Now, we can settle this like we got some class, or we can get into some gangster shit. –Max Julien as Goldie in The Mack
It’s hard to believe that someone who has seen so much could have such young eyes. But the eyes of Sean “Puffy” Combs, bright, brown, and alert, reflect the stubborn innocence of childhood. His voice, however, tells another story. Sitting inside the control room of Daddy’s House Studios in Midtown Manhattan, dressed in an Orlando Magic jersey and linen slacks, Puffy speaks in low, measured tones, almost whispering.
“I’m hurt a little bit spiritually by all the negativity, by this whole Death Row-Bad Boy shit,” says Puffy, president of Bad Boy Entertainment, one of the most powerful creative forces in black music today. And these days, one of the most tormented. “I’m hurt that out of all my accomplishments, it’s like I’m always getting my most fame from negative drama. It’s not like the young man that was in the industry for six years, won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, and every record he put out went at least gold…All that gets overshadowed. How it got to this point, I really don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
So is everyone else. What’s clear is that a series of incidents—Tupac Shakur catching bullets at a New York studio in November ’94, a close friend of Death Row CEO Suge Knight being killed at an Atlanta party in September ’95, the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac facing off after the Soul Train Music Awards in L.A. this past March—have led to much finger-pointing and confusion. People with little or no connection to Death Row or Bad Boy are choosing up sides. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, hip hop heads are proclaiming their “California Love” or exclaiming that the “the East is in the house” with the loyalty of newly initiated gang members. As Dr. Dre put it, “Pretty soon, niggaz from the East Coast ain’t gonna be able to come out here and be safe. And vice versa.”
Meanwhile, the two camps that have the power to put an end to it all have yet to work out their differences. Moreover, Suge Knight’s Death Row camp, while publicly claiming there is no beef, has continued to aggravate the situation: first, by making snide public comments about the Bad Boy family, and second, by releasing product that makes the old Dre-vs.-Eazy conflict look tame. The intro to the video for the Tupac/Snoop Doggy Dogg song “2 of Americaz Most Wanted” features two characters named Pig and Buff who are accused of setting up Tupac and are then confronted in their office. And the now infamous B-Side, “Hit Em Up,” finds Tupac, in a fit of rage, telling Biggie, “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker,” and then threatening to wipe out all of Bad Boy’s staff and affiliates.
While the records fly off the shelves and the streets get hotter, Puffy and Big have remained largely silent. Both say they’ve been reluctant to discuss the drama because the media and the public have blown it out of proportion. At press time, there were rumors festering that Puffy—who was briefly hospitalized June 30 for a cut arm—had tried to commit suicide, causing many to wonder if the pressure had become too much. Determined to put an end to all the gossip, Puffy and Big have decided to tell their side.
“Why would I set a nigga up to get shot?” says Puffy. “If I’ma set a nigga up, which I would never do, I ain’t gonna be in the country, I’ma be in Bolivia somewhere.” Once again, Puffy is answering accusations that he had something to do with Shakur’s shooting at New York’s Quad Recording Studio, the event that sowed the seeds of Tupac’s beef with the East.
In April 1995, Tupac told VIBE that moments after he was ambushed and shot in the building’s lobby, he took the elevator up to the studio, where he saw about 40 people, including Biggie and Puffy. “Nobody approached me. I noticed that nobody would look at me,” said Tupac, suggesting that the people in the room knew he was going to be shot. In “Hit ‘Em Up,” Tupac does more than suggest, rapping, “Who shot me? But ya punks didn’t finish/Now you’re about to feel the wrath of a menace.”
But Puffy says Tupac’s barking up the wrong tree: “He ain’t mad at the niggas that shot him; he knows where they’re at. He knows who shot him. If you ask him, he knows, and everybody in the street knows, and he’s not stepping to them, because knows that he’s not gonna get away with that shit. To me, that’s some real sucker shit. Be mad at everybody, man; don’t be using niggas as scapegoats. We know that he’s a nice guy from New York. All shit aside, Tupac is a nice, good-hearted guy.”
Taking a break from recording a new joint for his upcoming album, Life After Death, Big sinks into the studio’s sofa in a blue Sergio Tacchini running suit that swishes with his every movement. He is visibly bothered by the lingering accusations. “I’m still thinking this nigga’s my man,” says Big, who first met Tupac in 1993 during the shooting of John Singleton’s Poetic Justice. “This shit’s just got to be talk, that’s all I kept saying to myself. I can’t believe he would think that I would shit on him like that.”
He recalls that on the movie set, Tupac kept playing Big’s first single, “Party and Bullshit.” Flattered, he met Tupac at his home in L.A., where the two hung out, puffed lah, and chilled. “I always thought it to be like a Gemini thing,” he says. “We just clicked off the top and were cool ever since.” Despite all the talk, Big claims he remained loyal to his partner in rhyme through thick and thin. Honestly, I didn’t have no problem with the nigga,” Big says. “There’s shit that muthafuckas don’t know. I saw situations and how shit was going, and I tried to school the nigga. I was there when he bought his first Rolex, but I wasn’t in the position to be rolling like that. I think Tupac felt more comfortable with the dudes he was hanging with because they had just as much money as him.
“He can’t front on me, “ says Big. “As much as he may come off as some Biggie hater, he knows. He knows when all that shit was going down, I was schooling a nigga to certain things, me and [Live Squad rapper] Stretch—God bless the grave. But he chose to do the things he wanted to do. There wasn’t nothing I could do, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t my man.
