2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up” Lyrics Meaning

The classic 2Pac and Outlawz song “Hit ‘Em Up” has been called “the most savage diss track ever” and for good reason. Rap music, as we all know, is a genre in which popular artists tend to have beef with each other. Up until the release of “Hit ‘Em Up”, when those tiffs did make it onto record they were relegated to concealed insults or focused on the lyrical ability of those involved. But Tupac not only got extremely personal on this track but also dissed his enemies by name and threatened to murder them. This is also the quintessential track when it comes to the ‘East Coast vs. West Coast’ beef which dominated popular rap music in the mid-1990s.

Origin of Feud

To help put things into context, Tupac had the worst experiences on the east coast (i.e. New York) than any rapper from the west coast (i.e. those who are California-based). In 1993 he was accused of assault in Manhattan, a crime which sent him to prison in February 1995 to serve a 2-4 year sentence (ultimately he only did 9 months). Shortly before this, in November 1994, Tupac was shot five times during a robbery (which he alleged was in actuality an assassination attempt), again while in Manhattan. In fact Shakur famously attended court the next day, right after he was shot, to receive the verdict in the assault case. 

And the reason he was able to leave prison before serving his full term was because Suge Knight, the infamous head of Los Angeles-based Death Row Records (and a well-known criminal himself) bailed him out at a whopping $1.4 million and then signed him to his label. And just two months before he had done so, Suge had publicly sparked beef with his East Coast counterpart, the CEO of Bad Boy Records, Sean “Puffy” Combs. Thus like Pac, who believed Puffy was involved in his shooting, Knight also had a tiff with Puffy. And these are some of the significant factors which led to Tupac, who was actually born in Manhattan, being fully recognized as a West Coast artist, considering that Death Row Records were the epitome of the California sound. In fact at the time, Death Row was the most popular hip-hop label from the West and Bad Boys from the East.

Insult to Injury

 Additionally Tupac believed that one of his homeys and fellow co-defendants – so to speak – in the assault case had ‘snitched’ on him. And this individual was also based in New York. Moreover as stated earlier, Pac believed that Puffy in addition to his top artist, the Notorious B.I.G., were amongst other notable East Coast personalities who had a hand in setting him up to be robbed. And let’s just say that Shakur was not the forgiving type. So in the end, he didn’t harbor any ill will towards the East Coast per se, even being allied with a few East Coast rappers, despite giving the impression that such was so. But he did definitely and vociferously hate the aforementioned individuals who were from that part of the country, even to the death.

Birth of “Hit ‘Em Up”

The above gave birth to the song “Hit ‘Em Up”, the ultimate expression of this animosity. Tupac represented the “Westside” and recruited his underlings, the Outlawz, to serve as support on what can properly be described as a hate track as opposed to a diss song. That’s our way of saying that this tune is specifically designed to attack Bad Boys Records & co. And “Hit ‘Em Up” was meant to actually hit them where it hurts.

For instance, the song utilizes a sample from a popular Bad Boy Records’ tune entitled “Get Money” (1995) and modifies the chorus of another, “Player’s Anthem” (1995), to mock Biggie, Puff and their associates. In other words, Pac and the gang used famous Bad Boy songs to diss Bad Boy.

But more to the point is the lyrical content of “Hit ‘Em Up”. Take for instance, that from the onset Tupac refers to he and his cohorts as “Bad Boy killers”. Then the first verse is based on him launching one of the most-famous tirades in rap music history in which, amongst other things, he claims to have slept with Biggie’s wife and drags basically every other Bad Boy artist (even a female, Lil Kim) into the fray.  And for the most part, he insinuates that he intends to murder them. Indeed the title, “Hit ‘Em Up”, is actually a colloquialism pointing to the idea of an intended target being sprayed with bullets.

What set 2Pac off!

And outside of the extensive history of the situation as summarized above, what really set Tupac off is a track B.I.G. dropped in early 1995 entitled “Who Shot Ya?” 

More specifically, on that particular song Notorious drops some lyrics which can be interpreted as him making fun of Tupac getting shot. Furthermore, the song also finds him insinuating that he and Bad Boy Records were “behind” the shooting. And Tupac actually references this song on the chorus of “Hit ‘Em Up”. But he does so within the context of telling his assailants that they made a big mistake by not ‘finishing’ him off when they had the opportunity.

Lyrics of "Hit 'Em Up"

Outlawz step in

Later Tupac introduces his “little homies”, i.e. the Outlawz, stating that he as the boss man of the clique doesn’t even need to confront the weak “Bad Boy [expletive]” himself. This leads to Hussein Fatal, one of the members of the crew, joining the occasion. And basically his verse is centered on dissing B.I.G. and Junior M.A.F.I.A., who were also Bad Boy artists and Notorious’ sidekicks.

