Less than three days before taking his final ride down the strip in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996, Tupac was looking toward the future.
At the MTV Music Video Awards that fateful year, the iconic rapper and his posse were walking around the event with picket signs that flashed ‘Death Row East.’ The move was surprising to many, since Snoop Dogg – still the label’s flagship artist at the time and one of Pac’s best friends – publicly went on record the year prior at the Source Awards, infamously asking “The East Coast don’t got love for Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg?”
Considering Pac, Suge and the crew were big upping their new Atlantic Coast division of Tha Row while standing smack dab in the middle of NYC at Radio City Music Hall, there was clearly growth in the air.
During a brief but meaningful red carpet interview with Much Music during the awards show festivities, Afeni’s son appeared elated when asked about the meaning behind their signs. With his gold Euphanasia chain draping across his chest in gaudy fashion, the rapper asked the reporter matter of factly, “Do you believe in God? Believe in Death Row East.”
“We plan on using the same strategy we using with Death Row West – which is mind over matter – taking all of our weaknesses and making them our strengths,” Shakur continued. “We got strength in numbers. You already know we run the streets out here. So now we just gonna’ help some of these brothers get their money on, because they got talent.”
Despite standing in the middle of a media-generated bi-coastal feud, Tupac saw nothing but respect and opportunity from his New York people. As we would later learn, one of Pac’s goals was to drop a compilation called ONE NATION, which would not only feature NY artists Buckshot and Smif-n-Wessun, but other acts he could vibe with like Scarface and OutKast.
Even though there were constant clouds hanging over Pac’s head and the music he was making spoke directly to his demise, the iconic rapper had his eye towards self-preservation and helping other MCs.
“Pure talent. No hype. We don’t got no American smiles. They don’t even want to buy our record, but they got to buy our record, because we represent the streets,” Pac would tell the reporter with fervor. “So what we did on the West Side, we’re going to do it on the East Side. We’re going to prove once and for all that all these people talking about an East Coast West Coast war, they like the Judas to Jesus. They only here to cause confusion. We’re here to bring money and bring change.” He wrapped up the two minute segment with emphasis, saying, “we’re coming to the East Coast to prove there is no fear, there is no problems. There ain’t nothing but opportunity.”
Tupac would then go to briefly throw Bad Boy and Nas under the bus, citing them as hype monsters fueling an unnecessary war, but ultimately his point was positive and that can’t be argued. After living in constant turmoil for damn near three years straight, the versatile artist finally appeared comfortable and confident, ready to build bridges and keep building towards continued success.
Instead, he died three days later, Death Row East never materialized and Puffy’s reign as the King of New York still holds strong today. Can you imagine if Tupac never passed and Death Row East actually popped off to se equivalent success? The entire landscape of rap would be changed way more than most realize.