Las Vegas, March 16, 1996
The dance floor was filling up at Suge Knight’s Club 662, a semi-legal, stand-alone nightclub on Flamingo Road. A local DJ named Warren Peace was manning the turntables, finally getting the party started. The fight was over — Mike Tyson had knocked out Frank Bruno in the third round to win the WBC heavyweight title — and the city was ready to celebrate.
Fight nights in Vegas always draw huge crowds, so the modestly-sized venue was quickly packed. As the opening bars of Total’s hit song “Can’t You See” played from Warren’s 12-inch vinyl over the club’s speakers, enthusiastic cheers from the dance floor signaled appreciation for the hottest song of the moment.
“Give me all the chicken heads from Pasadena to Medina…►” rapped Notorious B.I.G. on the track’s first verse, instantly ear-catching to all, thanks to Bad Boy’s polishing of James Brown’s classic “The Payback” sample. Buoyed by the energy of the crowd, DJ Warren Peace felt a sense of ease. It would be smooth sailing from that point forward… or so he thought.
Sensing a presence next to him, Warren turned to his right to see a shirtless Tupac Shakur. Pac politely asked Warren to move over, and Warren obliged. As Pac picked up the microphone, Warren mentally prepared for what he thought was an impromptu rap performance. But Pac had something else in mind.
Slowly Pac lifted the tonearm from the first turntable and carefully removed the vinyl. Warren’s heart rose into his throat as he watched Pac reach towards the second platter — the one currently playing “Can’t You See” — and do the same.
The needle lifted. The music stopped. The dancing stopped. Time stopped. Everyone in the building stopped and looked at the DJ booth.
With two swift motions, Pac broke one piece of vinyl in half and tossed the other into the crowd like a frisbee.
“Fuck that, this is westside, nigga!” 2Pac shouted on the microphone. “This is a Death Row party. Fuck all that East Coast bullshit!”
Shocked and confused, Warren frantically began searching for another record to play…
Long before DJ Warren Peace was sharing the stage with deadmau5 or headlining himself at upscale nightclubs like Drai’s rooftop mega-venue, he was a local Las Vegas hip-hop DJ. A man of many hats, in 1996 Warren was balancing two radio shows, co-creating HipHopSite.Com (with me), and doing hip-hop parties at popular spots like Club RA at The Luxor.
Warren was also a member of the Death Row Records street team. The job description was simply to visit all of the local record stores and make sure Death Row products were visible and in stock, as well as to pass out snippet tapes, posters and stickers at various local events. He wasn’t exclusive to Death Row, as he handled accounts for other labels such as Interscope, Loud, Priority and even EA Sports.
Warren treated Death Row as he would any other label, this being a time when Suge Knight and his label’s infamous reputation were not widely known. The beef between Bad Boy and Death Row was just beginning to bear fruit, as only a few months earlier Suge had made the following declaration at The Source Awards in New York City, on August 3rd, 1995:
“Anyone out there who wanna be a recording artist and wanna stay a star, but don’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing, come to Death Row.”
It was a thinly veiled diss at Sean “Puffy” Combs that a few picked up on. The internet was a new, evolving concept at that time. There were no trending Twitter topics and few rap websites for news like this to spread, so the beef between Death Row and Bad Boy was still generally a private matter. Some people knew, but they didn’t speak too openly about it.
Warren recalls an early roundtable meeting with some other street team members at 662 during its early planning stages, inserting his opinion about Suge’s plans, a man he knew of from Suge’s football days at UNLV.
“We’re just sitting there waiting and hanging out, and Suge comes walking in with this hot Asian chick, and everyone got really quiet,” said Warren. “He started to lay down plans for the club, saying ‘I’m redoing this, I’m redoing that. I’m going to bring down Snoop, Tupac, etc., etc.’ And then he asked, ‘What do you think?’
“Everyone was like ‘Oh, sounds good! Yes suh! Sounds awesome! Hooah! Hooah!’ Warren continues. “And I said, ‘Suge, I don’t think it’s going to work with just hip-hop. You can’t do just hip-hop in this town. We need to do soul nights, reggae nights. We need to do different types of things here for it to be successful.’
“I remember he looked over at me – not in disgust – but sort of like ‘Who the fuck are you?’ Nobody else said anything. Everyone else looked at me like, ‘What the fuck are you doing, talking?’ And I remember thinking, ‘If someone asks me what I think, I’m going to tell them.’”
Prior to Suge’s overtaking the spot located at 1700 E. Flamingo Rd, the building that would eventually house Club 662 was a series of failed bars with names like Babe’s and Botany’s. It was literally “Grand Opening / Grand Closing” every three months. Larry Larr (aka “Dantana”), another member of the Las Vegas Death Row street team, recalls Suge’s commandeering of the space.
“I met the (previous) owner of the club and he started leaking on the bills. So Suge gave me a suitcase full of hundreds, and we gave him like $30,000 just to lease out the space,” says Larry. “And we used his bar paperwork to run it, and then basically Suge took it over.”
But Suge’s handshake deal (or hang-you-out-of-a-window deal, in some cases) didn’t hold much weight as far as the city was concerned, so they did their best to skirt around potential legal issues.
“To my knowledge, 662 was open 2 nights, total,” Warren remembers. “I don’t think they ever got the required licenses they needed to open. One of the nights I played there, when I walked in, lawyers pulled me aside and said ‘Hey. This is a charitable benefit. You are not employed by Suge Knight or Death Row Records for this event, and Suge Knight does not own this club.’”
