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.

Master P Ghetto D: A look back at a classic gangsta rap album

Between the years of 1995 to 1997 there was a war waging between the two coasts of the United States. The East Coast Gangsta Rap scene, led by Puff Daddy and his boy Biggie Smalls, against the hardened West Coast Gangsta Rap scene led by veterans of the L.A. gang scene, and pioneers of the genre N.W.A, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and newcomers Snoop Dogg, The Dogg Pound, and 2Pac. While Death Row Records was at the forefront of the West and Bad Boy was taking the helm in the East, there was a newcomer about to bust things wide open.

Shots were fired, literally, in late 1994 when 2Pac was gunned down entering the Bad Boy Record studio. He miraculously survived this attack, taking five bullets and then recovering to launch the war full force at Death Row records a couple of years later. In September of 1996 the shots fired again, this time ending 2Pac’s life. Presumably in retaliation, or perhaps as an indirect results of the gang wars, for whatever reason Biggie Smalls was shot and killed just a few months later right before the release of his double album, Life After Death.

Just when everyone thought the Gangsta Rap genre was going to fizzle out, Puff Daddy quickly dropped the gangsta rap persona and shifted to a more radio friendly hip-Pop sound, reminiscent of the main stream sound Will Smith was employing. The gangsta scene looked like it was going to disappear for a brief moment. Even Bad Boy’s next rising star, Ma$e, altered his gangsta image to a more MTV friendly look and their music videos reflected this by focusing more on their flashy parties and money than their gangsta life styles as previous videos had done. The Mafioso rap would live on, under the head of superior producer to Puffy, Jay-Z, as his masterfully crafted Rocafella Records picked up the pieces of the crumbling Bad Boy empire.

In the middle of all the coastal wars there was a new gangsta rap guru waiting to take over and push both Bad Boy and Death Row into obscurity. The mans name was Master P. The record label was No Limit Records. The album, Ghetto D.

By the time No Limit Records came onto the scene, gangsta rap was either west coast G-Funk or east coast mafioso, the southern blend of hard core street and down to earth thugs just trying to make a living was a different change of pace. Although No Limit Records quickly supplanted the two dominant gangsta rap labels of the day, they did so using the very same talent Death Row used to launch. Snoop Doggy Dogg, rebranded as just Snoop Dogg when he left Death Row and joined No Limit. This story is going to focus on the record that made the shift happen. Keep an eye on part two where you can learn more about Snoop’s time with Master P and company.

Ghetto D (short for Ghetto Dope, as per the albums title track) came out hitting hard and fast. The first track on the record hits you in the face with it’s message, “a shout out to drug dealers” as the record claimed. The record didn’t spend a lot of time talking about pimping hoes, drive by shootings, or hit men coming to snipe the snitch, the record just painted a picture of a working class thug trying to make a living selling drugs.

The album gets straight to the point with tracks like Weed & Money, Ghetto D, and Stop Hatin’, it’s the single and subsequent music video that really propelled the record to mainstream recognition. “Make Em Say Ugh!” quickly became a radio hit, a hit on MTV and the anthem for the new wave of hard core gangsta rap that was about to burst onto the scene. That track brought the entire No Limit studio crew right to the front of the Hip-Hop scene and proved that gangsta rap didn’t have to take a side in the deadly gang wars.

The record itself is massive. It sports 19 tracks of pure, hard core hip-hop. Not a single track of interludes, fake radio broadcasts or people talking. The album didn’t tell a story using theatrics like Doggystyle, a superior gangsta rap album in many respects, it did manage to get straight to the point. Master P didn’t need a lot of story lines cluttering up the record, he let the music speak for itself. With solid base lines, quick battle raps, hard beats, and lot’s of G-Funk melodies mixed with some southern beats, the record demonstrated there truly was a middle ground to the gangsta rap turf wars.

