We really should have just laughed these fools across the Atlantic when it became clear their definition of “West Coast” included Texas, the Midwest, and the entire eastern seaboard from DC on south. The East Coast is almost as good at geography as they are at not selling out.
The rubble has now been settled for 15 years, and it is safe to say that nobody won this war. We’re all losers for it. But some of us are much, much bigger losers than others- namely, those fucking East Coast losers who act like this shit was a tie, instead of the thorough ass-whooping it really was. Let’s give the East Coast the proper airing out they deserve.
It was very easy, and profitable, for many people to characterize the East vs. West rivalry as Bad Boy vs. Death Row, as it sold a butt-load of records and magazines. But that narrative conveniently ignored the single driving force in this whole shit- East Coast provincialism. The first mention of it on record that I’m aware of was by one of our greatest American poets, Willie D, in The Geto Boys’ 1989 masterpiece of sound and fury “Do It Like A G.O.” And it is not an unimportant point to make that this phenomenon really did seem to arise a decent way into the game. Lord knows I didn’t exactly have my ear to the streets as a third grader in Alameda, CA., but in the early 80's breakdance/electro era, there did not appear to be such issues- Ice T, Egyptian Lover and Arabian Prince seemed to be held in similar esteem as their East Coast counterparts, and I’ve never heard anything since to suggest otherwise.
By ‘89, Too $hort and NWA were already well into kicking down the door for the Cali artists the best way possible- via voluminous record sales. So as the 90's dawned, Texas definitely had a much bigger gripe than those of us further left. The most tangible bias those first couple years of the 90's wasn’t anti-West, it was anti-everything-not-Oakland, LA or East Coast.
Then The Chronic dropped, and East Coast panties collectively bunched up.
There was really nothing controversial about The Chronic, especially when compared to previous gangsta rap classics. The Cop Killer hullabaloo was still fresh in everybody’s minds. There were no shots fired toward the East. No, the East had one simple problem with The Chronic, and the g-funk sound it birthed- a lot of people liked it.
This is when the East Coast decided to start showing their ass, with their insecurities and petty jealousy. Jeru dropped Come Clean, and it was heralded as the return of the East! So, you guys had left then? That came as news to us out West. And it was clear that it wasn’t just overwrought fanboys talking that mess when he titled his debut LP The Sun Rises In The East. Really dude? You’re lucky enough to be rolling with Premier, got him producing the whole record, and you’re stressing THAT bullshit? OK. You would have thought that it was us making a habit of dissing them and not the other way around. We all bumped Come Clean out here too, geniuses. We happily listen to all your records, and personally, most of the early g-funk shit gets on my nerves too. The fuck you got to be sour about (aside from the plain fact that the East Coast didn’t support it’s vaunted artists with actual record sales, like the rest of us did)? At this point it was pretty clear something was amiss, but it was hard for us to take it too seriously.
Until the ‘95 Source Awards. Quite possibly the most important night in rap history, and motherfuckers can’t even tell that story right. Yeah, yeah, that’s when the Death Row vs. Bad Boy beef jumped off and everything came to a head. But I guess if I were from the East Coast, I’d want to completely overlook Outkast getting booed by the crowd and side-eyed by a bunch of irrelevant scrubs for winning Best New Artist too. Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s call it like it is- The East Coast lost the war they were so insistent on starting the moment Andre 3000 stepped away from the mic and walked offstage.
The footage is more damning than both Ray Rice videos and Beyonce’s baby-bump cave-in combined. Salt N Pepa wanna talk shit about people in ‘95? Please. The only reason they were even allowed in the building was because everybody wanted to bang Pep back then. And fucking Chris “Kid” Reid... where the fuck did that guy find the nerve? That fucking skyscrapin fade haircut was the equivalent of wearing MC Hammer pants on your head, and whatever the hell that was on top of his dome in ‘95 was not an improvement. Naturally, that guy ended up putting in so much work on the West Coast that he got face time in Cube’s Straight Outta L.A. documentary about the Raiders.
In addition to the uselessness of the “artists” talking shit, the other gaping hole in their bitching and moaning was that Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was, without question, fucking slammin. That record was huge out here. And again, last I checked, Atlanta is about as far east as you can get before your hat floats. So it became clear that it really wasn’t East vs. West. It was East vs. Everybody Else.
And it wasn’t just the hate that galvanized Everybody Else. It was the love in Andre’s response. We were pretty much just rolling our eyes at West Coast-hate up until then. They don’t like our shit, whatever, their loss. But when it descended into disrespecting fantastic artists who were also fantastic people, OK, now you’ve crossed some lines. The intelligence, grace, and humility that so many artists showed in the face of being written off by rap’s ruling class as country-ass bammas is amazing. Not everybody has that kind of perspective and restraint though- yall chumps want a war? Fine. You got it.
