Tupac & Notorious B.I.G: A friendship created & destroyed by Hip-Hop

Tupac and Biggie together in a video before a freestyle rap. | Courtesy of PreFix Magazine

“Biggie, remember when I use to let ya sleep on my couch, And beg the b**** to let ya 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 ’bout to set the record straight, with my AK. I’m still the thug that you love to hate” —Tupac Shakur

These were some of the strongly worded lyrics written by Tupac Shakur in the song “Hit ‘Em Up” after the believed betrayal of his once close friend, Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G or Biggie, and his record company, Bad Boy Records.1 The battle between these two infamous rappers was well known in the 1990’s as the Battle of the Coasts, West Coast vs. East Coast. So how did these two legendary rappers become such close friends, and how did it go sour between them?

The two rappers first met on the set of the film “Poetic Justice” in 1993, in which Tupac was featured. Biggie was visiting the set while Tupac was playing Biggie’s newly released single “Party & BullS***” on repeat. Biggie was flattered that such an advanced rapper was enjoying his music. Shakur eventually introduced himself to Biggie as a fan of his music. That’s when it clicked for the two. As their friendship began to grow, the two would hang out frequently at Tupac’s home in Los Angeles, where they smoked, drank, and wrote rhymes. This helped bring the two together and bond through their love of Hip-Hop. Little did they know that their friendship would later become one of the biggest feuds in Hip-Hop history.2

The two artist began to bond, and while Biggie Smalls was just making his breakthrough in the Hip-Hop industry, Tupac decided to take him under his wing and become his mentor because he was the more experienced artist, according to D-Dot in an interview. D-Dot was a close friend of both Tupac and Biggie.3 Shakur offered Smalls valuable advice, and even helped create the sound that made Smalls as big as he was. As their relationship grew and Shakur continued to mentor him, Biggie assumed that, since the two had been spending a lot of time together and had become close, he could ask Tupac to become his manager, according to Ben Westhoff.4 Tupac kindly declined, saying that Biggie’s manager “Puff Daddy” would take Biggie where he wanted to be in the charts, telling him that he was going to make it big in the industry.

Tupac and Biggie together in a video before a freestyle rap. | Courtesy of PreFix Magazine

Their friendship lasted one year, and the two made back and forth trips between Los Angeles and New York. Over time Tupac began to like the respect he received from the East Coast and became involved with some very dangerous shot callers, high-ranked gang affiliates, of the East Coast. Biggie warned Tupac about getting involved with particular individuals, because he knew just how dangerous some could be, and they weren’t afraid to take a life; but Shakur assumed he was on good terms with everyone.5

Tupac was being convicted of sexual assault charges and was looking at serving up to twenty-five years behind bars. On November 30, 1994, he made a stop in Harlem, New York, and was supposed to go to Quads Recording Studio to record with “Little Shawn,” an east coast rapper, since it would possibly be his last recording session for a long time. After a situation involving payment, the recording session was delayed, and Tupac finally arrived at midnight. Once he walked into the lobby, he was ambushed by three men in army fatigues, held at gunpoint, robbed, and then shot multiple times. According to Tupac, when he saw the faces of Biggie and Puff Daddy shortly after the incident, their faces looked guilty. This led Tupac to believe that Biggie knew about the set up and didn’t warn him in advance. That was the end of their friendship.6

On December 1, 1994, less than one day after the shooting, Shakur showed up to court bandaged up and in a wheelchair. He was found guilty of sexual assault and then sentenced to prison for a year and a half to four and a half years on February 8, 1995.7 During his time behind bars, Biggie released a track titled “Who Shot Ya,” which led Tupac to believe that it was a diss-track aimed at him because of the robbery, but Biggie discredited that claim. Shakur appealed his convictions and a New York judge released him on $1.4 million bail with the help of Surge Knight after he signed to Death Row Records.8 Tupac became as ruthless as ever, once he was released. He went to the extent of making the claim that he slept with Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, and that Biggie was stealing his style because he was the superior in the industry, which he emphasized in his diss track “Hit ‘Em Up.”

Surge Knight’s (Owner of Death Row Records) black BMW at the crime scene where Tupac Shakur was fattally shot in Las Vegas, Nevada. September 7, 1996 around 11PM-12am | Courtesy of Classified Plus

On the night of September 7, 1996, the feud between the two came to a climax when Shakur was fatally shot in Las Vegas. He was placed in the intensive care unit. Days later, Tupac was pronounced dead from internal bleeding caused by multiple gun wounds.9 But the murder of Tupac was not the end of their situation. On March 9, 1997, Notorious B.I.G was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. Many believe his death was a result of the toxic relationship between himself and Tupac.10 Although both legends were killed and the issues between the two were never resolved, the two brought the West Coast vs. East Coast rivalry to life.11 It continues, and so does their legacy that was left behind.

