Slow Burn

What’s Beef?

Read a transcript of Slow Burn: Season 3, Episode 3.

This is a transcript of Episode 3 of Season 3 of Slow Burn. Listen in the player below, or subscribe here.

This podcast has language that some people might find offensive.

Previously on Slow Burn: Tupac Shakur is becoming a superstar in music and film. Meanwhile, his life is coming apart.

On Nov. 30, 1994…

REPORTER: In NYC, rap singer Tupac Shakur is listed in serious but stable condition tonight. He was shot 5 times, apparently in a random robbery last night.

Unknown gunmen attacked Tupac in the lobby of Quad Studios, where his friend Biggie Smalls was recording.

The next day, Tupac was found guilty of sexual abuse, and soon after that he was taken to Rikers Island to await sentencing.

The songs that made Notorious B.I.G. famous were the ones he didn’t even want to record.

NASHIEM MYRICK: Big didn’t even like “Big Poppa.” Or “Juicy.”

Here’s producer Nashiem Myrick.

NASHIEM MYRICK: You know how long it took him to do “Big Poppa?” That’s the last joint I think he did for that album.

“Juicy” and “Big Poppa” were the first singles off of Biggie’s first album, Ready to Die. These were the songs that got the heavyset 22-year-old Christopher Wallace on MTV. While “Juicy” was a hit, it was “Big Poppa” that reached number one on the rap charts. The infectious hooks brought listeners in. What won them over was the warmth in Biggie’s voice, a sound that made him both relatable and totally unique.

“Big Poppa”—The Notorious B.I.G.

[From “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G.]

To all the ladies in the place

With style and grace

Allow me to lace these lyrical douches

In your bushes

But the teddy-bear image that came through in those songs wasn’t the whole story. Biggie had started dealing drugs as a 13-year-old, dropped out of school at 16, and spent a few years hustling in his hometown of Brooklyn and in Raleigh, North Carolina. When he rapped about that life, he was speaking from experience.

Here’s Cheo Hodari Coker, who wrote the Biggie biography Unbelievable.

CHEO HODARI COKER: He had a certain charisma in the streets. I mean, he had he had a look about himself and he had a way about himself that he had true street cred, you know. That’s why Biggie talks about the struggle, because it’s like you make just enough money to do some, basically, silly shit. But then you, you’re still out there getting robbed. You’re still out there with your life on the line.

In 1992, Biggie got written up in the “Unsigned Hype” column of The Source, one of the early, influential hip-hop magazines.

That brought Biggie’s demo tape to the attention of Sean “Puffy” Combs.

When Matteo Capoluongo played the tape for Puffy, he remembers, the hip-hop mogul had one question.

MATTEO CAPOLUONGO (MATTY C): My recollection immediately after playing it is him asking me about how he looks.

Capoluongo is better known as Matty C. He wrote the “Unsigned Hype” column.

MATTEO CAPOLUONGO (MATTY C): It’s a good sign! You know what I mean? He was excited, like, and everybody knew he was the fashion guy. That’s what Puff did. He took an artist and he put the right outfit on him and, you know, that style. So he wanted to know what he was working with. And he just he’s gotta know how he looks. He keeps pressing me. “Is he fat?” “Yeah, he’s fat.” “Is he like Fat Boys fat or Heavy D fat?” And I’m like, “Something in between, maybe.’’

Puffy saw Biggie as an updated version of Heavy D: a lovable, plus-sized womanizer.

“Big Poppa”—The Notorious B.I.G.

[From “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G.]

Why blow up my spot ‘cause we both got hot?

Now check it: I got more mack than Craig, and in the bed

Believe me, sweetie, I got enough to feed the needy

Puffy was every bit the star that his artists were. He’d appeared in music videos and in an ad campaign for fashion designer Karl Kani. Hip hop writer Scott Poulson-Bryant wrote that Puffy was “his own best logo.” Puffy signed Biggie twice—first to Uptown Records, and then, later, to his own label, Bad Boy, which put out Biggie’s biggest hits.

“Juicy” was a rags-to-riches story. “Big Poppa” was mostly about the riches.

Biggie liked that those songs, and their videos, got him noticed. But he wasn’t totally sold on the image they created for him.