Another reason the West was slow to take up arms, figuratively speaking, was that we were sick and tired of people doing it literally. They may have been Bangin In Little Rock and damn near everywhere else in the mid-90's, but that shit had peaked and receded already on the West Coast. Pretty sure it was either ‘90 or ‘91 when there were 200 murders in Oakland. I don’t think they’ve cracked 150 since. East Palo Alto was no longer the per capita crime leader in the country. The funk in LA mellowed somewhat after the Rodney King riots, when a tentative gang truce was reached and showed some results. Even in Washington DC, the worst had passed by then. They act like they know everything back East, but they have yet to grasp that beefing and disrespecting people over dumb shit is kinda not cool?
It was now on and poppin, on two fronts- the popular front, with Death Row and Bad Boy trading barbs and Vice magazine covers monthly, and the real front, where us non-East Coasters finally began calling out the bullshit, and heads from everywhere starting digging in to try and fix it while enjoying what was a Golden Age of rap. Word was there was also a third front that just barely had a lid on it- actual inter-coast gang warfare. Fortunately that never really materialized, aside from Las Vegas PD shitting their pants all weekend whenever there was a Tyson fight in town. I’m guessing that as riled up as everybody was, they had better things to do than travel thousands of miles to do drive-bys.
The popular front, I did my best to ignore, as it was fucking lame. The soap opera, and the music. Suge and Tupac have been assigned most of the blame for it all as the instigators, correctly to a degree, while Puffy and Big are seen as something of innocents. Tupac’s issues with Bad Boy stemmed from his belief that they were connected to the shooting that nearly cost him his life in a NY recording studio, but he also conceded he was in it just for the hype. Suge definitely stirred this pot as hard as he could, for his own ends. But making him the scapegoat conveniently ignores how long that stew had been simmering. History has shown that Suge’s not exactly an “ideas” kinda guy. He was just an opportunist. The West Coast had been rolling out the red carpet to the East Coast artists only to get spat in the face in return for way too long. If they weren’t going to wake the fuck up on their own, which they obviously weren’t, there was no way shit wasn’t going to get worse before it got better. It would have blown up one way or another, with or without Suge.
And worse it got. The yappin and clappin continued until each team had their queen taken off the chessboard. The East/West war and the widespread media exploitation of it had brought rap out to the furthest regions of the sticks. We could have gotten away with shooting the shit out of each other for awhile in the early 90s. But by the late 90's, there were too many eyes on things, and it had to be shut down. About fucking time. So now that lessons have been learned, we’re all going to get along and enjoy an even greater era of music as the 21st century dawns, right?
First off, just like they did after The Chronic, the East Coast felt threatened by Tupac’s popularity- maybe they thought he was still alive? I don’t know, like we’ve ever been able to talk sense to these people. But they felt they needed to find somebody to take Big’s place. They still don’t get it. Oh, and they’ve arbitrarily decided on Jay-Z to fill the throne? Wow, they REALLY don’t get it.
Tupac and Big, I’ve never been the biggest fans of, but they have undeniable talent (I’m a beat-head- had they both rolled with better production and toned down the bullshit, I probably would have been a big fan). Jay-Z really does kinda suck though. Nobody was calling him the greatest anything until the East Coast needed somebody to prop up in Big’s place. Dude’s flow changed like the weather when he was coming up and trying to catch on. He is not pleasant to listen to. He has no personality whatsoever, which fools act like is his own brand of “cool.” And now many people like to consider him the greatest rapper ever? Get the fuck outta here. He’s not even half as good as the guy who created the vacuum for him to get sucked into.
Don’t say that too loud though, or you’ll be breaking the number one rule of post-East/West war rap- “don’t be a hater.” This is probably the worst development in the history of rap. And what a shock that it’s some more self-serving East Coast bullshit. HATING IS THE ESSENCE OF THIS WHOLE SHIT. Just because yall don’t know how to act, don’t drag the rest of us into your contrived fake-ass, opinion-less world. We had countless rap beefs out here that stayed entirely on record without getting ignorant. The mid-to-late 90's Bay Area underground scene, you couldn’t even keep track of who had issues with who. Pretty much the only constant was Murs beefing with everybody. Hiero and Hobo Junction took their beef live to the airwaves. It was that very tension that kept the scene vibrant and artists motivated and on their toes. You’re talking about a bunch of dudes from different, occasionally rival neighborhoods in their teens and twenties who think pretty highly of themselves, often with good reason, and you expect them all to get along like br0s? That’s stupid. It’s also about as NOT hip hop as you can possibly get.
