Hit 'Em Up
|"Hit 'Em Up"|
|Song by 2Pac featuring Outlawz|
|Released||June 4, 1996|
|Format||12-inch single, 45 RPM, Compact Disc|
|A-side||"How Do U Want It"|
|Genre||West Coast hip hop|
|Label||Death Row, Interscope|
|Writer||Tupac Shakur, Yafeu Fula, Bruce Washington, Malcolm Greenridge|
"Hit 'Em Up" is a diss song by rap artist 2Pac (Tupac Shakur), featuring his group the Outlawz. It is the B-side to the single "How Do U Want It", released on June 4, 1996, from the album All Eyez on Me. The song’s lyrics contain vicious insults to several East Coast rappers, among them, Shakur's former friend and rival, The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls. Reporter Chuck Philips who interviewed Tupac at Can Am where it was recorded described the song as "a caustic anti-East Coast jihad in which the rapper threatens to eliminate Biggie, Puff and a slew of Bad Boy artists and other New York acts" in retaliation for what Tupac believed was their role in setting up his attack at the Quad studios.  The song was produced by long-time collaborator Johnny "J" and samples the bassline from "Don't Look Any Further" by Dennis Edwards. The video, itself described as infamous, includes impersonations of Biggie, Puffy and Lil' Kim.
"Hit 'Em Up" is said to have played a part in exacerbating the East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry. Following its release, the East Coast rappers insulted in the song responded through tracks of their own. The controversy surrounding the song is due in part to Shakur’s murder only three months after its release.
Background and lyrics
"Hit 'Em Up" was written  and recorded in Can Am Studios in Los Angeles, California in May 1996. For the song, Shakur recruited three members from the former group Dramacydal whom he had worked with previously, and was eager to work with again. Together with the three New Jersey rappers and other associates, they formed the original lineup of the Outlawz. The first and third verses are performed by Shakur, who during the takes was accompanied in the recording booth by a woman named Tiffany, who grew close to him during that time. Chuck Philips spotted Faith Evans at Can Am when he interviewed Tupac a year earlier in 1995. People at the studio told the reporter that Faith Evans also contributed - that the R&B chanteuse recorded one or more “Take Money” background vocals that later appeared on “Hit Em Up.”  The ferocity of Shakur's raging vocals, as said by long time collaborator and producer of "Hit 'Em Up" Johnny "J", was entirely authentic. He stated that he had never seen Shakur so angry and that the words he rapped were in no way an act. He explained that Shakur was initially fueled by his anger against Biggie and used this adrenaline, which he described as "superhuman", to attack the other East Coast rappers. The second verse is performed by Hussein Fatal, the fourth by Yaki Kadafi and the fifth by E.D.I. Mean.
Shakur's anger stemmed from the belief that Biggie, as well as other members of Bad Boy Records, had a role in the November 30, 1994 ambush and attacked. He claimed that Biggie and his crew knew of his shooting and wanted him dead. He also felt that Biggie released the song "Who Shot Ya?" provocatively only months after the shooting incident, and although it did not mention Shakur's name, it was directed towards him. Shakur admitted to releasing "Hit 'Em Up" as a response to "Who Shot Ya?", almost two months after the Quad ambush. In a Vibe interview, Tupac called out Sean “Puffy” Combs and Biggie Smalls accusing them of either setting him up, or having advance knowledge of the brutal attack, and not warning him. He also singled out James Rosemond, AKA Jimmy Henchman, and Jacques Agnant, AKA Haitian Jack, of masterminding the assault. Pac recounted the true names of his alleged conspirators to journalist Kevin Powell of Vibe. Vibe, to conceal their true identities, referred to Henchman as “Booker,” and Jack as “Nigel” in the published interview. Persons familiar with the interview say Vibe changed the names after receiving threats from Jimmy Henchman. A former editor at the magazine denied receiving threats, without explaining why Vibe substituted aliases for Jimmy Henchman and Haitian Jack.