  1. Stereo Williams, “Tupacs Hit Em Up: The Most Savage Diss Track Ever Turns 20,” The Daily Beast, June 04, 2016, accessed February 11, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/tupacs-hit-em-up-the-most-savage-diss-track-ever-turns-20.
  2. Candace Sandy and Dawn Marie Daniels, How long will they mourn me?: the life and legacy of Tupac Shakur (New York: Random House, 2006), 54.
  3.  “D-Dot talks Tupac & Biggie’s Early Friendship,” Interview by VladTV, D-Dot talks Tupac, biggie’s friendship before beef, November 11, 2013.
  4. Ben Westhoff, Original gangstas: the untold story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the birth of West Coast rap (New York: Hachette Books, 2016),267.
  5.  Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Freddie Lee Johnson, Tupac Shakur: the life and times of an American icon (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010), 137.
  6. MusicVibe | September 13, “V Vintage (1996): Kevin Powell Interviews Tupac,” Vibe, February 24, 2015, , accessed March 08, 2018, https://www.vibe.com/2010/09/v-vintage-1996-kevin-powell-interviews-tupac/.
  7. Natalie Finn, “Untangling the Conspiracies Surrounding Tupac Shakurs Unsolved Murder,” E! Online, February 25, 2018, accessed March 07, 2018, http://www.eonline.com/news/915786/the-unsolved-murder-of-tupac-shakur-untangling-the-epic-layers-of-conspiracy-surrounding-the-case.
  8. Chuck Philips and Alan Abrahamson, “Rapper leaves tangled financial, legal legacy,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1996, accessed March 05, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-shakurlegacy24dec2496-story.html.
  9. Michel Marriott, “Shots Silence Angry Voice Sharpened by the Streets,” The New York Times, September 15, 1996, accessed February 13, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1996/09/16/us/shots-silence-angry-voice-sharpened-by-the-streets.html.
  10. Carrie Wittmer, “The murders of Biggie and Tupac are still a mystery after 20 years – here are all the theories about them,” Business Insider, March 27, 2017, accessed February 13, 2018, http://www.businessinsider.com/biggie-and-tupac-murder-theories-cases-suspects-2017-3/#but-then-a-violent-rivalry-started-2.
  11. Meghan Giannotta, “A look at Tupac and Biggie’s infamous hip-hop feud,” Am New York, February 20, 2018, accessed March 05, 2018, https://www.amny.com/entertainment/east-coast-vs-west-coast-rivalry-a-look-at-tupac-and-biggie-s-infamous-hip-hop-feud-1.13742586.

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This Post Has 72 Comments

  1. Since I was 5 (2004) I always listened to Biggie and 2pac, I loved their music and how it all flowed so I grew up listening to them. The picture cover is actually a real video where the two were free style rapping amongst one another and at the top of their head it still had that same flow and rhythm. I knew after a while they went from good friends to rivals, although I never knew why. Reading this article it has shed some light on Biggie’s music and the way its described. Although we may never know if the two were in any way involved in each others deaths especially the rumors that 2Pac is still alive hiding after all these years. But that’s another story.

  2. USA’s new true crime series, Unsolved, attempts to solve the decades-old murders of two of pop culture’s biggest figures. Tupac and Biggie Smalls. In the process, the cast and creators told The Hollywood Reporter at the show’s Los Angeles premiere that not only did they come up with what they believe actually happened, they also have their own theories as to why those crimes are still unsolved 20 years later.

  3. It is one thing to rap about life in the hood and rap about gang violence, but remembering that these artists actually lived it too. In an era where people would be brought together by music, it’s easy to forget these artists weren’t joking. It is unfortunate to think what started off as a friendship, developed into a feud that eventually cost both men their lives. Although they have since passed, their legendary music lives on.

  4. I love the first paragraph of this article as it quotes a very significant event in both careers of B.I.G and Tupac that would stir up crazy events to follow. Its very interesting to see these successful rappers be the greatest friends to only see them later trying to kill each other leading to death and both careers being left to the question… ” what if they were still alive?”. Its crazy to be the greatest friends and helping each other to stardom for it all to lead to death starting the West coast vs. East coast rivalry.

  5. I knew of the conflict between two of the most transcendental rappers and lyricists in history. Howbeit, I was unfamiliar with these two great hip-hop artists having a strong friendship before they became opponents. Tupac and Biggie (or Notorious B.I.G.), had conflicting views and they were part of antagonizing sides, but it is impressive that they had such a powerful bond before all the beef started between them and other rappers that were involved in the movement of the East Coast and West Coast. Sadly, both died as a product of drive-byes, catapulting the importance of this problem.

  6. The deaths and mystery surrounding these two artists still permeates today, with movies and documentaries coming out at what feels like an annual pace. However, I think that most people assume that Biggie and Tupac simply hated each other for being from different coasts. The East/ West beef was more that that, and these two were the example. It wasen’t pettiness that drove the wedge between them, and importantly there was something there before the beef.

  7. I am familiar with Tupac and Biggie, but I never knew how deep their feud actually went. This article does a great job of explaining the feud between the two famous rappers and the result of it. I wish we could know for sure if either one of the rappers were involved with the others death, but I guess we will never know for sure.

  8. I was familiar with Tupac and Biggies story before. I am a fan of both rappers and this was very entertaining to read. This article described the impact these rappers made on the world. It is interesting how they began as best friends and ended up trying to kill each other and them becoming rivals. There death is a sad occurrence in history but there legacy lives on forever.

  9. I never knew that Tupac and Biggie were friends before they became rivals. I have always been a fan of Biggie and reading this article shows some of his songs in a new light. Unfortunately, we will never know whether either of the rappers were involved in the other’s death, but I like that the article lets you decide for yourself.

  10. Mariah Cavanaugh

    I grew up in the 90’s when the Biggie and Tupac feud was at its peak, so your article was very nostalgic for me. I always enjoy reading articles such as this, that focus on the impact of artists. As you mentioned, their fight and eventual deaths lead to a rift for artists in the Rap and R&B scene at the time.

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