While Tupac was taking shots at Biggie—claiming he’d bit his “player style and sound—Suge was cooking up his own beef with Bad Boy. At the Source Awards in August 1995, Suge made the now legendary announcement, “If you don’t want the owner of your label on your album or in your video or on your tour, come sign with Death Row.” Obviously directed at Puffy’s high-profile role in his artists’ careers, the remark came as a shock. “I couldn’t believe what he said,” Puffy recalls. “I thought we was boys.” All the same, when it came time for Puffy to present an award, he said a few words about East-West unity and made a point of hugging the recipient, Death Row artist Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Nonetheless, Suge’s words spread like flu germs, reigniting ancient East-West hostilities. It was in this increasingly tense atmosphere that Big and the Junior M.A.F.I.A. clique reached Atlanta for Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party last September. During the after-party at a club called Platinum House, Suge Knight’s close friend Jake Robles was shot. He died at the hospital a week later. Published reports said that some witnesses claimed a member of Puffy’s entourage was responsible.
At the mention of the incident, Puffy sucks his teeth in frustration. “Here’s what happened,” he says. “I went to Atlanta with my son. At that time, there wasn’t really no drama. I didn’t even have bodyguards, so that’s a lie that I did. I left the club, and I’m waiting for my limo, talking to girls. I don’t see [Suge] go into the club; we don’t make any contact or nothing like that. He gets into a beef in the club with some niggas. I knew the majority of the club, but I don’t know who he got into the beef with, what it was over, or nothing like that. All I heard is that he took beef at the bar. I see people coming out. I see a lot of people that I know, I see him, and I see everybody yelling and screaming and shit. I get out the limo and I go to him like, ‘What’s up, you all right?’ I’m trying to see if I can help him. That’s my muthafuckin’ problem, Puffy says, pounding his fist into his palm in frustration. “I’m always trying to see if I can help somebody.
“Anyways, I get out facing him, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on, what’s he problem?’ Then I hear shots ringing out, and we turn around and someone’s standing right behind me. His man—God bless the dead—gets shot, and he’s on the floor. My back was turned; I could’ve got shot, and he could’ve got shot. But right then he was, like, ‘I think you had something to do with this.’ I’m, like, ‘What are you talking about? I was standing right here with you!’ I really felt sorry for him, the sense that if he felt that way, he was showing me his insecurity.”
After the Atlanta shooting, people on both coasts began speculating. Would there be retribution? All-out war? According to a New York Times Magazine cover story, Puffy sent Louis Farrakhan’s son, Mustafa, to talk with Suge. Puffy says he did not send Mustafa but did tell him, “If there’s anything you can do to put an end to this bullshit, I’m with it.” The Times reported that Suge refused to meet with Mustafa. Suge has since declined to speak about his friend’s murder.
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, ‘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 answer 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.
They can’t make money, they can’t go anywhere. They can’t look at themselves, ‘cause they know the prodigal son has returned.”
In the face of all this, one might wonder why Biggie hasn’t retaliated physically to Tupac’s threats. After all, he’s the same Bedstuy soldier who rapped, “C-4 to your door, no beef no more.” Says Big, “The whole reason I was being cool from Day One was because of that nigga Puff. ‘Cause Puff don’t get down like that.”
So what about a response on record? “He got the streets riled up because he got a little song dissing me,” Big replies, “but how would I look dissing him back? My niggas is, like, ‘Fuck dat nigga, that nigga’s so much on your dick, it don’t even make no sense to say anything.”
Given Death Row’s intimidating reputation, does Puffy believe that he’s in physical danger? “I never knew of my life being in danger,” he says calmly. “I’m not saying that I’m ignorant to the rumors. But if you got a problem and somebody wants to get your ass, they don’t talk about it. What it’s been right now is a lot of movie making and a lot of entertainment drama. Bad boys move in silence. If somebody wants to get your ass, you’re gonna wake up in heaven. There ain’t no record gonna be made about it. It ain’t gonna be no interviews; it’s gonna be straight-up ‘Oh shit, where am I? What are these wings on my back? Your name is Jesus Christ?’ When you’re involved in some real shit, it’s gonna be some real shit.
But ain’t no man gonna make me act a way that I don’t want to act. Or make me be something I’m not. I ain’t a gangster, so why y’all gonna tell me to start acting like a gangster? I’m trying to be an intelligent black man. I don’t give a fuck if you niggas think that’s corny or not. If anybody comes and touches me, I’m going to defend myself. But I’ma be me—a young nigga who came up making music, trying to put niggas on, handle his business, and make some history.”
The history of hip hop is built on battles. But it used to be that when heads had a problem, they could pull a mic and settle it, using hollow-point rhymes to run their competitors off the map. Well, things done changed. The era of the gun clapper is upon us, with rappers and record execs alike taking their cue from Scarface. Meanwhile, those on the sidelines seem less concerned with the truth than with fanning the flames—gossiping about death threats and retribution, lying in wait for the first sign of bloodshed.
When the bloodshed came, it wasn’t quite what people expected. On June 30, Puffy was rushed to the emergency room of St. Luke’s—Roosevelt Hospital in Upper Manhattan, where he was treated for a deep cut to his lower right arm. New York’s Daily News called it a “slit wrist,” implying that it was more than an accident. Puffy calls the story nonsense. “I was playing with my girl and I reached for a champagne glass and it broke on my bracelet, cutting my arm,” he says. “I ain’t trying’ to kill myself. I got problems but it ain’t that bad.”
More than anything, Puffy seems exhausted by the whole ordeal. But after all he’s seen in the past two years, nothing can surprise him—except, maybe, the squashing of this beef. “I’m ready for it to come to a head, however it gotta go down,” he says. “I’m ready for it to be out my life and be over with. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I just hope it can end quick and in a positive way, because it’s gotten out of hand.”
Date Posted: Thursday, October 8th, 2015 , Total Page Views: 1538
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