1998 was defined by the sounds of Master P, C-Murder and Silkk The Shocker, all who quickly dethrowned the entire Bad Boy and Death Row crews from prominence. Ice Cube, one of the founders of the Gangsta Rap scene, turned to Hollywood and left the music industry mostly behind. Dr. Dre responded to the  new label by hiring a White Boy to get his game back on track. Snoop Dogg himself even followed the old, if you can’t beat em, join em, mantra as he released several albums on the record label that left Death Row in the ashes. Silkk The Shocker would quickly follow up Master P’s glorious sounding Ghetto D with a record of his own, Charge it to The Game, featuring the hit “It Ain’t My Fault” and prominently featuring newcomer Snoop Dogg on some respectable gangsta tracks.

Much like Doggystyle before, each track serves a purpose in getting the listener to fear and respect the talents of the producer behind the scenes. Ghetto D rose to the occasion of filling in the gaps created by the decline of the two East Coast/West Coast giants. Their reign didn’t last forever as Jay Z and his Rockafella Records would soon surpass all three gangsta rap labels in terms of sales, money, presence in the market, and number of important artists all combined.

The aftermath of the decline of the Coastal Wars left Death Row in ruins, Bad Boy turned pop, and Dr. Dre selling records featuring a bleached blond Backstreet Boy lookalike. Master P stood up and reminded the world that gangsta rap music could still be about hard music with a prominent message interlaced within some head bobbing tracks. Ghetto D is easily one of the top 25 gangsta rap records of all time.

Delve into the mind of THE RAT… if you dare.

When I was in the first grade I started signing my school papers with my initials, R.A.T., partly because I had bad hand writing, that is a story for another day, so I was trying to save time but also partly because, well back then I was pretty lazy, and partly because once I discovered my initials spelled out a word I thought it was fun. It didn’t stay fun forever as time went on I became stuck with the name, The Rat, which I currently wish would die out. But who is The Rat? Read on to find out more.

It started in 1997. Up to that point  had pretty much stopped signing my name as such and forgot about that silly initial thing. At least until one day, when I was in the 9th grade, I turned in a paper with just my initials, just because I wrote it in a hurry and added my name last second. It was for my science class,  didn’t get long well with my science teacher anyways so I figured screw it. Well some of the jackals in my class thought it was funny, and being mostly Spanish speaking they began calling me “la rata” or “the rat” in Spanish.

But it goes just a little deeper than that. Not the name but the underlying “persona” that I would invent as a form of identity shield. When I was much younger I had gotten used to being picked up and bullied in school. As such I developed a dislike for, well, everyone. So I went out of my way to discourage other kids from associating with me because I just wanted to be left alone. During my early days I discovered I had a very strong fascination with the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise. I suppose much of this could be tied to my being a kid in the 80’s, which at that time Freddy Krueger pretty much dominated the media scene, from MTV to everything inbetween. In 1996 I heard a song on the radio by a fairly new band called Marylin Manson. At first I was drawn to the music, the song that played on the radio all the time was “The Beautiful People,” to this day one of my favorite’s in the heavy metal genre. Although I learned later Manson wasn’t exactly true heavy metal, I still liked his music. It was dark, thematic and reminded me a lot of those Freddy films I had become so obsessed with. During my high school years I day-dreamed of forming my own shock rock metal band, even going so far as wanting to mimic the long hair, make up and stylish clothing that went along with it. But well I didn’t have it in me to put on that public mask that bands like Manson, Kiss, Twisted Sister, and others, wore. Instead I took a different approach.

I had always been divided between my love of the dark, loud, and angry metal music, with the violent, aggressive, and severely more angry gangsta rap music. My attraction to both forms of music was still a part of that persona, if I was seen listening to loud, offensive, and very violent music I figured it would be a good buffer to keep people away. For the most part, it worked. Decent people noticed quickly that a guy listening to “Natural Born Killers” by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from the Murder was the Case soundtrack as loud as my speakers could play it, well that was a guy to avoid. I also wore a very angry expression on my face and became used to wearing torn, dirty and very rugged clothing to further cement the persona of not just an out cast, but a dark soul to be feared and avoided. I started to take the persona, or the act, onto the internet off and on. Partly because I was still trying to remain tough and distant but also because I hated confrontation. The problem is, this doesn’t work online, in real life you get the whole picture, the image, the scruffiness and you understand what I was going for. But online I just came off as a jerk, a troll even by most definitions.