He wanted to make a different kind of music. Music that sounded like what Nashiem Myrick was cooking up.

Myrick was a community college dropout from Queens. He was working as an engineer in Puff’s studio when he made his first beat.

NASHIEM MYRICK: And then once Big heard it, he was like, “Oh my God. No brainer.”

Myrick’s beat wasn’t lush and funky like Biggie’s hits. It was tense and sparse, like a film noir soundtrack.

“Who Shot Ya?”—The Notorious B.I.G.

[From “Who Shot Ya? by the Notorious B.I.G.]

Now turn my mics

Turn that mic up

The beat is knockin, I need that mic up, though

Biggie still thought of himself as a street hustler, and he wrote verses for Myrick’s track that reflected where he’d come from, and what he’d been through.

Big and Myrick’s collaboration was called “Who Shot Ya?” It was released late February 1995, as a B-side to “Big Poppa.”

“Who Shot Ya?”—The Notorious B.I.G.

[From “Who Shot Ya? by the Notorious B.I.G.]

Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete

Hard to creep them Brooklyn streets

It’s on, nigga, fuck all that bickering beef.

The story Biggie tells in “Who Shot Ya?” is simple and brutal. Someone’s out to get him, but Biggie gets the drop on his foe.

“Who Shot Ya?”—The Notorious B.I.G.

[From “Who Shot Ya? by the Notorious B.I.G.]

Niggas wanna creep, gotta watch my back

Think the Cognac and indo sack make me slack?

I switches all that, cocksucker G’s up

One false move, get Swiss cheesed up

The song ends with a violent skit:

“Who Shot Ya?”—The Notorious B.I.G.

[From “Who Shot Ya? by the Notorious B.I.G.]

Can’t talk with a gun in your mouth, huh? Bitch-ass nigga, what? [gunshots]​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Who shot ya?

“Who Shot Ya?” was an instant classic, and it showed the rap world that Biggie wasn’t just a good-natured player.

NASHIEM MYRICK: He had a lot of commercial stuff out. I mean, to the public if you didn’t get the album, you knew Big for the radio joints. You didn’t really know him for what he’s meant to do. Like what he loved to do, what he does. Then “Who Shot Ya” comes out as a single. Radio picks up on that and it’s hard as hell. It’s the hardest joint on radio.

It also thrust Biggie and his crew into the middle of a conflict they wanted no part of.

“Who Shot Ya?” came out a few months after Tupac was shot by unknown assailants in the lobby of Quad Studios.

Tupac was incarcerated, hurt, and suspicious. He already wondered if Biggie and Puffy knew who’d attacked him — or if they might have been involved.

Now Biggie was putting out a song called “Who Shot Ya?” in which he cast himself as a gunman.

How did Biggie and Tupac communicate—and miscommunicate—after the Quad shooting? How did the hip-hop world organize itself around a cross-country turf war? And when Tupac got out of prison, was it too late to turn things around?

This is Slow Burn. I’m your host, Joel Anderson, and this is episode 3: What’s Beef?

So, was “Who Shot Ya?” really directed at Tupac? Nashiem Myrick, who worked on it with Biggie, says no.

NASHIEM MYRICK: It’s like, why didn’t we see that? We wasn’t even paying attention to that. It’s like no way in the world they would mistake that. You know? We have no reason, no motive, at all, to have set Pac up. Where’s the motive? What’s the issue? 

But Tupac couldn’t be sure.

That’s how beefs tend to escalate: with a series of ambiguous provocations.

When Tupac was being carried out of Quad Studios on a stretcher, he’d stuck up his middle finger.

Biggie’s childhood friend Chico Del Vec was there that night. He says Biggie thought that gesture was directed at him.

CHICO DEL VEC: Tupac gets off the elevator, on the hospital bed, they wheeling him out and he looking at us with his middle finger up like, “Fuck you niggas.” 

JOEL ANDERSON: To y’all?

CHICO DEL VEC: Right!

Tupac thought maybe “Who Shot Ya?” was Biggie’s response.

Not long before he heard “Who Shot Ya?” Tupac was angry about something else: a newspaper article that ran in New York’s Village Voice.

