So it’s March 9th, most remembered in hip-hop as the date on which Bow Wow was born in 1987 The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in 1997. As a fan of Big, and as a fan of hip-hop in general, it was just as major to me as Tupac‘s death was six months prior. You’ve prob’ly read a million times over how huge of a loss those deaths were, and you’ll prob’ly read it a million more, so I’ll spare y’all that. Matter fact, at the risk of bein’ a lil’ strange, I’d rather do my B.I.G. entry on his birthday than the death anniversary (make a note of May 21st). But if there is one good thing that came out of those events, it’s that the whole East Coast/West Coast shit started coming to a close.
I know people have since said that the “East Coast/West Coast War” was an isolated incident that was blown up by the media and hyped for the sake of controversy. There’s a good deal of truth in that statement, but let’s keep it one-hunnid: March 9, 1997 was the climax of some shit that had been quietly building up for years. Let’s talk about it…
Even as far back as the late ’80s, there was a lil’ bit of apprehension building, with non-New York artists feeling slighted by NY-based artists and fans. Some from the South and West, such as the Geto Boys and Too $hort voiced their opinions on their lack of East Coast airplay. Some of it even turned inward, with N.W.A. accusing Ice Cube of “suckin’ New York dick” after he moved there to work with the Bomb Squad on his early solo projects. With N.W.A.’s success came other acts from Compton, most notably DJ Quik and Compton’s Most Wanted, who were proudly from Cali in a game that until then was dominated by New York.
They used their own slang, referenced their own streets, spoke on the gang culture, and showed the rest of the world where they were from. For the most part, NY had done the same thing. By then, everyone knew about places like the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Hollis, Queens. New Yorkers are generally known for their hometown pride, so naturally, rappers were glad to shout out their neighborhoods on records. For a while, everything was cool. Sure, there were some occasional outbursts like “Fuck Compton” and Fuck New York– but shit never got extreme.
But by the mid-’90s, shit got out of control. By that point, East Coast acts (despite making some great music) were bein’ a bit underrated in comparison to the West Coast acts of the time. NY artists threw shots, NY crowds were hostile, and Cali artists started reacting to the backlash they received. The ’95 Source Awards (which I have on a raggedy-ass VHS somewhere around here) was the big turning point, with the Bad Boy/Death Row rivalry being officially kicked off. Even with Puffy and Snoop calling it a truce at the end of the show (which nobody ever shows), the wheels got to rolling.
Later that year, ‘Pac was bailed out of jail by Suge Knight, and started going in on Biggie and New York artists in general. Tha Dogg Pound dropped “New York, New York” (which isn’t even a real dis song content-wise) and shot the now-famous video in NY, with Snoop kickin’ over buildings like he kicked lil’ JoJo’s pillow fort in Baby Boy. Around the same time, Ice Cube (who’d previously had no issue with NY, as mentioned above) started voicing his opinions on what he felt was bias on the part of NY radio stations, publications, and fans. He even went as far to say “hip-hop started in the West” on a Mack 10 track called “Westside Slaughterhouse”, which I’m positive that Cube himself knew was a damn lie.
The biggest beef from Snoop, ‘Pac, and Cube was that they’d always shown love to the East, but got shitted on in return. Now I don’t know about anyone else… but suppose I welcomed one of y’all into my house for years, always made sure you had enough ice in your soda, and even let you crash on the couch. If y’all give me a flat-ass soda and tell me that I gotta sleep on the floor, I’m prob’ly gonna get on “maaan… fuck you” mode. I never cared much where a muh’fukka was from, but I admit that my ears mostly leaned toward the East Coast sound back then. In saying that, I can’t say I fault the Cali folk for having the issue that they had. I followed the music and read the magazines, therefore, I saw the lil’ funny-style remarks that niggas made regarding the West.
It wasn’t like everyone from both sides hated each other, but there was an overall opinion by East Coast-biased critics and fans. Usually, it went as follows: West coast niggas can’t rap, they use the same funk beats over and over, that gangsta shit is killing hip-hop, etc. Understandably, the West Coasters decided to start saying “well fuck them workboots-in-the-summer-wearin’ ass niggas then!” I was more surprised that for all that was said before, the East Coast got quiet as shit once it jumped off. Unless it was Mobb Deep and their affiliates, muh’fukkas hardly had a word to say. I’d read those mags and see quotes from everybody tryin’ to diffuse the situation. Of course by then, it was too late, because “East Vs. West” was the big bold headline all over the place.
The feud was amplified by ‘Pac’s death, which cooled things down for a sec, although not enough for Cube to keep it going with his Westside Connection project (along with Mack and WC). Even with some artists making attempts to denounce the whole thing, people still wanted to see more beef and hear more disses. It also didn’t die out because after ‘Pac’s death, it didn’t take long for all fingers to point in the direction of Biggie and Puff. Before anyone knew anything specific about the shooting, the first thing everyone jumped to was “yo, it was Biggie n’nem!” I suppose some people in LA (or Suge, but who knows) felt the same… and for that reason, Twitter is packed with B.I.G. quotes as I type.
Surprisingly, things didn’t escalate from there, but I guess that it took that for people to decide it had gone overboard. Artists and magazines that took part in blowing it up began speaking out against it, and before ’97 was over, it wasn’t even an issue anymore. The East Coast/West Coast issue was entertaining in parts, and while I can’t say it led to those two deaths, it did get more than a lil’ outta control. If nothing else, it showed how much influence artists and media had, and that they were able to use it constructively once it went too far.