(Indeed Jimmy Henchman had lured Pac to the studio that night with a promise of $7,000 to guest-rap on a song with Lil Shawn, a fledgling rap act Henchman represented at the time. Jimmy Henchman was later implicated in a 2008 article by Chuck Philips in organizing the Quad assault,  and in 2012 by Henchman's long-time friend Dexter Isaac who confessed to attacking Tupac on Henchman's orders and was confirmed as one source for Philips earlier story  and in Henchman's own confession to prosecutors during one of nine "Queen for a Day" sessions according to prosecutors at his 2012 trial.) 
Lyrically, "Hit 'Em Up" was aimed primarily at The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean "Puffy" Combs. Shakur viciously insults Biggie throughout, the first line by Shakur is "that's why I fucked your bitch you fat motherfucker", and threatens retaliation in "Hit 'Em Up", saying "Now you're about to feel the wrath of a menace." He also used the song as a platform to express his belief that Biggie was guilty of stealing his style of rapping, and was merely imitating his lifestyle. This notion is addressed in the verse in "Now it's all about Versace, you copied my style." He also touches topically on their early friendship with the line "Biggie, remember when I used to let you sleep on the couch?" and their subsequent fallout.
Faith Evans, who at the time was Biggie's estranged wife, was reportedly seen with Shakur after a public breakup with Biggie. In his October of 95 interview of Tupac, Chuck Philips remembered in 2012 "I was so unaware of the bi-coastal rap war that I suspected nothing when Faith Evans appeared with Tupac at Can Am. Biggie’s estranged wife was recording background vocals for a new Pac song, Wonder Why They Call U Bitch.  According to Shakur she had given him gifts of clothing, which he offered as proof of a relationship in an interview. Using this against Biggie in "Hit 'Em Up", Shakur continued to fuel the rumors of a sexual relationship with Evans in the line "You claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife." Claims of an affair with Evans appear three times in the song. Shakur also attacked many other people associated with Bad Boy Records and with Biggie, such as Lil' Kim, Junior M.A.F.I.A., and most notably Lil' Cease. He exclaimed that their lifestyle and what they rapped about were fraudulent, and that they were not from the streets. He believed that they were only perpetuating the drama and did not understand the situation they had gotten themselves into. Chino XL was also insulted, as well as Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy, who was mocked for suffering sickle-cell disease with the line "Don't one of you niggas got sickle-cell or something?" In "Hit 'Em Up", the word "fuck" and "motherfucker" were used explicitly over 35 times.
Johnny "J" stated that the recording of "Hit 'Em Up" was the most "hard-core he had ever done." Although he was very happy with the work he had put into it and the resulting song, he went on to say that he had no desire to work on anything of that magnitude again.
Several musical components of "Hit 'Em Up" featured samples from other songs, even an interpolation some songs from the Bad Boy's catalog. The bassline in "Hit 'Em Up" is sampled from the 1984 song "Don't Look Any Further" by Dennis Edwards, which is also notably sampled by The Notorious B.I.G. and Junior Mafia in their song "Gettin' Money (The Get Money Remix)", and previously used in Eric B. & Rakim's 1987 single "Paid in Full"  The phrase "take money" is repeated throughout the song, which is a play on Junior M.A.F.I.A's recent release "Get Money", which is also the beat used in "Hit 'Em Up". The chorus of "Hit 'Em Up" is a play on the chorus of Junior M.A.F.I.A's "Player's Anthem."
Upon finishing the recording of the song, Shakur felt very positively about the track, saying "...this song is going to be playing in every club. Deejays are calling from everywhere, wanting to get a piece of this." "Hit 'Em Up" appeared first as a B-side, on the single "How Do U Want It", by Tupac featuring The Outlawz. On June 4, 1996 under the label Death Row Records, "Hit 'Em Up" was released on compact disc, 12-inch, and a 45 RPM. The original cover for the single had Puffy's head on a snake body, and Biggie's head on a pig's.
It also appeared posthumously on several compilations, including the 2004 release of Shakur's last recorded live performance, Live at the House of Blues. "Hit 'Em Up" was also remixed on Nu-Mixx Klazzics. Upon its release, "Hit 'Em Up" received frequent radio airplay, which was attributed to the public interest in the ongoing feud and radio stations' desire to garner high ratings. However, some radio stations, such as the Los Angeles-based KPWR, refused to play it. The follow-up to "Hit 'Em Up" was the song "Bomb First (My Second Reply)".
