One of the most famous feuds in hip-hop history is the Tupac and Biggie beef - a bitter rivalry between West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur and East Coast rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace. But were Tupac and Biggie friends? At the start, Tupac took Biggie under his wing and helped the budding rapper’s career, but after only a year, their friendship fell apart. Ultimately, the Tupac Biggie feud ended in tragedy, their lives claimed less than a year apart.
There are many theories about the reasons behind their passings and the people responsible, but both cases remain unsolved to this day. Some argue that the feud was larger than Tupac and Biggie, and that the tension between the coasts exacerbated the events that led to their ends. “There was always tension - there was always resentment, rather - among some folks on the West Coast for the resistivity from New York DJs and artists to West Coast hip-hop,” says Dan Charnas, a music history associate professor at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute.
Even though Tupac and Biggie were friends, what ultimately tore them apart was a combination of media coverage, diss tracks, gang culture, and competition between their record labels.
1994: Tupac Declines To Manage Biggie’s Career, Insisting He Remain With PuffyPhoto: Bad Boy Records
Since Bad Boy Records, owned by Sean “Puffy” Combs, was still a small label, Wallace was frustrated by the comparatively slow pace of his career. According to Ben Westoff, Wallace assumed that since Shakur was mentoring him, he would be willing to be his manager.
Wallace asked Shakur to manage him the way he had managed his own successful career. Shakur turned him down, insisting that Puffy would make Wallace "a star."
November 30, 1994: During A Recording Session At Biggie’s Studio, Tupac Is AttackedPhoto: Gang Related / Orion Pictures
In November 1994, Shakur was set to record a guest verse on a track by rapper Little Shawn, a colleague of both Combs and Wallace. When he arrived at Quad Recording Studios in Times Square, Shakur and his crew were met by three men in military fatigues. Since this was a signature fashion in Brooklyn, Shakur assumed they were with Wallace, whom he'd been told was recording upstairs. However, on his way to the elevator, Shakur was ambushed by the men.
The rapper was shot, beaten, and robbed - and came to associate Wallace and Combs with the incident. The NYPD said the attack may have been a response to Shakur’s accusations against Haitian Jack. For his part, Little Shawn has acknowledged that he and his manager, Jimmy "Henchman" Rosemond, were associates of Haitian Jack, but denies that they had anything to do with the ambush.
Some artists have argued that Shakur may have actually shot himself. On an Instagram live feed, Funkmaster Flex said, "He knew who approached him. He had a [side arm] on him, 'cause he knew he had a issue out there, and when get got there, they was just gonna take his jewelry. They didn't even touch him. He panicked, pulled out the steel, [and fired on] himself."
December 1, 1994: Tupac Gets Locked Up, And Eventually Reaches Out To Suge KnightPhoto: Death Row Records
For his alleged role in the Ayanna Jackson case, Shakur was found guilty and sentenced to a year and a half behind bars. He was unable to post his $3 million bail, and served most of his sentence at the Clinton Correctional Facility. It would prove to be a formative time for Shakur's career.
According to Suge Knight, the head of Death Row Records, it was Shakur's wife at the time, Keisha Morris, who contacted him on behalf of her husband. "Tupac said the only person who can help him is you," she allegedly told the producer. "Please come see him so you can get him out of prison."
Knight put $15,000 on Tupac’s books and flew from Los Angeles to New York to visit him. As their friendship grew, he offered him a place on his label roster and in his family.
1994-1995: Tupac Believes Biggie Knew About The Attack In AdvancePhoto: Bad Boy Records
While behind bars, Shakur heard a rumor that Wallace knew about the attack at Quad Recording Studios in advance. "He owed me more than to turn his head and act like he didn't know [the attackers were] about to blow my f*cking head off," he said. "You don't know who [attacked] me in your hometown, these n***** from your neighborhood?"
Wallace denied having any prior knowledge of the attack, as did Combs, who claimed they only showed Shakur "nothing but love and concern" when he arrived hurt in the elevator.