Hit 'Em Up
|"Hit 'Em Up"|
1996 bootleg release
|song by 2Pac featuring Outlawz and Prince Ital Joe|
|Released||June 4, 1996|
|Format||12-inch single, 45 RPM, CD|
|A-side||"How Do U Want It"|
|Recorded||May 1996 in Los Angeles, California at Can Am Studios|
|Genre||Hardcore hip hop, Gangsta rap|
|Label||Death Row, Interscope|
|Writer(s)||Tupac Shakur, The Outlawz|
"Hit 'Em Up" is a diss song by rap artist Tupac Shakur (2Pac), 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, chief among them, Shakur's former friend turned rival, The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls. The song was recorded in Los Angeles, California at Can Am Studios in May 1996. Reporter Chuck Philips, who interviewed Shakur at Can Am, described the song as "a caustic anti-East Coast jihad in which the rapper threatens to eliminate Biggie, Sean Combs (Puffy), and a slew of Bad Boy artists and other New York acts." The song was produced by long-time collaborator Johnny "J" and samples the bassline from "Don't Look Any Further" by Dennis Edwards and interpolates "Get Money" by Biggie Smalls group Junior M.A.F.I.A., which used the Dennis Edwards sample as well. The video, itself described as infamous, includes impersonations of Biggie, Puffy and Lil' Kim.
"Hit 'Em Up" had a large role 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.
The song is widely considered by the American hip hop community as one of the greatest "diss tracks" ever recorded due to its explicit lyrical content and the seriousness of violent intent by Shakur and his colleagues towards their competitors.
"Hit 'Em Up" was written and recorded in Can Am Studios in Los Angeles, California in May 1996. For the song, Shakur recruited the members of the former group Dramacydal whom he had worked with previously, and was eager to work with again. Together, the rappers (along with other associates) formed the original lineup of the Outlawz. The first and third verses are performed by Shakur, while the second verse is performed by Hussein Fatal, the fourth by Yaki Kadafi and the fifth by E.D.I. Mean.
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 explained that Shakur was initially fueled by his anger against Biggie and Bad Boy Records for the belief that they had a role in the November 30, 1994 ambush and attack on Shakur. He claimed that Biggie and his crew knew of his shooting and wanted him dead. Shakur used this fury, which Johnny "J" described as "superhuman", to attack Biggie and other East Coast rappers. Johnny "J" also stated that he had never seen Shakur so angry and that the words he rapped were in no way an act, describing the recording process as 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, Johnny "J" went on to say that he had no desire to work on anything of that magnitude again.
Shakur was also enraged by Biggie's release of "Who Shot Ya?" provocatively only months after the shooting incident, and although it did not mention Shakur's name, he believed it was directed towards him, but it was not. Shakur admitted to releasing "Hit 'Em Up" as a response to "Who Shot Ya?" In a Vibe interview, the rapper called out Sean “Puffy” Combs and Biggie Smalls and accused both of them for setting him up, or obtaining knowledge of the attack, and not cautioning him. He also singled out business men James Rosemond ("Jimmy Henchman"), and Jacques Agnant ("Haitian Jack") of orchestrating the assault. Shakur announced the names of his ostensible conspirators to Kevin Powell, a journalist for Vibe; however, to mask their true identities, Vibe referred to Henchman as “Booker,” and Jack as “Nigel” in the published interview. Persons familiar with the interview say they used different names after the magazine received threats from Henchman. A former Vibe editor denied receiving threats, but neglected to explain why the magazine substituted aliases for Henchman and Haitian Jack.
Henchman promised Shakur $7,000 to duo with Lil Shawn, a rapper whom the business man represented at that time. In a 2008 article by Philips, Henchman was implicated in organizing the assault, and in 2012 by his long-time friend Dexter Isaac, who confessed to attacking Shakur on Henchman's orders. He was confirmed as a source for Philip's earlier story and in Henchman's own confession according to prosecutors at his 2012 trial.
The lyrics in "Hit 'Em Up" were aimed primarily at Biggie and Puffy. 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. Towards the end of the song Tupac disses Mobb Deep, saying "Don't one of you niggas got sickle cell or something? You fucking with me, nigga you fuck around and get a seizure or a heart attack", referring to Prodigy, a member of Mobb Deep, suffering from sickle cell disease. Mobb Deep responded by releasing Drop a Gem on 'Em, which was released shortly after Tupac's death, however recorded before. "Hit 'Em Up" features much profanity and was issued a Parental Advisory label, using the word "fuck" and "motherfucker" over 35 times in the song.
