Less than two weeks later, when it came time for the “How Can I Be Down?” rap conference in Miami, the heat was on. Suge, who has never concealed his past affiliations with L.A’s notorious Bloods, was rumored to be coming with an army. Puffy was said to be bringing a massive of New York drug lords and thugs. When the conference came and Puffy did not attend, Billboard reported that it was due to threats from Death Row.
`On December 16, 1995, it became apparent that the trouble was spilling into the streets. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, shots were fired at the trailer where Death Row artist Tha Dogg Pound were making a video for “New York, New York”—which features Godzilla-size West Coasters stomping on the Big Apple. No one was hurt, but the message was clear. Then came “LA, La,” an answer record from New York MC’s Tragedy, Capone, Noreaga, and Mobb Deep. That video featured stand-ins for Tha Dogg Pound’s Daz and Kurupt being kidnapped, tortured, and tossed off the 59th Street Bridge.
By this time, the rumor mill had kicked into overdrive. The latest story was that Tupac was boning Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, and Suge was getting with Puffy’s ex, Misa Hylton. Death Row allegedly printed up a magazine ad featuring Misa and Suge holding Puffy’s two-year-old son, with a caption reading “The East Coast can’t even take care of their own.” The ad—which was discussed on New York’s Hot 97 by resident gossip Wendy Williams—never ran anywhere, but reps were tarnished nonetheless. Death Row now denies that such an ad ever existed. Puffy says he didn’t know about any ad. Misa says, “I don’t do interviews.”
Meanwhile, Tupac kept rumors about himself and Faith alive with vague comments in interviews like “You know I don’t kiss and tell.” But in “Hit Em Up,” released this May, he does just that, telling Biggie, “You claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife.” (Faith, for her part, denies ever sleeping with Tupac.)
When talk turns to his estranged wife, Biggie shrugs his shoulders and pulls on a blunt. “if the muthafucka really did fuck Fay, that’s foul how he’s just blowin’ her like that,” he says. “Never once did he say that Fay did some foul shit to him. If honey was to give you that pussy, why would you disrespect her like that? If you had beef with me, you’re like, ‘Boom, I’ma fuck his wife,’ would you be so harsh on her? Like you got beef with her? That shit doesn’t make sense. That’s why I don’t believe it.”
What was still mostly talk and propaganda took a turn for the ugly at the Soul Train Awards this past March. When Biggie accepted his award and bigged-up Brooklyn, the crowd hissed. But the real drama came after the show, when Tupac and Biggie came face-to-face for the first time since Pac’s shooting more than two years before. “That was the first time I really looked into his face,” says Big. “I looked into his eyes and I was like, Yo, this nigga is really buggin’ the fuck out.”
The following week’s Hollywood Reporter quoted an unnamed source saying that Shakur waved a pistol at Biggie. “Nah, Pac didn’t pull steel on me,” says Big. “He was on some tough shit, though. I can’t knock them dudes for the way they go about their biz. They made everything seem so dramatic. I felt the darkness when he rolled up that night. Duke came out the window fatigued out, screaming ‘West Side! Outlaws!’ I was, like, ‘That’s Bishop [Tupac’s character in the movie Juice]!’ Whatever he’s doing right now, that’s the role he’s playing. He played that shit to a tee. He had his little goons with him, and Suge was with him and they was like, li, ‘We gonna settle this now.’”
That’s when Big’s ace, Little Caesar of Junior M.A.F.I.A., stepped up. “The nigga Ceez—pissy drunk—is up in the joint, like, ‘Fuck you!’” Big recalls. “Ceez is, like, ‘Fuck you, nigga! East Coast, muthafucka!’ Pac is, like, ‘We on the West Side now, we gonna handle this shit.’ Then his niggas start formulating and my niggas start formulating—somebody pulled a gun, muthafuckas start screaming, ‘He got a gun, he got a gun!’ We’re, like, ‘We’re in L.A. What the fuck are we supposed to do, shoot out?’ That’s when I knew it was on.”
But not long after the Soul Train incident, it appeared as if Death Row might be starting to chill. At a mid-May East-West “rap summit” in Philadelphia, set up by Dr. Ben Chavis to help defuse the situation, Suge avoided any negative comments about Puffy (who did not attend because he says there was too much hype around the event). “There’s nothing between Death Row and Bad Boy, or me and Puffy,” said Knight. “Death Row sells volume—so how could Puffy be a threat to me, or Bad Boy be a threat to Death Row?” A few weeks later, however, Death Row released a song that told a different tale.
When Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up”—which mimics the chorus of Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s Player’s Anthem” (“Grab your Glocks when you see Tupac”)—hit the streets of New York, damn near every jeep, coupe, and Walkman was pumping it. No fakin’ jacks here, son; Tupac set it on the East something lovely. He says he put out the song in relation for Big’s 1995 “Who Shot Ya,” which he took as a comment on his own shooting. “Even if that song ain’t about me,” he told VIBE, “You should be, like, ‘I’m not putting it out, ‘cause he might think it’s about him.’”
“I wrote that muthafuckin’ song way before Tupac got shot,” says Big, like he’s said it before. “It was supposed to be the intro to that shit Keith Murray was doing on Mary J. Blige’s joint. But Puff said it was too hard.”
As if the lyrical haymakers thrown at Bad Boy weren’t enough, Pac went the extra mile and pulled Mobb Deep into the mix, “Don’t one of you niggas got sick-cell or something?” he says on the record. “You gonna fuck around and have a seizure or a heart attack. You’d better back the fuck up before you get smacked the fuck up.”
Prodigy of Mobb Deep says he couldn’t believe what he heard. “I was, like, Oh Shit. Them niggas is shittin’ on me. He’s talking about my health. Yo, he doesn’t even know me, to be talking about shit like that. I never had any beef with Tupac. I never said his name. So that shit just hurt. I’m, like, Yeah, all right, whatever. I just gotta handle that shit.” Asked what he means by “handling” it, Prodigy replies, “I don’t know, son. We gonna see that nigga somewhere and—whatever. I don’t know what it’s gonna be.” In the meantime, the infamous ones plan to include an anwer to “Hit ‘Em Up” on the B-side of an upcoming single.
In a recent interview with VIBE online, Tupac summed up his feelings toward Bad Boy in typically dramatic fashion: “Fear got stronger than love, and niggas did things they weren’t supposed to do. They know in their hearts—that’s why they’re in hell now. They can’t sleep. That’s why they’re telling all the reporters and all the people, ‘Why they doing this? They fucking up hip hop’ and blah-blah-blah,’ cause they in hell.