That new attitude also completely screwed those of us who didn’t fall for the Death Row vs. Bad Boy okie-doke. That’s what we got for having standards- now we were the enemy. Fuck backpackin, now it’s all about backslappin. The backpacker backlash is most evident upon a chronological perusal of the Rawkus catalog. The vibey Shawn J. Period and DJ Spinna production of their earlier releases gave way to chunkier tracks aimed at the club. I don’t even think the weirdo shit like Anticon and The Shapeshifters had really become a part of the landscape yet. But I’m taking this whole thing too seriously huh, listening to Polyrhythm Addicts, MF Doom, and Slum Village instead of Ja Rule? Whatever you cool guys say...
So as the 2000's began, the same fuckers who found it perfectly OK to shit on everything that wasn’t from NY just a couple years earlier had now reset the game to mandatory cosignage on everything that wasn’t too “underground.” And it must be just a complete coincidence that it conveniently fell in line with the biggest change in rap during the mid-90's- it was now possible to get paid. Like, PAID... and, if you play your cards right, not be labeled a sellout in the process. NWA so famously got fucked out of all their money that I assume it’s the only source of drama in that dumbass movie they’re making about them (I will not pay a fucking nickle to see that bullshit, unless they pull off the casting coup of getting Mr. Burns to play Jerry Heller). Suge and Puffy changed that. So starting with Jay-Z, we got a fed a long line of terrible East Coast rap acts, and it was our bad if we felt otherwise. I’ve seen fools trying to start a “thing” by labeling this as the “Silver Age.” Holy fucking Christ, how young and dumb do you have to be to think we should do anything but try to erase all that crap from our memories as quickly as possible?
In 2002, all this culminated in the nadir of rap- motherfucking 50 Cent. Like Jay-Z, he had already been out for awhile, with nobody giving a shit. But for whatever reasons, Dre swooped him up and set the Interscope machine in motion to get him over. The hype was deafening. I saw him before I heard him and thought, “Huh, kinda strange everybody back East is cosigning this hard on a West Coast act. Even stranger that he’s always wearing a Yankees hat. He must be from Detroit and down with Em I guess?”
Then I heard “Wanksta”- “What the fuck... everybody and their mom is pumping up this mealy-mouthed motherfucker? This dude is terrible!” “Wanksta” was, of course, easily the best of all his hits.
And then, the final nail in the coffin of East Coast snobbery- “HOLY SHIT, THIS DUDE IS FROM NEW YORK! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
In 1995, Outkast wasn’t good enough for these fools, and a mere seven years later, they’re trying to cram THIS shit down our throats? Some almost unintelligible dude surrounded by his team, everybody wearing white tees and khakis like they just got back from Roscoe’s? Rolling with Dre, making nothing but wack club and R&B records? In a million years, I could not have made that shit up. All that beef, just for the East Coast to completely jack our steez and put out far shittier music than anything we ever had.
But what still kills me about this shit is it really was that clear-cut and one-sided, but it feels like nothing has changed, for the better anyway. Bay Area rap is still looked at as some kind of niche sub-genre, instead of just rap from the Bay Area. Meanwhile, we’re “haters” if we’re not into fifteen year old East Coast garbage rap that’s only still talked about because too many chumps don’t have any other frame of reference. A lot of what fired me up to write this was seeing Dipset get added to the Krush Groove tour in San Jose and LA. Guaran-fucking-tee you ain’t nobody adding E-40 or Cube to an East Coast show featuring their legends. But not only do we get force-fed somebody from the wrong coast, from the wrong era, but it’s the dudes who made so-bad-it’s-good-to-idiots, ironic rap OK? That’s bullshit.
I share a tiny-ass studio apartment with a classically trained pianist reggae DJ who spent the first half of her life in Japan. A hater to the point that fake-ass reggae clowns don’t even book her anymore, because she eats them alive on the decks and then shakes her head at their wackness. She has a bottomless appetite for loud old school West Coast rap. But it’s still too much to ask for card-carrying rap heads young and old to have any kind of appreciation for it?
And let’s not even get into how much better the West Coast handled the business of rap, with so many artists successfully going indie while the East Coast cats always seemed to be chasing deals and getting shafted. How the hell did Tribe make no money? I’ve bought all of their albums multiple times, so don’t look at me...
Whatever though. It is what it is. I consider myself extremely blessed to have grown up where and when I did off all this and more, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t begrudge anybody their taste in music, as long as they don’t force their weak shit on me. But on a not altogether unimportant level, no matter how NY-centric rap stays, they completely blew it. You can’t make up for years and years of willful ignorance, when everybody else was paying close attention. Put whoever you want on VH1 talking about rooftop parties in the Bronx or whatever else. But now the people who REALLY know rap are randos working three jobs in SF and Houston and Atlanta. You can’t be experts if you’ve collectively gone through the majority of rap history with your head so far up your ass you’ve never even heard half the fucking music.
No record review this time. Huge shout out to all the old heads from Everywhere Else who lived this shit through clenched teeth...