2Pac’s Savage Second Verse

Tupac then returns with a second verse, as is standard when he collaborates with the Outlawz. This time he gets a lot more specific in alluding to the idea of actually murdering his aforementioned rivals. He once again brings up the notion that he’s more a man than these adversaries, specifically due to successfully overcoming imprisonment and jumping right back into the music industry. It is in this section also when he drops one of the most-notable disses, as for the first time he actually references he and Biggie’s former friendship. And in that regard, Pac is basically saying that he took care of B.I.G. when Notorious was going through personal (i.e. financial) issues. He also states that Biggie, the artist who made extreme materialism a mainstay in rap music, has‘copied his style’ due to B.I.G. referencing brands like “Versace” in his songs. FYI, Tupac himself once had a personal relationship with fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Outlawz take over again

Then comes two other members of the Outlawz, respectively Yaki Kadafi and E.D.I. Mean. And they faithfully stick to the theme of verbally thrashing and threatening Bad Boy artists. At this point of the song it becomes clear that, from the Outlawz’ perspective, this isn’t so much about attacking Bad Boy or East Coast vs. West Coast as it is defending Tupac, whom they feel Biggie Smalls and co. unjustifiably targeted.

Pac’s Vicious Monologue in “Hit ‘Em Up”

The track ultimately concludes with Pac giving an extended monologue. And we’re sure you already know what it is based on. But he also mentions some other East Coast (i.e. New York) rappers outside of Bad Boy who offended him, such as Mobb Deep and Chino XL. In fact he even calls out one member of Mobb Deep for having “sickle cell” anemia in real life, showing how personal this track really is. Indeed during the course of it all Tupac actually gets quite emotional, and you can detect the genuine anger in his speech.

Conclusion

This all concludes with him one again exclaiming that he and the Outlawz are “Bad Boy killer”. In fact such probably would have been a more-appropriate name for this song than “Hit ‘Em Up”. And why do we say so? Because as the track progresses, leading to its conclusion, Tupac’s main desire to murder the members of Bad Boy Records becomes more palpable and explicit, despite bringing others into the beef also.

Music Video

One of the reasons “Hit ‘Em Up” blew up when it was released was not only due to its controversial lyrics but also its equally-powerful music video, which was actually state-of-the-art at the time. And it also features impersonators of Bad Boy artists Biggie Smalls, Puff Daddy and Lil Kim.

The filming of the video itself was reportedly filled with its own beefs between various individuals involved in the project.

 Release Date of “Hit ‘Em Up”  

Death Row Records and Interscope Records released “Hit ‘Em Up” as the B-side to Tupac’s track “How Do U Want It” on 4 June 1996. Since its original release, “Hit ‘Em Up” has also been featured on a number of Tupac-related compilation projects.

2Pac dies shortly after the release of “Hit ‘Em Up”

Strangely enough, Tupac Shakur met his untimely demise on 13 September 1996, just three months after this song came out.

And Yaki Kadafi, one of the Outlawz featured on “Hit ‘Em Up”, would also be (accidently) slain shortly thereafter, on 10 November 1996.

Another of the Outlawz on this song, Hussein Fatal, also passed away prematurely, albeit from a car crash in 2015.

The other member of the Outlawz featured on “Hit ‘Em Up” is E.D.I. Mean. As of 2019, Mean still remains active musically (some 20+ years after the release of this song).

Outlawz officially began using the name “Outlawz” on this track

Although the Outlawz functioned as a group named Dramacydal before the release of this track, “Hit ‘Em Up” is actually the first song in which they officially adopted the “Outlawz” moniker.

Mobb Deep almost retaliated

Of all the various artists Tupac dissed on hit songs in the short time between his release from prison in October 1995 and his murder in September 1996, one of the few who were prepared to retaliate directly were Mobb Deep. Later in 2017, one half of the duo, Prodigy, actually died from health complications related to the sickle cell anemia Tupac made fun of on this track. He also stated in regards to “Hit ‘Em Up” that he “never had any beef with Tupac” and was caught off-guard by his disses, especially the personal nature of them.

Writing and Production Credits

 “Hit ‘Em Up” was produced and co-written by Johnny J (1969-2008).

The other co-writers are the lyricists contained therein:

  • 2Pac
  • E.D.I. Mean
  • Hussein Fatal
  • Yaki Kadafi

Prior to his death, Johnny J revealed that Tupac’s rage in this song was very much genuine.

Does “Hit ‘Em Up” contain any samples?