The music video for "Hit 'Em Up" was filmed in a warehouse off Slauson Avenue near Fox Hills Mall in Los Angeles in May 1996. It was filmed by the production company Look Hear Productions. Shakur raps in a white room with The Outlawz, as well as in purple-caged room and a black room with bullet holes in the background. TV monitors in the background show clips of Shakur, Puffy, and Biggie Smalls, and even clips from the video "Made Niggaz." The video featured actors who were recalled from their prior roles in the music video for "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" to impersonate some of those who were attacked in "Hit 'Em Up." This included Biggie, whose stand-in stares dully into the camera and sports a Kangol and jacket, similar to one Biggie would wear. During the moments where Shakur raps about his claimed affair with Evans, Biggie crouches near the camera while Shakur yells in his face. Puffy is also impersonated, appearing with a high-top fade and leaning towards the camera, lowering and raising his sunglasses.
During the shooting of the video, Shakur was engaged in an argument with someone, who was heard telling him "You'll get shot." His armed bodyguard ensured that he had nothing to worry about. Shakur had also broken up a fight his friend Muta had gotten into during the filming, and fired a production assistant on set. The assistant was answering Shakur's pager and returning his personal calls without his consent. Some of those calls were to women who became either confused or angry that a female assistant was answering Shakur's calls. The assistant had even mistakenly lost the pager, but by the time she found it Shakur had grown wary of her, so he fired her.
Like the song, the video for "Hit 'Em Up" has also been called "infamous". It surpassed the song and video for "New York, New York" in popularity, which was a pro-West Coast track by Tha Dogg Pound whose video featured the members crushing buildings in Manhattan. The music video for "Hit 'Em Up" can be found on Tupac: Live at the House of Blues DVD.
After hearing "Hit 'Em Up" Biggie continued proclaiming his innocence in the shooting incident. He also remarked that the song "Who Shot Ya?" was written before Shakur was shot and thus, was not about him. Regarding the lyrics aimed at his wife Faith, Biggie expressed an inability to find merit in what Shakur had claimed. He believed that Shakur intended to attack him through Faith, although he remained unsure of whether or not an encounter between them had occurred. Ultimately, he thought that if something had occurred it was none of his business, and that Shakur should not have publicly disclosed this information in a song. Biggie did respond to this matter in a similar fashion, rapping in a joint release by himself and Jay-Z in the song "Brooklyn's Finest", where he says "If Faye have twins, she'd probably have two Pacs. Get it? Tupac's?" Shortly after the release of "Hit 'Em Up", Evans went on the radio, denying that she had been with Shakur.
From other artists
Puffy had trouble understanding the sheer rage Shakur had expressed for Biggie in "Hit 'Em Up". He also responded by reinforcing his and Biggie's innocence regarding the shooting and went on to say that prior to the incident they "were friends", and that they "would have never done nothing to hurt him." In an interview with Vibe Magazine concerning Shakur's allegations of Biggie and Puffy having prior knowledge of the ambush, Puffy stated:
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 he 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.
Lil' Kim responded on her song "Big Momma Thang", which was aimed at Biggie's wife, Faith Evans, and Tupac Shakur. The track was altered for Lil' Kim's debut album, after Shakur's death. Lil' Cease had said after the release that Biggie still had love for him, and even respected Shakur. The attack on Prodigy came as a surprise to him, and together with the rest of Mobb Deep they responded to 2Pac and Death Row with the track "Drop a Gem on 'em". It was first released as a promotional single, and later appeared on their album Hell on Earth. Lyrically, it did not specifically name Shakur, but it did allude to the shooting incident. It has also been noted for erroneously stating the amount of money the jewellery was worth that Shakur had taken from him during the shooting incident.