The bassline in "Hit 'Em Up" is taken from the 1984 Dennis Edwards song "Don't Look Any Further". The chorus of "Hit 'Em Up" is a play on the chorus of Junior M.A.F.I.A's "Player's Anthem." 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". Faith Evans, who at the time was Biggie's estranged wife, was reportedly seen with Shakur after a public breakup with Biggie. Journalist Chuck Philips spotted Faith Evans at Can Am when he interviewed Shakur 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 would appear on “Hit Em Up.” In his October 1995 interview of the rapper, Philips remembered in 2012, "I was so unaware of the bi-coastal rap war that I suspected nothing when Faith Evans appeared with Shakur at Can Am. The estranged wife of Biggie was recording background vocals for "Wonder Why They Call U Bitch", a song which was at the time yet to be released. 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 song's 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 and Junior M.A.F.I.A. 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 were getting into. Bronx rapper Chino XL was also insulted for vulgar comments he made about Shakur on his song "Riiiot!". In the original recording, Shakur also insulted Jay Z at the ending segment, but removed it after being convinced by Outlawz members that Carter had nothing to do with the conflict between Death Row and Bad Boy. After Jay Z's debut album (which featured Biggie on "Brooklyn's Finest") was subsequently released after "Hit 'Em up", Shakur included Jay Z amongst the many other East Coast rappers to be insulted in his next studio album.
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, the Biggie impersonator 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 assured him that he had nothing to worry about. He also broke up a fight involving his friend Muta 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. Many callers were confused or angry that a female assistant was answering Shakur's calls. The assistant had mistakenly lost the pager, and with Shakur already growing wary of her, fired her for that reason.
Like the song, the video for "Hit 'Em Up" has also been called "infamous". The pro-West Coast track's music video featured the members crushing buildings in Manhattan, which was already done in another pro-West Coast music video for "New York, New York" by Tha Dogg Pound earlier. The music video for "Hit 'Em Up" can be found on Tupac: Live at the House of Blues DVD.
Release and reception
Upon finishing the recording of the song, Shakur felt very positively about the track, saying the "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 Shakur 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's 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)".
"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. The song, along with "Dear Mama," has been viewed as one of Shakur's songs that resonated with and was spoken of the most by young people. 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 affect[ed] an entire black culture's psyche"; he called the song "repugnant and unacceptable." Among associates of Shakur, it was 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" [sic]. 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 fellow rappers Kool Moe Dee and Chuck D, as written in their book There's a God on the Mic: The True 50 Greatest MCs. They felt that although Shakur was one of the most substantive rappers of that period, he had gone too far with "Hit 'Em Up," causing some of Shakur's fans to turn on him, according to the two rappers.
Shakur and the Death Row crew attended a boxing match in Las Vegas, where he was murdered in 1996.  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.
In 2002, Chuck Philips 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:
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 and with 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. Biggie was shot and killed six months after Shakur's death.
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 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 responded to this matter in a similar fashion to "Hit 'Em Up", 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 and denied 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 the original version of her song "Big Momma Thang", which was aimed at Biggie's wife, Faith Evans, and Shakur. Junior M.A.F.I.A. recorded a music video for the song "Get Money", which has been regarded as a diss to Shakur. Biggie denies these claims, stating: "It's just a video; ain't nobody got no time to make no diss on nobody." Lil' Cease said after the release that Biggie still had love for Shakur, and even respected him. The attack on Mobb Deep came as a response for their involvement on the song "L.A L.A" by Capone-N-Noreaga, which was a retaliation to Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound's song "New York, New York" music video in which members of Tha Dogg Pound and Death Row are seen knocking down buildings in New York City. Mobb Deep responded to Shakur 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 cost of the assets Shakur had taken from him during the shooting incident. Bronx rapper King Sun also responded to Shakur with "New York Love (All Eyez On Sun)".
"Hit 'Em Up" was originally featured as a B-side on Shakur's single "How Do U Want It". In 1998, it was released on Shakur's first compilation album, Greatest Hits. A remix of the song was featured on Nu-Mixx Klazzics (2003), where the intro lyrics from the originally explicit version and the main lyrics from the edited radio version. A live version of the song was included on the 2005 release of Tupac: Live at the House of Blues. "Hit 'Em Up" was first released on Death Row Greatest Hits, and was again released as a live recording on the 2004 album 2Pac Live.
In the second half of Eminem's song "Quitter", the rapper attempts to remake "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. Khia used the song's beat and part of the hook in her song "Hit 'Em Up" , which is a diss to female rappers Trina and Jacki-O. "What I Think About You" by Bow Wow uses a reinterpolation of "Hit 'Em Up" and is a diss song to fellow rapper Soulja Boy Tell 'em.
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