That article was by the journalist Touré. Touré argued that Tupac was a mediocre rapper but a master performance artist.

He’d watched Tupac in court, and he’d seen Tupac make his dramatic speech outside the courthouse, the one where he called Ayanna Jackson “a woman scorned.”

He described Tupac’s entire public life and persona—the multiple arrests, the violent assault at Quad Studios, the courtroom appearance in a wheelchair—as “dangerously compelling and ecstatically brilliant.”

That ongoing performance, Touré wrote, has “kept his lackluster professional work culturally relevant and commercially viable.”

Tupac read all this while he was locked up in Rikers Island, and he felt profoundly hurt.

Touré was calling him fake, and suggesting that his wild ups and downs were nothing but a front.

So Tupac called another writer, one he thought would be more sympathetic to his point of view.

KEVIN POWELL: I got the call that I was the only journalist that Tupac wanted to talk to, to tell the story. Because he trusted me.

That’s Kevin Powell. Powell was familiar with the idea of life as performance art. In 1992, he’d been a cast member on the first season of MTV’s The Real World.

On the show, Powell got slotted into the role of angry young black man. The following year, he met Tupac at a music conference.

KEVIN POWELL: Pac looked over at me and he smiled that smile, that big toothy grin he always had. And somehow we merged, and it was almost like there was no one else there. You know what I’m saying. And he said, “Man I watched you on MTV’s The Real World that first season. I had your back on that show, dog. I had your back on that show.’

Powell was working as a staff writer for Vibe, an ambitious magazine founded by Quincy Jones and bankrolled by Time Warner. At a time when most media outlets didn’t take hip hop seriously, Vibe and The Source allowed rappers to promote their work, establish their personas, and talk to their fans.

Powell had written a Vibe cover story about Tupac in 1994. The headline was: “Is Tupac Crazy? Or Just Misunderstood?”

That was still a live question a year later, when Powell went to visit Tupac in Rikers.

KEVIN POWELL: The moment that Tupac started talking, because he just started spitting stuff out. I remember is that we had edited out the piece but Tupac kept ending every sentence with “woopty woo, woopty woo” because he was nervous. And I remember him smoking cigarettes. I feel like he had to smoke cigarettes just to get through it because he knew he was downloading something very heavy.

Tupac told Powell that this was his last interview. He said, “If I get killed, I want people to have the real story.”

Tupac said that he was still in pain from the injuries he’d suffered in the Quad shooting, and that he was having nightmares. The message was clear: What he’d been through wasn’t a performance.
It was real.

But people who read Kevin Powell’s story didn’t focus on Tupac’s personal torment. Instead, they seized on something else Tupac said, something about the ambush at Quad Studios. Tupac told Powell that Biggie and Puffy might have had something to do with it.

Tupac described the night in vivid detail: the army fatigues his assailants wore, which made him think they were Biggie’s security guys. The way they kicked and stomped on him as though they were mad at him. How Puffy wouldn’t come near him afterward.

The story Tupac told was incendiary.

KEVIN POWELL: I think it was cathartic for him just to say these things. Do I think it was right for him to implicate Diddy and Biggie? No no no. And keep in mind, Biggie and Tupac were very, were friends. They were friends.

Why, in Tupac’s mind, would Biggie and Puffy have had it in for him? What was their motive? Maybe he thought Biggie was feeling competitive and saw Tupac as an obstacle to his success. Or maybe Tupac’s suspicion was born of jealousy. Biggie was on the rise, and Tupac felt he’d never gotten enough credit for mentoring him.

Or maybe Tupac never really thought they were involved, and he just wanted to start some highly visible trouble.

That’s what Nashiem Myrick thinks.

According to Myrick, Puffy visited Tupac in Rikers before the Vibe interview came out, specifically to tell Tupac that he and Biggie had nothing to do with the Quad shooting.

NASHIEM MYRICK: They told me, they went to the Island and told Pac Big had nothing to do with it. You know what I’m saying? And Pac had already did the Vibe joint, they said though. He already did it. He was like “Damn.” Pac was, like, “Damn, I just did that Vibe interview, though.” But Pac knew that Big had nothing to do with it. But you know, you want to make moves, not everything got to be real. Pac’s a smart dude. He used that to his advantage.