After many years of justifying this dual personality/persona, it wasn’t just inspired by rock bands like Manson, it was further justified by the poster child for the image I was going for, the infamous Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, aka, Slim Shady. His dual persona image in his music fit what I was trying to do perfectly. I wanted to be seen as clean cut and respectable by those who took the time to get to know me, but feared and seen as a pretty mean dude by those I wished to keep my distance from. I had trouble taking this online and I also, eventually, had trouble separating the two in real life as well. Eventually I decided to take it a step further.

The Rat wasn’t getting the point across. So I changed my music persona name to DJ Serial Killa, taken from a Snoop Dogg song from his debut album, Doggystyle. Now as a kid thanks to the graphic, almost pornographic cartoon in the album art, it didn’t take long for me to figure out what “doggystyle” was referring to. Needless to say I figured if the good guy, or rapper, was The Rat, then the DJ, or the mysterious one pulling the puppet strings, had to be worse, thus I took on the name DJ Serial Killa. Of course I also adopted the phrase, or motto, that as a DJ I justified the name as I “murdered the competition, and there was a whole lot of competition.

I will admit as a rapper, I suck. I can, when I put my mind to it, write good poems, and by extension song lyrics. However I never applied this to my rapping, partly because I honestly never took it that seriously, partly because I kind of was “too white” deep down and there was also the matter of my voice, I hated how it sounded so I never put my full honest attention into my rapping. That being said I will freely say, and I can back this up with examples, my DJ’ing ability was pretty good. I didn’t do much of the Jazzy Jeff/Beastie Boys spinning vinyl records, but I could DJ, or disc jockey a party like no body’s business. This I developed through my years of not just making endless supplies of mix tapes, yes literal cassette tapes, but also mix cd’s, and evnetually playlists. I became skilled at telling which songs fit together in a set, or mood, and which songs blended together smoothly. And I can also show examples of music I mixed myself, using a variety of methods ranging from playing samples and keyboards using my own instrumentals, to the famous hip-hop production technique of mixing loops and samples. Still my DJ or production ability was far better than my rapping thus the DJ name had to have a much strong pull to it.

So what is the point? Just sharing a little bit of why I used to let people call me “THE RAT” and why, especially in recent years, I have shifted away from using that name. I am not ashamed of who I am, look I produced 6 underground records, some I put in stores some I only shared with friends, show me your musical works and I will say okay you can talk to me about names, until then, I can say I did something with my life I wanted to do, not everyone can say that. Lately I have been contemplating making a new musical production, or starting up a new venture online. Whatever I end up doing it will always be for the same purpose, sharing my ideas with people who might be interested for one reason or another.

Will I ever go back to being “THE RAT”? No I don’t think so. I know one thing is for sure, I might never get my chance to play in a shock rock metal band, at least I did get a chance to record an almost gangsta rap but not really gangsta rap, hip-hop record. And there is something to be said of a person doing what they want in life and not being bothered by what other people think. I never got to be as “goth” as I wanted, but I did push the boundaries of what I could get away with as much as possible. Looking back, yes I did take some things to far, something I have to live with to this day. I guess that is part of life, we all have skeletons in our closet, I just think if you dig too deep you might not like what you find. And that is okay, because honestly Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins, he made us into a new creation so while The Rat is no more and DJ Serial Killa was always just bad idea for a name, the reality is all the dark and not very Christian things I was either witness to or an accessory to, are all in the past. Going forward life has improved tremendously and I believe things will only ever get better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.