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East Side, West Side?

The mainstream media rushes to judgment in the wake of Notorious B.I.G.'s death

By Todd S. Inoue

After watching the network news speculate that the deaths of Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Christopher Wallace) and 2Pac had been prompted by the so-called East Coast/West Coast rap battle, it was time to smash the TV or squash the noise.

Beefs between rappers have been brewing since rap music's inception. Crews would go from block party to block party, testing each other's rep. The more famous examples made it to wax: Roxanne Shante vs. the Real Roxanne; KRS-One vs. MC Shan; Kool Moe Dee vs. L.L. Cool J.; Common vs. Ice Cube; Hieroglyphics vs. Hobo Junction. By now, it's become a clever way to sell records--what's MCA gonna say about MCB next? The current trend around here is to shout "westsiiiide" and throw up four fingers, two twisted in the middle.

Popular opinion traces the genesis of the EC/WC beef to the late '80s, when West Coast rappers--N.W.A., Hammer, Too Short, Rodney O and Joe Cooley--couldn't get played on New York radio stations or positively reviewed in the New York magazine The Source. Soon, West Coast artists realized that they didn't need New York's approval to sell records and took the independent route. East Coast rappers had their thing; West Coasters had theirs.

Negativity entered into the feud in the '90s, when record moguls Sean "Puffy" Combs of Bad Boy Entertainment and Suge Knight of Death Row publicly aired their differences. 2Pac, in particular, recorded some famous disses--"Hit 'Em Up" most notably--before being shot to death last year in Las Vegas.

Bad Boy and Death Row were in the midst of making amends--the most public display being the olive branch offered by Snoop Doggy Dogg to Sean "Puffy" Combs. The slaying of 2Pac and now Notorious B.I.G. pulled the scab off, however, and misinformed DJs and news media are blowing it up further.

Rapping Together

Blaming an entire seaboard for the acts of a few negative heads is like blaming all mechanics, convenience-store owners and bowling alley operators for the rudeness of just one. It doesn't apply. The bi-coastal war is a way for the music industry to capitalize on black-on-black violence, said Ice T, and I agree.

With B.I.G.'s newest CD, Life After Death, ready to hit shelves, the fallen rapper's death would be considered by many in the industry to be a "marketing strategy."

There are examples that disprove the warring-camps theory. The Smoking Grooves tour featured artists from both sides converging in a live setting. Return of the DJ's David Paul united DJs worldwide. Dr. Dre organized Group Therapy--an assemblage of KRS-One, RBX, B-Real and Nas--on a posse cut called "East Coast/West Coast Killa." The whole EC/WC thing should've died right there.

The biggest evidence of unity can be found in the live arena. At hip-hop shows around the Bay Area, people vibe off of New York beats. Nobody boos when A Tribe Called Quest or Notorious B.I.G. is played. Since I'm supposedly on the "westsiiiiide," why are the biggest crowd responses given to old-school jams? Boogie Down Productions' "South Bronx," Schoolly D's "PSK," Audio Two's "Top Billin'." These jams are universal.

But when I see reports on Biggie Small's death meshed with allusions to "rap violence" (is there "rock violence" or "country violence"?) and territorial tensions, it makes me sad.

The mainstream media isn't on the ground level of either coast. Another troubling theme is the double standard given to rock artists. While Kurt Cobain, Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon and Sublime's Brad Nowell--all junkies--are deified in death, the passing of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac is summed up with the same line: "Live by the gun, die by the gun."

And that's bullshit. Christopher Wallace left behind a wife and two kids. The rap world is minus yet another voice. Nobody deserves to die. The world should mourn the loss, not play Quincy in an episode of EC/WC whodunnit.

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Web exclusive to the March 13-19, 1997 issue of Metro

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