JOEL ANDERSON: You think it was hype?

NASHIEM MYRICK: Well it wasn’t true!

Tupac’s interview with Kevin Powell appeared on the cover of the April 1995 issue of Vibe. It came out around the same time that Tupac’s third album, Me Against the World, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

By that time Tupac had been moved to Clinton Correctional Facility, a cold and isolated maximum-security prison in far upstate New York. He was one of the biggest stars in the world. And he was broke, incarcerated, and publicly accusing his former friends of setting him up.

Vibe reached out to Puffy and Biggie for comment, but they declined to respond. Chico Del Vec remembers Biggie’s reaction.

CHICO DEL VEC: He was upset because he like, yo, he was being accused of something he ain’t do. And it was just thrown in his face and he know he ain’t have nothing to do with it. So he was just pissed off about the whole situation. Big was like, “You know what? This dude is not coming clean with us about anything. So what I’mma do is just stay away from it.” And Puff is like, “Yo, you know what? Let’s just do this music, man, and just, you know, stay focused.”

It became increasingly hard to focus on music, though. The whispers about Biggie and Puffy’s involvement in Tupac’s shooting never went away. And “Who Shot Ya?” clouded the picture.

Biggie and Puffy decided that they needed to defend themselves. In the August 1995 issue of Vibe, Biggie said he wasn’t involved in the Quad shooting, and that “Who Shot Ya” wasn’t about Tupac. He also told Vibe that the next time he saw Tupac, he wanted an apology.
Puffy said that Tupac “got a lot of people in a lot of bullshit with that interview.”

This back-and-forth wasn’t just about Biggie, Puffy, and Tupac. A personal beef was quickly turning into a regional one.

Little Shawn—the rapper that Tupac was supposed to record with that night at the Quad—had come up in Brooklyn. He told Vibe, “Niggas on the West Coast are saying, ‘Yo, tell that nigga Little Shawn to be careful. Cause niggas on the West Coast are calling his name.’”

Hip-hop had been born in New York, and rappers there had always looked down on rap scenes in other parts of the country.

Here’s Dan Charnas, who wrote for The Source and later worked for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label.

DAN CHARNAS: It wasn’t beef. It was essentially condescension from New York to the rest of the country – except maybe Philly – and resentment from everywhere else in the country towards New York. And in the offices of The Source and in the letters that came in to the editor, you could see a lot of that resentment. You could see a lot of the resentment of the condescension.

So people on the West Coast were sick of New York acting like it owned hip-hop.

One of those people was Marion “Suge” Knight, and he had decided to do something about it.

Knight was 6-foot-4 and more than 300 pounds. He’d been nicknamed “Suge” as a kid because of his sweet disposition.
But he’d changed as he’d grown up.

Suge got work as a bodyguard for popular musicians, which gave him a sense of all the money to be made in the music industry. He moved into management and publishing, using his connections and his intimidating presence to build a roster of artists.

His big move came in 1991, when he found out that the rapper and producer Dr. Dre was ready to quit N.W.A.

Using his talent for persuasion, Suge helped Dre get out of his recording contract, and together they founded Death Row Records.

The music Death Row put out was something new in rap: more violent, more graphic, more derivative of funk music, and ultimately, more popular.

“Let Me Ride”—Dr. Dre

[From “Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre]

It’s just that gangsta glare

With gangsta raps

That gangsta shit

Makes a gang of snaps

The label’s first two releases were Dre’s The Chronic and Doggystyle, by Dre’s protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg. They were both huge hits.

REPORTER: Snoop Doggy Dogg—his album Doggy Style was the hottest selling album in the country this week, beating out everyone from Pearl Jam to Sinatra.

Flush with success, Suge shopped around for more talent.

He put together a group called Tha Dogg Pound, and he signed a former gospel singer who’d appeared on Snoop’s earliest demo tapes—Nate Dogg. Suge even tried to poach the Wu-Tang Clan from their label.

But the rapper Suge wanted most of all was Tupac. In 1993, he’d given Tupac $200,000 to contribute a song to a movie soundtrack. Even so, Tupac continued putting out his albums on Interscope—a label that was partly owned by Time Warner and that had a deal to distribute Death Row’s releases.