Essentially, most of the time Club 662 was like Marcellus Wallace’s bar in Pulp Fiction: a quiet place with no customers where backdoor business deals took place, save for a few very high-profile, private parties.
On the night of March 16th, 1996, Warren was asked, alongside host/radio jock Mr. Bob, to spin the Tyson/Bruno after party at 662, blissfully unaware of the bubbling East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry.
“I was kind of just setting the room up. Nobody had showed up yet. And then all of the sudden people started coming in. It was like, when Suge showed up, that meant the party was ready to start,” says Warren. “Before that, I wasn’t really DJing, I was just kind of playing songs.”
“So then I played Total’s ‘Can’t You See.’ I remember the place blew up. Girls started screaming, the crowd is yelling, hands are in the air, people are dancing, the whole nine. And then I turn around and see Tupac,” Warren recalls.
Larry Larr was acting as Tupac’s liaison that evening, tasked with the job of keeping the bottles coming and the ladies in quantity. It’s a living.
Says Larry, “So Pac is on one, drinking out of the bottle with his shirt off. We’re sitting in the VIP area, sipping Cristal. The club is cracking. Dr. Dre is there with the whole Death Row staff, and at least 800 to 1000 people outside, trying to get in. Next thing I know, Warren plays a Biggie song (Total’s “Can’t You See”). And I’m like ‘What the fuck?’ and Pac looks at me and says, ‘Let’s go to the booth!’”
Mr. Bob, tasked with mic duties for the evening, first saw Pac approach the DJ booth, remembering the incident fondly.
“Out of nowhere, Tupac shows up to the DJ booth. I’m standing in the doorway of the booth, and he sees me, and says, very politely, ‘Excuse me, brother’,” And I’m like ‘Oh sure, absolutely’ and I move to the side,” says Bob. “He was so… collected. He didn’t come up shoving or pushing or anything. And then, it was like a switch just hit, and he just goes 0 to 100.”
As Tupac appeared, Warren remembers being both shocked and star-struck.
“I was like ‘Oh shit, it’s Tupac’. So a piece of me thought he was going to get on the mic and rap, or something. So I am juggling the beat of ‘Can’t You See’, thinking he’s going to start rapping, because that kind of thing has happened before. And that was the song. That was the “Turn Down For What” of its time. That was it,” said Warren.
“He kind of touched me with his elbow like ‘scoot over’. So I scooted over, and I thought he was going to DJ,” Warren continues. “He gently took the needle off of the record — the one that wasn’t playing — and then he takes off the other one. And then he breaks one, and throws the other into the audience.”
“The crowd was fucking mad. ‘Booooooooo! What the fuck! Nigga turn that shit on!’ And then they look over and see Tupac, like ‘What’s going on?’ Tupac finds the mic and shouts, “Fuck that, this is westside, nigga! This is a Death Row party. Fuck all that East Coast bullshit!”
“I remember thinking ‘This is the biggest song right now? What are you talking about?’ I have to reiterate, nobody knew there was a beef at this point.”
However the crowd realized what was happening, and quickly took Tupac’s side. “Uhhhh, yeeeaaah…? This IS a West Coast party! Yeah! That’s right!” people in the audience shouted. “Within a matter of five seconds, everyone jumped on his bandwagon.”
“I’m thinking ‘What the fuck? You were just dancing a minute ago? How are you agreeing with this guy?“ Warren laughs. “I turn around, the first record I saw when I looked back at my crate was E-40 ‘Sprinkle Me.’ So I put it on.”
From that point forward, the sound of the party took a regional turn, as west coast rap hits like MC Breed’s “Ain’t No Future In Yo Frontin’”, Volume 10’s “Pistol Grip Pump,” and the Above The Rim soundtrack dominated Warren’s playlist for the rest of the evening.
“A couple of minutes later, Larry Larr walks up to me and says ‘Here are your records back,’ and hands me my vinyl in broken pieces.”
The second time Warren was asked to do an after fight party at 662 for Death Row — err, “charity benefit” — the East Coast / West Coast battle was well known and in full swing. In fact, prior to the party starting, Death Row employee B-Man presented Warren with a list of songs that should not be played. Perhaps incongruously, hip-hop legends Run-DMC were scheduled to perform that evening.
“B-Man, who was my rep at Death Row, pulled me aside, and was like ‘Yo nigga, don’t play this, don’t play this, don’t play this,’ and I was like ‘What about Nas ‘If I Ruled The World?’’ I remember specifically asking, because it was on the fence and it was a big song. It wasn’t a Bad Boy record, there was no beef with Nas, and it featured Lauryn Hill,” says Warren. “And he was like, ‘If Suge breaks your legs, that’s on you. I wouldn’t play it.’ I remember there was like 30 records put to the side, that I couldn’t play. I took them out of the crate. I didn’t even want the temptation.”
“Run-DMC performed, and then the party ended early. I left the gig, and I was pissed, because Tupac and Suge didn’t even show up. ‘What the fuck? I can’t even play half my crate and these motherfuckers don’t even show up to their own party? What kind of bullshit is this?’”
“And why didn’t they show up?” I asked.
“Because that was the night Tupac was shot.”
It was September 7th, 1996.