When Uncle L released his Mr. Smith album on November 20, 1995, it heralded a new era in his career, in which he shifted farther away from his hardcore rapper fanbase and eased into the loverman ballads to would sustain him for the next decade. That being said, Mr. Smith wasn’t about to let people forget he could still send some serious proverbial shots to the dome, and the inclusion of “I Shot Ya” made this perfectly clear. A simple-yet-hyped hook from raspy-voiced rhymer Keith Murray and an atmospheric piano loop sampled from Lynn Collins’ “Put It on the Line” by Trackmasters Poke and Tone created a perfect framing for Cool James to throw jabs at all who doubted him. As dope as the song was though, the remix was the track that really put it over the top. Adding stellar performances from Keith Murray, who spit a slightly slower rendition of the same verse he dropped on Funkmaster Flex’ 60 Minutes of Funk Vol. 1 (released on the same day in 1995, incidentally), followed by the griminess of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy in his prime, a fired-up Fat Joe crowning himself Keyser Söze and the impressive debut of Foxy Brown, it was as New York as it gets even before LL capped the track off with a dope new verse.
And that sheer in-your-face aggressive New York attitude of the song, coupled with its confrontational title, was what made Tupac Shakur think that it was directed at him. A year after the Quad City shooting in New York, in which he was carted off on a stretcher flipping the bird to bystanders after getting hit with five shots, hearing the words “I shot ya” repeated like that on a track understandably didn’t sit well with him. When Tupac confronted Keith Murray at a show after hearing the track, tensions were high. Back in 2010, Murray drunkenly recalled how he “squared off with Pac at the House of Blues in California” in the infamous video above. “Ask anybody. Anybody that was there that night, let it be known. Redman saw it, he jumped from the balcony!” He spoke about the incident again at the Breakfast Club last year and clarified that though they “squared off,” no punches were eventually thrown. “He was like, ‘Nah, I just wanted to know because […] I got shot five times. You know what I’m saying? In New York, so I thought niggas was talking about me’. I can understand why he did that,” Murray explained. “Everybody had knives on ’em. But we diffused it and it was peace after that.”
Peace may have been brokered between Keith Murray and Tupac that night at the House of Blues, but there was another beef sparked from the “I Shot Ya” remix that lasted for years. On an interlude from Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, Bandana P lashed out at “all them rap-ass niggas” who were “talking about how much you get high, how much weed you smoke, and that crazy space shit that don’t even make no sense.” Keith Murray, known as an avid smoker with an idiosyncratic vocabulary, took this as as a shot at him and fellow Def Squad rhymer Redman. This time though, knuckles did go up, as the notoriously hot-tempered Keith Murray caught Prodigy walking across the street exiting iconic New York nightclub The Tunnel. “They start crossing the street. You know, I’m thinking it’s time to get busy. So, ‘Bing! Pow! Pow! Poom!’ He hit the ground,” Murray recalled in the aforementioned interview. The beef would eventually be squashed at Onyx’ “Live Niguz” video shoot, but P couldn’t leave the opportunity to retaliate be, and threw a barely subliminal dart at Keith in the very verse that immediately followed him on the “I Shot Ya” remix. “Some Def kids feeling guilty bout the space shit” he spit, and the fact that the “Def” and “space shit” parts where obscured in the official release of the track, probably in an attempt to alleviate the tension, only gave the barb a more menacing flair (Ironically, LL himself would pull a similar stunt two years later when he dissed Canibus on the very same track he was on, the posse cut “4,3,2,1” from LL’s Phenomenon album).
Murray and Prodigy would go on to take shots at each other for years to come and Prodigy even got Mobb-affiliate Big Noyd to throw jabs at Def Squad along with him on Hell On Earth’s grisly cut “Man Down.” The rest of the teams however, decided to mostly stay out of it. “I give the attitude like don’t fck with me, and I won’t f*ck with you. And a lot of niggas portray so tough that it causes niggas to test them, and I don’t bring that type of vibe,” Redman said, referring to the animosity between Def Squad and Mobb Deep years later. The beef eventually fizzled out and in 2012, Busta Rhymes even managed to formalize the peace by getting both scrappers to take a pic together. Seating them next to each other at a Thanksgiving dinner still seems like a pretty bad idea though.
Despite furthering tensions in the coastal war, the decade-spanning beef between Keith Murray and Prodigy and the launch of Foxy Brown’s career (who was sneaked into the cut by producers Poke and Tone after the sessions had already been finished, leading to LL wondering why they’d put a little boy on his track but being impressed when he was informed she was in fact a young woman), the most lasting effect of “I Shot Ya” is probably Prodigy’s mention of the “secret society” that wanted his “mind, soul and body.” Who could have known back in 1995, that P introducing the rap world to the Illuminati, and Jay Z’s subsequent sampling of that line on “D’Evils,” would eventually lead to a bottomless pit of YouTube videos, conspiracy theories, and an endless slew of batshit-crazy spam messages that make your garden-variety Nigerian-prince-wants-to-share-his-inheritance-with-you emails seem perfectly reasonable? Prodigy, that’s who.
He made it a hot line, the web made it a #facepalm.
This article originally appeared on Mass Appeal.