By 1995, things looked different. Tupac was still a huge star, but he was stuck in prison in Dannemora, New York—a place so remote that the quickest way to see him was to fly into Canada and drive an hour and a half south.

STEWART LEVY: I used to go up to visit him in prison, up at Clinton Correctional Facility.

That’s Stewart Levy, one of Tupac’s entertainment attorneys.

STEWART LEVY: Dannemora, that’s where it is, yeah. It looks like a castle. And it’s just you walk in, and I’ve been to prisons before but I’d been to white collar cases. I was in law school, you’d handle cases for like securities fraud and stuff like that. This is heavy duty stuff where the guys are carrying submachine guns and everything else. It’s a little disconcerting.

It was a hard place for a famous rapper. For one thing, plenty of guys from the street wanted to make a name for themselves by challenging a celebrity.

For another, as we covered in our last episode, most law enforcement officers weren’t big rap fans. And the guards had ways of making Tupac’s life difficult.

STEWART LEVY: The guard comes by and ceremoniously puts his glove on his hand and says, “Well, Pac-y! It’s time for a rectal exam.” And I said, “What are you talking about? A rectal exam. I’ve been sitting here for six hours with him fully clothed with your prison guards on the catwalk above me. I didn’t slip anything into his anus.” “Well, we have to check.” And they just do it to humiliate you.

So Tupac, still traumatized by the Quad Studios assault and recovering from multiple bullet wounds, was being abused by guards, and threatened by fellow inmates. He was placed on lockdown for smoking weed. And although he had the No. 1 album in the country, he was still broke. He’d spent a lot of money recording the album, and more on lawyers.

Suge Knight made several trips to Dannemora. On those visits, Suge told Tupac that Death Row would be better for him than Interscope. Suge said Death Row could make him a bigger star, and he promised to support Tupac no matter what. He also said he’d help Tupac get bailed out of prison.

Before the Quad shooting, Tupac hadn’t been seen as either an East Coast or a West Coast rapper. He’d spent part of his childhood in Baltimore, and when he started rapping, he’d called himself “MC New York.”

He’d come of age as a performer in California, but as an adult he’d spent a lot of time in Atlanta.

But now everyone was choosing sides, and the hip-hop press was making East vs. West rap’s biggest and most combustible storyline.

DOCTOR DRÉ: I was quite disturbed by different magazines such as The Source and Vibe magazine and what they were doing to the music by putting East Coast versus West Coast and I said stop that. That’s—you’re setting up you’re setting up a storm.

That’s Andre Brown. He goes by Doctor Dré, but he’s not that Dr. Dre. This Doctor Dré was a weekday co-host on Yo! MTV Raps, which made him one of the most recognizable faces in hip-hop.

When The Source decided to launch an awards show for rap music, MTV’s Doctor Dré and his co-host, Ed Lover were obvious choices to emcee. But Dré and Ed were worried.

They thought bringing together Puffy’s Bad Boy crew and Suge’s Death Row stable might lead to trouble.

DOCTOR DRÉ: The one thing that Ed and I made very clear is like, “Don’t put us in the middle of some war of words. That’s not going to be good.”

The Source Awards took place on August 3, 1995, at the Paramount Theater in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The idea was to give real hip-hop some love. The Grammys had mostly given awards to pop and novelty rappers like MC Hammer, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and the Fresh Prince. The Source Awards were going to celebrate the music that hip-hop fans respected, and they’d do it in front of a national audience.

It was a disaster.

DOCTOR DRÉ: It was a heavy New York East Coast crowd. It really was. it was people from all different walks. But it was majority people from the East Coast and they took offense to certain groups.

If people from the East Coast were taking offense to the rappers from out West, that was fine with Suge Knight.

He hadn’t come to make nice.

DANNY BOY STEWARD: We had niggas on the roof. Like, we had a team out there. Like, I remember them coming in a hallway and them having this big-ass bag full of guns and shit. 

That’s Danny Steward, an R&B singer known as “Danny Boy.” He was 16 years old in 1995, and he was being groomed as Death Row’s next star. Suge had become his legal guardian.

