The Notorious B.I.G.'s fiery 1995 song "Who Shot Ya?" is one of the Brooklyn legend's most famous lyrical performances; and the song is back in the pop culture sphere with Megan Thee Stallion's revisiting of the classic on her new diss record "Shots Fired." On her song, (released as the opening track on her debut album Good News), Meg takes aim at rapper/singer Tory Lanez after he was alleged to have shot her back in August during an argument after a party.
"Okay, he in the backseat and he keep callin' me a bitch
We all know the shit I could've came back with
He talkin' 'bout his followers, dollars, and goofy shit
I told him, 'You're not poppin', you just on the remix'"
With its distinctive Dave Porter sample, "Who Shot Ya?" is one of Hip-Hop's most famous diss records -- but it's not exactly a diss record. The general public just treats it like one. The 1995 one-off from The Notorious B.I.G. hit the public ear just as his feud with fellow legend Tupac Shakur was reaching toxic levels; and for the next 25+ years, the song has been linked to that feud.
It's one of Hip-Hop's most well-worn stories; 2Pac was attacked in the lobby at Quad Studios in November 1994; he was shot five times during the ensuing altercation. Biggie and Junior M.A.F.I.A. were recording upstairs in the studio and 2Pac subsequently accused them of being in concert with the shooters. It permanently fractured Shakur's relationship with Biggie, who he'd considered a friend up to that point. The release of "Who Shot Ya?" as a B-side in early 1995 led Shakur to believe the song was about him, a claim that Biggie and his cohorts consistently have denied.
"That was supposed to be for Mary J. Blige's album," longtime Biggie affiliate Lil Cease said in 2017. "That was supposed to be the intro for My Life. Intro to the second album. It was Keith Murray, LL Cool J, and B.I.G. on it. That's the original. [Mary's label] was like, it was too hard to start off a R&B album. Once they scratched it, B.I. was like, 'Give me the record. I'm gonna fuck with it.'"
"It was a B-side record. It was way before [Tupac got shot]. It slipped out [to the mixtapes] with just Big's first verse," Cease continued. "Why would people think that when they know they heard this record before? Big didn't sweat it. He was like, 'He knew that song wasn't about him. He knew that song was done before that.'"
And DJ Clark Kent revealed that part of the track was Biggie taking aim at fellow Brooklyn rapper Jay-Z. Nonetheless, when 2Pac heard the song, he took personal offense to it. "Who Shot Ya?" was released as Shakur was serving time at Clinton Correctional Facility in New York for sexual assault; and upon his release, he would sign with Death Row and openly declare Biggie and Biggie's Bad Boy Enterainment label as his enemies. He "responded" to "Who Shot Ya?" with his own B-side, the vicious and flagrant "Hit 'Em Up," in the spring of 1996. That song called out Biggie by name.
A song that the author never intended as a literal diss track has become an easy go-to reference for rap beef. But "Who Shot Ya?" doesn't only live via feuding; in 2016, rock legends Living Colour covered the song, but repurposed as a cautionary track about gun control.
"Our version of ‘Who Shot Ya?’ was initially an organic outgrowth of pure fandom for the work of the brilliant Christopher Wallace," guitarist Vernon Reid explained at the time. "[Frontman] Corey [Glover] would frequently sing the song during soundcheck, so we worked it up."
But the Brooklyn-based band wanted to take the lyrics in another direction. Considering The Notorious B.I.G.'s own tragic murder, plus the senseless violence that had taken so many other Black lives, Living Colour wanted to make the song topical.
"We all feel paralyzed as to how we can meaningfully effect change, but at the least we can keep our voices raised in solidarity and not let this plight fade into the background until it happens again," Reid said.
Following the Lanez incident, and feeling betrayed by her longtime friend, Kelsey Nicole, Megan Thee Stallion reached back to "Who Shot Ya?" to address those who speculated that she wasn't telling the truth about the incident with Lanez.
"Y’all motherfuckers so confused," she said during an appearance on Ebro In the Morning. "I done told y’all who shot me but y’all motherfuckers acting like ‘We don’t know.’”
The Notorious B.I.G. never wanted "Who Shot Ya?" to be a literal attack on anyone. It's legacy is full of twists and turns, considering that so much of that legacy is predicated on a misunderstanding. It now carries the mark of any true classic; that is, it's open to be interpreted and re-interpreted in any number of ways. 25 years later, that speaks to the power the song still holds.