East Coast Vs. West Coast Rap Battles
The infamous East Coast vs. West Coast feud lives on as a devastating loss for the hip-hop community. The music the rap battles spawned, however, also lives on, and is still enjoyed to this day.
The 90s was arguably one of the most influential decades when it comes to music. As the glitter and sheen of the ‘80s began to fade, listeners developed a taste for something raw and gritty, thus artists moved away from vapid party music in favor of honest portrayals of their everyday lives.
Hip-hop, in particular, experienced a revolution. Groups like NWA exposed the harsh realities of their cities and neighborhoods. Other Hip-Hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest rapped about social issues. While more and more artists began jockeying for position, they also developed a deeply rooted pride in their region and style.
With only so much room at the top, the East Coast vs. West Coast feud was born. Here’s how it all went down.
Tim Dog Ignites a Spark
In early 1991, South Bronx-based rapper Tim Dog decided he was tired of rival artists on the other coast getting all the attention. In the subtly titled “Fuck Compton,” Ol’ T-Dog pulls no punches.
He specifically calls out members of NWA, especially Easy E. While the lyricism isn’t particularly savage, Dog’s Chuck D-like delivery sends a pretty clear message that supports the track title.
These were the first shots in what would become one of the most legendary beefs in music history.
Dr. Dre Has Himself a Day
Technically, Compton’s Most Wanted were the first to fire back on their excellently titled Music to Driveby with the short but sweet “Who’s Fucking Who.”
Soon after, however, the heat was turned up when Dre released “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’).”
This track featured two verses from the good Doctor, who set his sights on Easy E and Uncle Luke from 2 Live Crew. It was the Doggfather who took the fight to the east coast, suggesting “play with my bone, would ya Timmy” before spending the next few bars lyrically eviscerating poor Timothy Dog. Snoop’s smooth-as-silk delivery no doubt salted the wounds.
Coincidentally, Tim Dog would shy away from engaging in any further verbal fisticuffs with the fellas out West.
Shot’s Fired! (For Real, Though)
For a time, the feud seemed set to simmer.
West Coast phenom, Tupac Shakur, joined on some collaborations with an up-and-coming lyrical behemoth, Notorious B.I.G. This friendship would soon sour.
Biggie was eventually blamed for setting Pac up to be robbed and shot 5 times at a New York studio. It didn’t help matters much when Big Poppa released the b-side track “Who Shot Ya.”
Though Crooklyn’s finest denied that the track was aimed at Pac (a claim backed by producer Sean “Puffy” Combs), the timing seemed a bit too perfect to be coincidental.
Regardless, Biggie Smalls straight murders this track. It feels almost effortless as he brags, “I can hear sweat trickling down your cheek/ Your heartbeat sound like Sasquatch feet/ Thundering, shaking the concrete.”
New York rapper Jay-Z would go on to say “the world stopped” when Mr. B.I.G. dropped this track.
In August of ’95, Death Row CEO and noted BAMF Suge Knight, along with members of the Death Row roster, would descend upon New York City.
When receiving the award for Soundtrack of the Year for “Above the Rim,” Suge took the stage dressed to represent his set, the Mob Piru Bloods. He gave a shoutout to Tupac (who was incarcerated at the time), then dropped a bomb. Knight offered artists to “come to Death Row” if artists were sick of producers “being all in the videos, on the records…dancing.”
This New York crowd wasn’t having it. Sugie Bear left the stage in a chorus of boos. Snoop D-O-Double G later asked, “The east coast ain’t got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg? The east coast ain’t got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and Death Row?” As a result, Snoop was showered in jeers as well.
Later that night, P Diddy softly called for an end to “all this east and west stuff.” While many shared his sentiment and wanted resolution to the east coast vs. west coast feud too, the plea fell on deaf ears.
This Ain’t Frankie’s New York
Hot on the heels of the Source awards fiasco, Tha Dogg Pound released “New York, New York.”
Other than mentioning New York in the hook, most of the song simply showcases Kurupt’s lyrical mastery, rather than explicitly talking smack on New York.
The video, however, depicts members of the group as larger than life, knocking over famous New York buildings.
East Coasters Capone N Noreaga responded in kind with “LA, LA.” This track featured Mob Deep and Tragedy Khadaf. Other than lifting the beat and hook from “New York, New York,” they didn’t have much to say about the west side. The lyricism is top-notch, and the intent was clear to throw shade on the west.
In October of 1995, Knight, along with Death Row, put up the money to bail Tupac Shakur out of jail. Shakur immediately hit the studio and released “California Love,” his unapologetic love letter to all things west coast. Pac was clearly full of energy, and this upbeat, boastful track was merely a preview of what was to come.
Bloodshed in the East vs. West Coast Feud
Fast forward to June 1996.
Tensions in the east coast vs. west coast feud reached an all-time high when Death Row released a greatest hits compilation. Driven by a sample of Dennis Edwards’ “Don’t Look Any Further”(do yourself a favor and watch that video), Tupac’s “Hit Em Up” is an all-out verbal assault on Biggie Smalls and anybody associated with him.
Opening with the line “First off, fuck your bitch and the clique you claim,” Pac proceeds to lyrically murder any and everything on the east coast. Many arguments can be had about who was the better rapper. Biggie was most certainly a savage, but Pac’s passion and ferocity on this track are second to none.
Only two months after the release of “Hit Em Up,” Shakur was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip. Speculation over whether this was a direct result of the coast wars, or stemming from a different incident, continues to this day.
A posthumous 2Pac album was later released, with two more digs at Biggie and the east coast: “Bomb First (My Second Reply)” and “Against All Odds.”
Two Legends Lost
In March of 1997, Notorious B.I.G. suffered a similar fate to Shakur: a drive-by shooting in L.A.
The loss of Pac and Biggie serves as a somber reminder to all of the power grudges and rivalries can hold. Because of the east coast vs. west coast feud, two bright stars were snuffed out far too soon. Still, their body of work and contribution to hip-hop live on in the works of artists like Kanye, Mac Miller, Eminem, Lil Wayne and so many more. The legends’ influences have made their influence present even in freestyle raps where artists will call each other out.
The coast wars eventually came to an end—but the unforgettable music, energy, and style born in that era would go on to enrich and inspire millions of lives and hundreds of artists. Nothing before or since has changed the face of pop culture to such an extent. It’s likely safe to say how famous, or infamous, these artists are still, even after their deaths.