DANNY BOY STEWARD: They got this big ass duffel bag full of guns and shit and everybody reaching for a gun. So I go to reach for one too, Suge like, “What the fuck are you doing?” Suge say, “Aye man, what you doing? We good, man. They got us.” We kinda knew, you know what I mean? Because threats were - had been given and you know you could feel the tension.

Danny Boy and Suge sat near the front. The ceremony opened with a 10-minute medley of Death Row’s hits.

The stage was set to look like a prison cell block. One after another, the label’s artists emerged: Dr. Dre, Tha Dogg Pound, Nate Dogg, Snoop. It was a serious flex of Death Row’s star power.

SNOOP DOGGY DOGG:

C’mon New York! Yeah!


“Murder Was The Case”—Snoop Doggy Dogg

[From “Murder Was The Case” by Snoop Doggy Dogg]

As I look up at the sky

My mind starts trippin’, a tear drops my eye

My body temperature falls

But there was more. Tupac had finally agreed to sign with Death Row.

But he couldn’t join Suge on stage; he was 320 miles north of Madison Square Garden, in a prison cell. Instead of the real Tupac, Death Row had a cardboard cutout made, and they put that on the stage with Dre and Snoop.

No one noticed. Here’s Reggie Wright, Death Row’s head of security.

REGGIE WRIGHT: I was hoping most people caught him in the cage. Because I knew I was a part of putting that there, you know helping getting that there. So I thought that was the big announcement. I don’t think anybody in that motherfucker recognized it, or noticed it. To this day, nobody has ever talked about it but me and Snoop!

So that big reveal fell flat. When Suge Knight got up on stage, he sent a much clearer message: “I’d like to tell Tupac to keep his guards up. We’re riding with him.”

But it was something else Suge said that really got the audience’s attention—a shot he took at Puffy and Bad Boy Records.

SUGE KNIGHT: Any artist out there want to be an artist, and want to stay a star, and don’t want to have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancin’—come to Death Row!

Suge was taking on Tupac’s feud as his own, in the most public way imaginable.

The New York audience responded to Suge’s provocation by booing, loudly and relentlessly.

It was just what Andre Brown and Ed Lover had been afraid of.

DOCTOR DRÉ: Right after Suge Knight made that comment, the first thing I said is, “Get the car ready.” Ed said the same thing. You know, we were playing tough. “Oh, we ain’t scared, we ain’t scared or nothing.” “Is the car in the back? Is the car running? The driver’s ready, right? Ok.” Because I want to read about the incident. I don’t want to be a part of the incident.

When Death Row’s Dr. Dre came on stage to accept the award for Producer of the Year, the crowd booed again. Snoop snatched the mic away from Dre to confront the audience.

SNOOP DOGGY DOGG: The east coast don’t love Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg? The east coast ain’t got no love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and Death Row? Y’all don’t love us? Y’all don’t love us?! Well, let it be known then! We don’t give a fuck. We know y’all east coast! We know where the fuck we at! [booing]

Puffy tried to cool things down. Before presenting Snoop with the award for Solo Artist of the Year, he implored the two coasts to come together as one.

SEAN “PUFFY” COMBS: And all this East and West—that needs to stop. So give it up for everybody from the East and the West that won tonight. One love.

The audience clapped politely.

When Snoop came onstage to accept his award, Puffy made a point of giving him a hug.

But Puffy also seemed to be everything Suge accused him of being: an insatiable narcissist, and a producer who wanted to be the star. To kick off a medley of Bad Boy performances, he stood on a podium at the center of the stage, head bowed as if in prayer.

At the close of his monologue, Puffy fanned the flames of the Bad Boy / Death Row conflict. He said, “I live in the east …  and I’m gonna die in the east.”

SEAN “PUFFY” COMBS: I live in the East, and I’m gon’ die in the East.

Despite everyone’s fears, there was no violence at the Source Awards, or at any of the after-parties. That came the next month, on neutral territory.

Suge and Puffy’s entourages crossed paths at a club in Atlanta, at a birthday party for the rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri.

Suge’s crew included Jai Hassan-Jamal Robles, a 240-pound former gang member known to his friends as “Big Jake.”