Yes. As aforementioned, this song samples a Junior M.A.F.I.A. track entitled “Get Money”. But more specifically, both “Get Money” and “Hit ‘Em Up” derive their bassline from a classic African-American party song entitled “Don’t Look Any Further” (1984) by Dennis Edwards.

In “Hit ‘Em Up”, 2Pac talks about sleeping with B.I.G.’s wife. Who was he talking about?  

Apparently Pac was talking about singer Faith Evans. At the time of the making of the song, Bad Boy artist, Faith Evans, was married to yet estranged from the Notorious B.I.G. And even though Tupac never drops her name directly, this is who he refers to when he states that he slept with Biggie’s wife.  Moreover it is apparently a little-known fact that she provides background vocals on “Hit ‘Em Up”, albeit not being aware of the track’s intended purpose at the time. That being said, throughout the years Evans has faithfully proclaimed that she never slept with Tupac, although he did try to get some.

Sean Combs (also known as Puff Daddy) talks about the Beef

In 1996, Sean “Puffy” Combs went on to express that the real reason Tupac was accusing Bad Boy Records of setting him up was because he was afraid to confront the guys who actually did so.  Moreover Puffy even went on to refer to Tupac during the interview as a “nice, good-hearted guy”.

What caused the Feud between Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.?

Hip hop in America reached its maximum height in the 90s when rappers like Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Nas, Lauren Hill, and Busta Rhymes sprung onto the stage. However, the most popular during this period were Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G who always stole the show and were constantly in the news. These two dominated the hip hop terrain, especially between 1994 and 1997. These greats were once the best of buddies. However, their relationship later deteriorated and things went really bad between them.

We’ll like to take a look at how the once great hip hop stars went from friends to bitter rivals. For the sake of easy reading, we’ll like to refer to Tupac as Pac and Notorious B.I.G. as Biggie.

How they met

It is not clear how these two met for the first time, though there have been suggestions that Pac granted Biggie his wish and invited him to a party in his house in 1993. Other hip hop analysts have also argued that Biggie, who was then an upcoming artist, was honored to hear a superstar like Pac playing his ‘Party and Bullsh—“ s ong and decided to get close to him. Whichever way, there is no doubt that these two rappers became friends.

Their friendship grew to the point that Biggie could spend some time at Pac’s Los Angeles home anytime he visited the city. It was rumored that Pac also sent bottles of drink to Biggie and offered him some career advice. Seeing Pac as his idol, Biggie later suggested that Pac take over from Puff who was then his manager. However, Pac declined the offer and asked Biggie to “stay with Puff”. Pac reportedly believed Puff could turn Biggie into a star, which is why he gave that advice to him.

Shooting at Times Square

This was the beginning of the end of the friendship of these rap superstars. On November 30, 1994, a group of unknown thugs attacked Pac at the Quad Recording Studio in Times Square, New York. Pac was shot five times and was robbed of his jewelry and other materials. During this period, Pac had been accused of abusing a woman and was standing trial. He had the impression that the act was pre-planned and suspected people from within who invited him to the studio. Pac was convinced that the incident was masterminded by Biggie after he realized that the latter was in the building with Puff, and that was where things changed for the worse.

Pac is Guilty

Pac was eventually found guilty of sensual abuse, and with his inability to pay the $3 million bail, he was sentenced to a year and a half in prison. While Pac was still behind bars, Biggie released a song titled, “Who Shot Ya”, which was seen as a diss song aimed at Pac. Though Biggie explained to the world over and over again that the song wasn’t meant for his friend, the lyrics suggested otherwise. This really got to Pac and he vowed to bring down Biggie and his Bad Boy record label.

After serving his jail sentence, Pac came back for his revenge. He accused Biggie of his misfortunes and recorded songs threatening Biggie and his record label. He held the view that Biggie had no style but was only emulating his. Pac further claimed that he had an affair with Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans. This didn’t help matters and the relationship went really bad.

Murder of the Rappers

The tension between the two rappers grew and both adopted the ‘gangstar’ life. The rivalry didn’t end on the music stage as both parties lived in fear. On September 7, 1996, the world was stunned after the news broke that Pac has been murdered in a drive-by shooting. Though the killers were unknown, Biggie was the prime suspect considering how things developed between them. However, his wife, Faith, condemned that notion and said: “I remember Big calling me and crying.”

A year later, Biggie was also murdered in the same manner.

Effect of the rivalry

The feud between these superstars had a negative impact on hip hop. This drift deepened the East and West Coasts war. Though these two weren’t the originators of the rivalry, it is believed that their continuous misunderstanding was the peak of the conflict. Biggie was then on the New York-based Bad Boy label. Pac, on the other hand, was signed onto Death Row label which was located in Los Angeles. This rivalry continued even after the death of the rappers and has become one of the notable rivalries in the music industry.

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