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Label: Death Row/Interscope
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“Hit ‘Em Up” is a diss song by hip hop artist 2Pac featuring the Outlawz, a group associated with him. It is the B-side to the single “How Do U Want It”, released on June 4, 1996. 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 crusade 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 “10% Dis” by MC Lyte, “Get Money” by The Notorious B.I.G.’s 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 M.A.F.I.A. member 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 in a drive-by-shooting 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 at Can-Am studios in May 1996. For the song, Tupac 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 directly involve Shakur’s name, he believed it was directed towards him. 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 of setting him up, or of having knowledge of the attack and not warning him. He also singled out businessmen 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.
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