Suge liked to roll with Bloods from his old neighborhood in Compton, and he often tried to help them out with jobs.

“Big Jake” was a tough guy. He wouldn’t have been around otherwise. But Reggie Wright says he was also committed to building a real career in the music industry.

REGGIE WRIGHT: He was the only one of the homies that was really trying - or at least working hand-in-hand with me - to learn the business. He would be the one that at the office at 9 a.m, at the office doing stuff, and then hanging out with us when we all decided to come to work at 5 or 6.

At that party in Atlanta, the Death Row and Bad Boy entourages were feuding all night. Eventually the dispute spilled outside of the club.

As Big Jake Robles was getting into a limo, someone ran up and shot him with a semiautomatic. He was hit multiple times in his abdomen.

Standing over his wounded friend, Suge told Puffy: “I think you had something to do with this.”

Robles died from his injuries two weeks later. No one was ever charged.

Here’s Danny Boy again.

DANNY BOY STEWARD: Phew. That was really big. I wasn’t there, but I think that was a big hurt for Death Row. That was like one of the first people from Death Row that we lost like that. And you could see Suge even dealing with the stress of it. you know, having his homie out on the road with him, knowing he’d have to return to LA with Jake in a box.

Now it was no longer about record sales or regional respect. It wasn’t about who shot Tupac at Quad Studios. This was a blood dispute between Suge and Puffy.

Soon after Big Jake died, Suge wired a 1.4 million dollar bond to the New York Court of Appeals. Some of the money came from Interscope and Time Warner.

Then he chartered a private jet to upstate New York. When he landed, he got in a rented white limousine and headed to the prison gates.

A short while later, Tupac was free, pending an appeal of his conviction for sexual abuse.

There’s a photo of Tupac that might have been taken on that day, standing with his friend Big Syke. Tupac is wearing a white sweater and baggy gray jeans, with a white cap perched backward on his head. He’s smiling wide and pointing at the limo. You can tell he was so happy to be out of Dannemora.

Danny Boy was part of the group that went to get Tupac and bring him to California.

DANNY BOY STEWARD: Then we went back to L.A. On his way from the airport, he’s drinking and smoking and having a ball. And we get to the back of the studio, they call, “Pac is at the back door of the studio.” He gets out of the car and he walked about five feet away from the door. [SMACK] Face first to the ground. Passed out. Everybody snatched him up, pouring water on him and shit. He looked up and shit, looked around. I think he got, drunk a little too much, or smoked too much.

But once Tupac entered the recording studio, his focus was sharp. Danny Boy says Tupac rarely left over the next few weeks.

DANNY BOY STEWARD: To see the light turn on of his working, to see him like immediately after that, it was like you seen Pac come in that back door, and I can count the times that I’ve seen him, like, leave out. And when he left out, he came right back.

Tupac had gone to prison a year earlier. Now he had a career to rebuild, money to make, and scores to settle with Biggie and Puffy. He was ready to go to war.

Next week on Slow Burn: Tupac’s other nemesis — a 66-year-old civil rights activist.

Slow Burn is a production of Slate Plus, Slate’s membership program. You can sign up for Slate Plus to hear a bonus episode of the show this week and every week this season.

In this week’s bonus episode, you’ll hear more about the rise of Biggie in an extended interview with Matty C, the writer of the Unsigned Hype column in the Source. He tells some really good stories about working with Biggie and Puffy.

And he talks about what it was like to be at Quad Studios the night Tupac got shot.

To hear it, sign up for Slate Plus at slate.com/slowburn.

Slow Burn is produced by me and Christopher Johnson, with editorial direction by Josh Levin and Gabriel Roth. Sophie Summergrad is our researcher. Our mix engineers are Jared Paul, and Paul Mounsey. Donwill composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Lisa Larson-Walker. Special thanks to Slate’s Chau Tu, Derreck Johnson, Katie Rayford, Lowen Liu, Allison Benedikt, and Jared Hohlt.

And by the way, we created a playlist on Spotify to go with this season. We’ll be updating it each week with new episodes, and songs by Tupac, Biggie, and their collaborators. Check it out every week at the link in the show notes.

Thanks for listening.

Peace.