Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Rivalry

Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Rivalry Explained

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In the competitive realm of hip hop, is it possible for two feuding emcees to both come out on the losing end? The beef between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. is the most infamous example of this tragic outcome. While some rap feuds originate from a few braggadocious lyrics dropped here and there, this rivalry had far deeper roots.

Tupac vs Biggie was a tale of betrayal and burned bridges—a firm friendship that dramatically deteriorated into a war of words.

In retrospect, the implications of this bitter battle are heightened by the indubitable fact that the combatants are the two greatest rappers in the history of the industry. Sadly, the feud ended only when death cut their life’s verses short. While the artistic legacy of both Tupac and Biggie forever endures, the brutal end to their rivalry—and their existence on Earth—can never be undone.

In One Corner…Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Rivalry: Tupac Shakur
Image From HipHop Fandom

Born in Harlem, New York in 1971, Tupac Amaru Shakur moved to Marin City, California when he was 17 years old. It didn’t take long for teenage Pac to embrace the West Coast—drug culture, music industry, and all. In 1991, Tupac got his big break in the rap game when he signed a deal with Interscope Records.

His first two albums—1991’s 2Pacalypse Now and 1993’s Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.—demonstrated his unrelenting honesty on social issues like racial inequality and police brutality. Despite scathing criticism from the U.S. Vice President himself, Tupac stood his ground as an unapologetic storyteller in hip hop.

In The Other Corner…The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G.
Image From Doubling Fandom

Around the same time that Tupac was making waves with his first albums, another emcee was getting his feet wet on the East Coast. Born in 1972, Christopher Wallace gained notoriety on the streets of Brooklyn for two things: his prolific drug dealings and his mind-blowing rap skills.

In 1992, Wallace (now going by the name of Biggie Smalls) decided that his music ambitions would take precedence over his street life. Biggie signed with Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Records, thereby forging one of the strongest rapper-producer alliances in history. The following year, Biggie’s first single with Bad Boy Records (“Party and Bullshit”) was released.

It All Began with Friendship

 Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.

The two emcees first met each other on the set of the 1993 film Poetic Justice. (Tupac, already an established name in the rap game, was headlining the film with Janet Jackson.) The story goes that Tupac repeatedly played Biggie’s “Party and Bullshit” on the set—a move that flattered Biggie, who had not even released a studio album at that point.

Tupac went on to invite Biggie to his California home, where the West Coast rapper cooked steaks for his new friend. In the ensuing months, Biggie was always a welcome guest at Tupac’s house; while Tupac made it a point to go see Biggie when he was in New York. The friendship grew into a mentorship as well, with Tupac eagerly dishing out advice to Biggie and his rap peers in recording studios and hotel rooms.

The Joe Rogan Experience
The Joe Rogan Experience

On top of it all, Tupac shared the stage with Biggie on multiple occasions, helping the up-and-coming emcee to hone his craft in live performances. In a 2021 appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience, Snoop Dogg recalled a 1993 event in Los Angeles when Tupac invited his friend to join a group of West Coast rappers onstage.

Even as Snoop and his peers wondered who the newcomer was, Biggie proceeded to annihilate the mic with a strong freestyle.

Biggie went so far as to ask Tupac to manage his career. In Biggie’s mind, his mentor could help him rapidly achieve success in both music and film. Tupac, however, declined Biggie’s request; he assured his protege that Puffy could facilitate the career advancement that Biggie was looking for.

The Fateful 1994 Shooting

ready to die notorious big
Ready to Die Notorious Big

Biggie’s star did rise in September 1994, when he dropped his debut album Ready to Die. With the critical and commercial success of his initial outing, Biggie could finally stake his claim as one of the finest emcees of his generation. He could, at the very least, be in the same conversation as his mentor Tupac.

While Biggie reveled in the success of Ready to Die, Tupac sought ways to augment his cash flow, which was being sorely depleted by legal woes. With his financial well-being in mind, he agreed to contribute a verse to a track by Brooklyn rapper Little Shawn. Reportedly, Tupac was to be paid $7,000 for his guest appearance.

On November 30, an intoxicated Tupac (along with a crew of three associates) arrived at Manhattan’s Quad Recording Studios. However, before Tupac and his associates could even get into the elevator, they found themselves at gunpoint; three men wearing army fatigues had drawn their 9mm guns on Tupac’s crew. In the melee that ensued, Tupac was badly beaten and shot. And when the assailants took off, they had Tupac’s jewelry in their possession.

