadership at Death Row Records, this was obvious.
What is true, however, since the two men were murdered the shape of their respective coastal tribal mentality shifted. The West Coast gangsta rappers split. Death Row crumbled into an unrecognizable, unfamiliar shell of its former self. Today the works being released by the remnants of Suge Knight and Andrew Young’s legacy bear no resemblance either to the works from their height nor do they resemble the contemporary works of modern artists. Bad Boy Records has works that not only transcend the time period of Biggie Smalls but has made every effort to remain current and relevant throughout. As such it is with deep regret upon looking at the objective facts I declare Bad Boy Records the victors in what is left of the East Coast vs. West Coast Gangsta Rap wars.
Rappers today hardly reference the tumultuous period outside vain attempts at claiming themselves as successors to either 2Pac or Notorious BIG’s thrones. The actual reality is Snoop Doggy Dogg rose to become the king of the West Coast. The East Coast kingdom is evenly split between Hova and his Rockafella Records and P.Diddy and his Bad Boy Records. There is no true successor to Notorious BIG on the East. The closest to claim the dominance and superiority Biggie claimed, at least in the Gangsta Rap scene would be Nas. His music sounds the most similar to the works Biggie Smalls was producing at the time. However, in terms of notoriety, it is with even deeper regret I now recognize, although not on any grounds of respect, Kanye West as the true king of Hip-Hop based on his presence in the game.
That being said some would argue there were no winners only losers in the East vs. West narrative. I disagree, death is a natural part of life. Biggie and Pac were always going to die on the dates God ordained. Therefore it is easier for me to determine the basis of the implications of their work on the impact it had on the greater hip-hop community. The death of Biggie and 2Pac and the rise of Bad Boy Records did convert staunch West Coast only followers, such as myself, to explore the greater body of works out there.
As a continuing student of the school of rap, I have come to the conclusion that Notorious BIG was inferior to 2Pac but Bad Boy was superior to Death Row. Its an unfair trade off, because looking at just Life After Death, Biggie’s music was clearly being channeled in Nas. However nobody on the West Coast has come close to stirring the angst, fear, anxiety and frustrations 2Pac and his Outlawz were able to instill upon the world.
The violence was shared, real and lyrical, on both sides. The actual reality now is, the violence hasn’t gone away. It is, after all, at the center of gangsta life. The gangsta who becomes a rapper is the true gangsta rapper where as the artist who observes and contemplates, while equally valid, has less impact on the world with his hollowed out words. The real impact is knowing human beings DIED for their respective thug families. Blood was shed. Bloodshed itself does not inherently validate a cause, but a martyr nonetheless has a more powerful impact than a reigning monarch. That is why, even in death, 2Pac Shakur and Christopher Biggie Smalls Wallace will live on in the hearts and minds of the Hip-Hop faithful, regardless of actual skills.
The expression is to the victor goes the spoils. Puff Daddy aptly named the first track on his tribute to Biggie Smalls “Victory” to kick off No Way Out, the 1997 record that laid Notorious BIG to rest while helping begin the healing process of mourning the two legends that not only define and entire generation but inspired them as well.