Was there an actual winner in the 2Pac verses Biggie East Coast-West Coast Gangsta Rap rivalry of the 1990s?

“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.

2Pac: All Eyez On Me, a look back.

If you follow hip-hop, or rap music, as it is known by the mainstream, then you have heard the name 2Pac before. The man is a legend in the music industry. Does he really deserve so much attention?

The year is 1999, the setting is a small town in Nevada you never heard of and probably don’t care about anyways. I was hanging out with my friend “Izzy” one day talking about our favorite rappers. He excitedly showed me his latest acquisition, a copy of the 2-disc set “All Eyez On Me” by the recently deceased 2Pac. The record sold millions of copies, launched Death Row Records into a house hold name along side names like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and many others, and the music video to “California Love” brought gangsta rap to the forefront of MTV. Everyone knows the story, the myth, the legend of 2Pac.

I sat there in my car with my friend listening to this musical masterpiece that only further cemented my appreciate for the art of hip-hop and more specifically the street wise gangsta rap. I was just a teenager hanging out with a friend who had an unhealthy obsession with the late 2Pac. I had already heard a handful of tracks from the album over the years since it was released, namely those that had music videos and aired on MTV, so I was already somewhat familiar with the artist. Nothing could prepare me for what I sat through during those next few hours while we replayed our favorite tracks over, and over again.

When I first discovered gangsta rap it was in the form that many of us first were exposed to, Doggystyle, by Snoop Doggy Dogg. That record had a mix of traditional hip-hop beats that I had already grown accustomed to, with a new style of street rap that was completely unlike anything I had ever heard before. While I wasn’t immediately drawn to the whole theme of gangsta rap initially, I continued to experience more pop friendly hip-hop in the form of Beastie Boys, Fresh Prince, MC Hammer, and even the newly arrived Kris Kross. So for me I was into the music more than the story telling. With Doggystyle this remained the case, I did pick up a few other “G-Funk” records along the way namely Warren G’s “Regulate…G-Funk Era,” Coolio’s tamer but still hardcore “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and “Murder Was the Case” the soundtrack to a movie I didn’t even know was a real movie. So by the time I discovered “All Eyez On Me” I had already gotten over the gangsta rap genre.

All of that changed when I listened to that double CD set. This was the first time that I could listen to a gangsta rap CD and not just listen to the beats, I listened to the stories, the messages, the illustrations he was painting. I still appreciated the music, I very much enjoy the smooth melodies of the G-Funk style and the hard hitting beats of hip-hop in general. The record had me convinced I should give the whole gangsta rap scene a second look. Now to be fair my interest in rap music runs deep, I enjoy pretty much all of the old school stuff with few exceptions. Still I was able to listen to the stories 2Pac told and actually care about what was being said for the first time. Maybe I was too young to even get the references the first time I heard Doggystyle, but the first time I heard 2Pac “Ambitions as a Ridah”, “Can’t C Me”, “Shorty Wanna Be A Thug”, “Only God Can Judge Me”, and the list goes on and on, I began to really understand what those “G’z” were rapping about for the first time.

It goes without saying that 2Pac is one of the greatest rappers of all time. So if you do enjoy hip-hop music at all, especially the streetwise Gangsta Rap, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of All Eyez On Me. It is hand’s down the definitive “Gangsta rap” album. Listening to it today does more than remind me of how far we have come as a society, considering who is occupying the White House today, it also takes me back to my own somewhat troubled, or well confused is the better term, youth. We all have skeletons in the closet and many of mine can be traced back to that fateful day “THE RAT” was born bobbing his head in that car listening to 2Pac tell his hoe she “wonder why they call you bitch.”

1999 was an awakening for my passion of the hip-hop music, it was the same year I picked up Eminem’s Marshall Mather’s LP, which is a story for another day, and it was the year I attempted to make my first rap record. I somewhat succeeded in making my first single, a long forgotten dub I made using a hacked together dual cassette tape player, a pair of broken record players that didn’t spin and had to use a tiny nail for a needle, and a whole bunch of RCA cables strung out together. If there hadn’t ever been a 2Pac pairing up with the aforementioned Snoop on “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” then “THE RAT” might not have ever been a thing.

I can’t tell you what the world would have been like without 2Pac but I can tell you what my life would have been like, completely different than it turned out to be.  I sit back and listen to those tracks today and I remember a time when Sega, Mountain Dew, and Nickelodeon were all that mattered to me. Today it makes me glad that the road I took has led me to where I am, and where I am going. 2Pac said it best in one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Look to my future cause my past, is all behind me.” The fact the man died shortly after the records release just makes the words in many of his songs that much more powerful.