"Hit 'Em Up" has been called "controversial," "infamous," "disturbing," and "brutal." Shakur's insults against virtually the entire East Coast scene of rappers were said to be ferocious, and it has been viewed as one of Shakur's songs that resonated with and was spoken of the most by young people, the other being "Dear Mama." XXL magazine has slated it as the greatest diss song of all time. Some felt that "Hit 'Em Up" showcased Shakur ranting and raving like a fool, and J.R. Reynolds of Billboard called it horrendous, noting that Shakur revealed his true colors upon recording the song. He also went on to say that although sympathetic to the shooting, "Hit 'Em Up" had "fan(ned) the flames of hatred.. ..and affects an entire black culture's psyche"; he called the song "repugnant and unacceptable." Among associates of Shakur, it had been called a "bad-luck song." Los Angeles radio director Bruce St. James called the song "the be-all, end-all, curse-word, dirty-lyric, violent song of all time." The Game's manager has called it the best diss record. Documentary filmmaker Carl Weston believed that "most people in Biggie's shoes would have wanted to at least hurt Tupac" in a Spin magazine interview.
Among musicians, the song drew criticism from singer Dionne Warwick, and disapproval from Kool Moe Dee and Chuck D, who felt that although Shakur was one of the most substantive rappers of that period, he had gone too far with "Hit 'Em Up." It also may have caused some of Shakur's fans to turn on him.
In retrospect of the events which ensued only a few months afterward, the song has been viewed as the turning point in the feud between Shakur and Biggie, where things were said and sung which could never be taken back during the remainder of Shakur's life. This has led to it being dubbed as the beginning of the war between the East Coast and the West Coast, and the centerpiece in what became the most venomous battle in rap history. Shakur and the Death Row crew attended a boxing match in Las Vegas, where he was murdered in 1996. Discussions began as to the cause, and as to whether "Hit 'Em Up" may have angered Biggie enough to the point of desiring to kill Shakur.
In 2002, Chuck Philips, the LA Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter's two-part series, "Who Killed Tupac Shakur?," based on a yearlong investigation reconstructing Tupac's death reported that the Crips' Orlando Anderson pulled the trigger that killed Shakur and Biggie helped pay for the gun. Although Biggie's family produced computerized receipts to show that Biggie was in the studio at the time of the murder, The New York Times called the evidence "inconclusive" noting:
The pages purport to be three computer printouts from Daddy's House, indicating that Wallace was in the studio recording a song called Nasty Boy on the afternoon Shakur was shot. They indicate that Wallace wrote half the session, was In and out/sat around and laid down a ref, shorthand for a reference vocal, the equivalent of a first take.But nothing indicates when the documents were created. And Louis Alfred, the recording engineer listed on the sheets, said in an interview that he remembered recording the song with Wallace in a late-night session, not during the day. He could not recall the date of the session but said it was likely not the night Shakur was shot. We would have heard about it, Mr. Alfred said."
Philips' article was based on police affidavits and court documents as well as interviews with investigators, witnesses to the crime and members of the Southside Crips who had never before discussed the killing outside the gang. As Assistant Managing Editor of the LA Times Mark Duvoisin wrote: "Philips' story has withstood all challenges to its accuracy, ...[and] remains the definitive account of the Shakur slaying."
"Hit 'Em Up" has been studied by academics, and it has been used as a part of a series of lessons for building the means to communicate with younger people. Its main role in these lessons is to define anger in rap music. The truth of the allegations from Tupac will never be known. Popular belief is that Faith did have an affair with the rapper, and it was later stated by some accounts that she was seen sitting on Tupac's lap prior to the release of the "Hit 'Em Up" song. Biggie was shot and killed six months later after Shakur's death.
- How Do U Want It - original single features this song on a B-side.
- Greatest Hits
- Nu-Mixx Klazzics - features a remix of the song, with the intro lyrics from the originally explicit version and the main lyrics from the edited radio version.
- Tupac: Live at the House of Blues - live
- Death Row Greatest Hits
- 2Pac Live - live
Remixes and samples
- "Quitter" by Eminem - the second half of the song is a remake of "Hit 'Em Up" and in itself is a diss track aimed towards Everlast. Eminem has support from D12 on his version like the Outlawz supported Shakur on the original.
- "Hit 'Em Up" by Khia - the beat and part of the hook in her diss to female rappers Trina and Jacki-O.
- "What I Think About You" by Bow Wow - reinterpolation of "Hit 'Em Up" and diss song to fellow rapper Soulja Boy Tell 'em
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