1994 Quad Studios shooting: How Tupac Shakur's attack ignited a hip-hop feud

On Nov. 30, 1994, the legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur was attacked in the lobby of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan.

The evening was uneventful until Tupac, after receiving an invite to record a verse, was confronted by three armed men in the lobby. 

They proceeded to rob and shoot him multiple times, leading to severe injuries, including one that grazed his skull. While the shooting itself was a seminal moment, the subsequent fallout had far-reaching effects on the hip-hop community.

Dec. 1, 1994: Raw footage of Tupac Shakur in a wheelchair the morning after he was shot in Manhattan.

Slate writer Joel Anderson's Season 3 of the Slow Burn podcast takes a closer look at that night and the feud that followed. 

Tupac was in New York doing mixtapes and guest appearances while on trial in the city on sexual assault charges. 

"He needed that money to pay his legal bills to get through that trial," Anderson explained.

What happened on the night of Nov. 30, 1994?

As Shakur was about to enter the studios, he heard some familiar voices. 

The shooting happened in the lobby of Quad Studios on the night of Nov. 30, 1994.

"He's walking around the corner, and he hears some familiar voices from several stories above. The people yelling at him were Lil Cease and members of Biggie's affiliate rap group, Junior Mafia. They were all excited to see each other; Lil Cease runs down to the lobby to meet Tupac," Anderson said.

Biggie's affiliate rap group Junior Mafia.

But instead of a friendly reunion, Tupac was confronted by three armed men in the lobby.

The legendary rapper Spice 1, Tupac's friend with whom he recorded classic hits like Jealous Got Me Strapped, narrates the story exactly as Tupac told him a few weeks later. 

"He said he grabbed a guy's gun, and they were struggling back and forth," Spice 1 recalls. 

According to Spice 1, Tupac described the chilling moment: "They both paused, went to shot, and then he started pulling...he looked at him in the face, and then he started struggling again, dude shot again, and then shot one more time, that's when he shot him in the groin area. He said, you know, that's when I fell to the ground."

Spice 1 was Tupac's friend. Together, they recorded classic hits.

More than just a robbery gone wrong

The incident at Quad Studios was more than just a robbery gone wrong for Tupac Shakur; it was a betrayal. Biggie and Tupac had once been close friends, their bond rooted in their shared passion for hip-hop. Both artists hailed from backgrounds rife with struggle and hardship, which they funneled into their music, earning acclaim from fans and critics alike. 

However, after the Quad Studios incident, their friendship quickly soured. Shakur openly accused Biggie, his label Bad Boy Records and Sean "Puffy" Combs of having prior knowledge of the shooting, an accusation they vehemently denied. 

East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry

The incident sparked a feud that tore the hip-hop community apart, giving rise to the infamous East Coast vs West Coast rivalry.

"It definitely pivoted to where it was more serious," Spice 1 said. "It wasn't, it wasn't just competition anymore."

Shakur's allegations effectively drew the battle lines in the sand. 

On the East Coast, representing New York, stood Biggie and his Bad Boy Records, a powerhouse in the rap industry. 

Shakur's allegations effectively drew the battle lines in the sand: East Coast vs. West Coast.

On the West Coast, representing Los Angeles, stood Shakur and Death Row Records, another dominant force in the game. The rivalry became a key narrative in hip-hop, with fans, artists, and industry personnel all being forced to choose a side.

Both artists used their music as an outlet for their frustrations, diss tracks became their weapons of choice. Shakur's "Hit 'Em Up" is one of the most direct and aggressive diss tracks in rap history, taking aim squarely at Biggie, Bad Boy Records and anyone affiliated with them. 

In return, Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?" — although he claimed it was not about Tupac — was perceived as a direct taunt regarding the Quad Studios shooting, fueling the fire even more.

"There was so much controversy around who did it, you know, and how did this happen?" said Ralph McDaniels, a music video director, DJ and VJ, and co-creator of Video Music Box with Lionel C. Martin, a show which is still currently going strong.

Profound effect on the direction of hip-hop

The feud between Shakur and Biggie had a profound effect on the direction of hip-hop. The genre, which had always served as an expression of the struggles faced by marginalized communities, became more violent and aggressive in its narratives. 

The feud between Shakur and Biggie had a profound effect on the direction of hip-hop.

It amplified the perceived danger and hostility within the rap world, ultimately leading to both artists meeting tragic ends – Tupac was gunned down in 1996 and Biggie met a similar fate in 1997.

"I know one thing for sure is that they were best friends (at one point) and they were lovers of the culture," McDaniels said.

The shooting at Quad Studios, and the dispute it birthed, permanently changed the landscape of rap, marking the end of one era and the beginning of another.

The impact of the feud, as Anderson puts it, changed the trajectory of hip hop. 

"It made Biggie and Tupac both bigger stars, it made Death Row, a force in hip hop for the next five or six years," Anderson said. "It made Bad Boy a force in hip hop for the next five or six years, and everybody that was influenced by that era also learned something from that. They learned that a beef between artists can really get out of hand. There's way too much money and way too much collegiality among artists these days, I think for it to get quite that bad again, but you never know."