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”.

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