Dramatically, Tupac hopped on the elevator and made his way to the higher floors. Upon exiting the elevator, he encountered a group that included none other than his bosom friend Biggie. Even as Tupac endured the physical agony, he started to connect the dots. In his mind, the vicious assault was anything but random.

Like the tragedy that would later unfold in late 1996, Tupac’s 1994 shooting remains shrouded in mystery. For what it’s worth, the attack came on the heels of Tupac’s verbal attack against music executive (and widely feared street hustler) Jacques “Haitian Jack” Agnant. (In a New York Daily News interview, Tupac had accused Haitian Jack of setting him up to take the fall in a November 1993 rape case that they were both involved in.) However, no evidence has ever come forward to establish Haitian Jack’s involvement in Tupac’s shooting.

Tupac Goes to Prison, Biggie Drops “Who Shot Ya?”

Tupac in Prison

In retrospective interviews, Snoop Dogg (who had been a friend to both rappers) and Biggie himself pointed to Tupac’s 1994 shooting as a turning point. From then on, the strong friendship between Tupac and Biggie would give way to feelings of betrayal and animosity.

Just a day after the shooting, the wheelchair-confined Tupac showed up at a New York City courtroom—against doctors’ orders, of course—to hear the verdict for his November 1993 rape case. It was more bad news for Tupac: he was found guilty of sexual abuse, which meant that he would be sentenced to at least a year and a half in prison.

While Tupac served his sentence, his rage only grew. In Tupac’s mind, Biggie either set him up that night; or he had prior knowledge of the attack. At the very least, Biggie could at least identify who the shooter was, as the incident took place on Biggie’s New York turf. Then, in February 1995, Biggie released a song that contained some highly conspicuous lyrics.

On the ominously titled “Who Shot Ya?”, Biggie issues graphic warnings to some adversary. Confirming that the hostility is beyond verbal barbs (“It’s on, nigga/Fuck all that bickering beef”), Biggie describes what he’d do to his foe and that poor soul’s loved ones (“Neighbors call the cops, said they heard mad shots…Slaughter, electrical tape around your daughter”).

who shot ya

Amidst all the brutal imagery, the line that perhaps stood out the most was “You rewind this, Bad Boy’s behind this.” For obvious reasons, “Who Shot Ya?” further fuelled Tupac’s suspicions about the involvement of both Biggie and Puffy in the New York shooting. (For their part, Biggie and Puffy vehemently denied that the track was aimed at Tupac.)

The Beef Escalates

Suge Knight
Image Of Suge Knight From Hip Hop Music

While Tupac’s psychological torment in prison continued, he began receiving support from a powerful figure in the music industry: Suge Knight. An intimidating strongman who co-founded Death Row Records, Knight sent financial aid to Tupac’s mother, who was losing her house.

As the relationship between Knight and Tupac grew, Knight came to offer Tupac help in securing his release, but on one condition. Once Tupac regained his freedom, he would have to sign with Death Row. During Knight’s visit to Tupac on August 3, 1995, Tupac made it known that he agreed to these terms. He was hell-bent on unleashing his vengeance on Bad Boy Records, for he was convinced that they played a part in his 1994 shooting.

Above the Rim

Immediately after visiting Tupac in prison, Knight flew to The Source Awards in New York City. Accepting the Best Soundtrack award for Above the Rim, Knight had this to say in his acceptance speech: “Any artist out there wanna be an artist, and wanna stay a star, and don’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing—come to Death Row.”

There was no doubt that this verbal jab was aimed at Puffy, who frequently made appearances in his artists’ music videos. Having secured Tupac’s commitment to Death Row, Knight made it clear that he would support his new ally in the “battle” against Biggie and Puffy. A retrospective 2016 Vibe article has labeled Knight’s verbal attack as “the first shots in what would become known as the East Coast-West Coast hip hop wars.”

“Hit ‘Em Up”

In October 1995, Knight posted a $1.3 million bail to secure Tupac’s release from prison. True to his word, Tupac went straight to work for Death Row, recording tracks at a prolific pace. While regaining momentum in his music career was a primary goal, Tupac also had plans to settle the score with Biggie and Puffy.

On June 4, 1996, he released the infamous diss track “Hit ‘Em Up.” Whereas the subject of “Who Shot Ya?” was open to interpretation, Tupac and his Outlawz crew left no doubt by calling out the Bad Boy artists by name.

  • “Lil’ Caesar, go ask your homie how I’ll leave ya/Cut your young ass up, leave you in pieces, now be deceased”
  • “Lil’ Kim, is you coked up or doped up?/Get your little Junior Whopper clique smoked up”
  • “Plus, Puffy tryna see me, weak hearts I rip/Biggie Smalls and Junior M.A.F.I.A. is some mark-ass bitches”

Tupac’s most scathing remark, of course, was reserved for his former buddy: “You claim to be a player but I fucked your wife.” In the months before the track’s release, Tupac and Knight had been feeding rumors that Tupac had engaged in sexual activity with Biggie’s wife Faith Evans. (For her part, Evans denied the rumors.)

Despite the vitriol that Tupac spewed on “Hit ‘Em Up” (as well as the insistence of his crew to clap back), Biggie refused to record a diss track in retaliation. Instead, he urged Junior M.A.F.I.A. to stay “focused on what we gotta do.” In a few months, however, Tupac’s powerful voice would be silenced forever.

The Death of Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Rivalry: Tupac's Car

On the night of September 7, 1996, Tupac was in Knight’s car en route to a party in a Las Vegas nightclub. Shortly after the car—a black BMW sedan—stopped at a red light, a white Cadillac pulled up to its side. An occupant seated at the back of the Cadillac then rolled down the window and fired shots into Knight’s car.

One of the bullets hit Tupac’s right lung, while other bullets got him in the arm and thigh. Knight, meanwhile, sustained an injury to the head due to bullet fragments.

Somehow, Knight managed to drive the car to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where Tupac was placed on life support. On September 13, Tupac Shakur was pronounced dead. Was Biggie Smalls involved in the death of his former friend and mentor? In a 2002 piece for The Los Angeles Times, investigative journalist Chuck Philips claimed that, before the September 7 shooting, Biggie had been prodding a Compton gang called the Southside Crips to kill Tupac.

Suge Knight
Image From Doubling Fandom

After Tupac and his crew beat up a Crip member at the MGM lobby (on the heels of a Mike Tyson fight, no less), the Crips decided that Tupac would pay with his life. When the Crips told Biggie about their plan to kill Tupac, Biggie allegedly offered them a million dollars for the hit.

Furthermore, they were to use his Glock pistol to do the job. As detailed as Philips’ claims are, no hard evidence has ever validated Biggie’s involvement in the death of Tupac. For what it’s worth, Faith Evans and Snoop Dogg both described Biggie as despondent in the aftermath of Tupac’s killing.

The Death of The Notorious B.I.G.

Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Rivalry: Life After Death album

As 1996 came to a close, Biggie was hard at work on his second studio album Life After Death. In a 2021 Netflix documentary on Biggie’s life, Puffy explained that Biggie’s diligence on the album was in the name of “turning the energy around in hip hop,” in the wake of Tupac’s death. Biggie wanted to take it a step further: upon the completion of the album, he would head out to California to reconnect with music fans there.

Despite Biggie’s good intentions, he met tragedy out on the West Coast. Shortly past midnight on March 9, 1997, Biggie was on his way back to his hotel after attending the Vibe magazine party in Los Angeles. In an eerie parallel to the death of his former friend, Biggie was killed in a drive-by shooting while his SUV was at a stoplight.

Like the murder of Tupac Shakur, the killing of The Notorious B.I.G. remains an unsolved case to this day. In a bitter twist of irony, Biggie was gunned down in the same city where he and Tupac first met.


Question: Is there a connection between the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.?

Answer: Though their lives and careers were tightly intertwined, there is no substantial evidence that proves a connection between the murders of Tupac and Biggie. However, in May 2021, retired FBI agent Phil Coulson claimed that Biggie’s hitman had been financed by Suge Knight, who wanted retaliation for the killing of his Death Row ward Tupac. Furthermore, Coulson claimed that the original target of the hitman was Puffy, not Biggie.

Question: Has the Tupac-Biggie rivalry been depicted in popular media?

Answer: The first season of the 2018 Netflix series Unsolved portrays the friendly relations between the two rappers, as well as their respective deaths and the subsequent investigations. On the big screen, the Tupac and Biggie murder cases are explored in the 2002 documentary film Biggie & Tupac, as well as the 2018 crime thriller City of Lies (which stars Johnny Depp).

Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G Rivalry: Bottom Line

As far as all-time greatness in the rap industry goes, Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. both have legitimate claims to the throne of hip hop. Sadly, only their body of work remains to stake their claim, as their mortal bodies have since faded after senseless shootings in the late ’90s. While there is room for debate as to which emcee was better at lyrical assault, all rap fans agree that it would have been a win-win situation if Tupac and Biggie had not lost their lives.


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