This story is part of Complex's The 1996 Project: Looking Back at the Year Hip-Hop Embraced Success.

The ’90s is a beloved hip-hop era that can bring out the best and worst in fans. Those who grew up during the Bush II and Clinton administrations are no different than any other generation—they will debate and defend the music of their idealized youth until they’re blue in the face, because if there’s one thing that rap fans love—besides hot beats and rhymes—it is arguing and complaining.

 But how does one determine the most pivotal year in a decade that brought the masses shocking headlines, major shifts in culture, and some of the greatest songs of all time? Well, there’s one year that, in Complex’s humble opinion, sticks out like the old guy in the club. That year is 1996. And if you’re going to talk about 1996, you have to start with the death of 2Pac.

At the time, 2Pac seemed indestructible. He had survived a shootout with police and a robbery that left him riddled with bullets. Some rappers rapped about street shit they had left behind while others faked it, but 2Pac was living the Thug Life for real—until it finally caught up with him on Sept. 7. 2Pac was among a group that beat down a Crip in the MGM Grand right after a Mike Tyson boxing match in Las Vegas. Later that night, in a possible act of retaliation, he was shot up inside a car driven by Death Row honcho Suge Knight. He died six days later in the hospital.

His murder momentarily put a stop to the so-called West Coast vs. East Coast war, which started as a Death Row vs. Bad Boy beef at the ’95 Source Awards, and had continued mainly due to 2Pac’s ongoing verbal attacks on Biggie and other enemies. Many rappers believed the media sensationalized the conflict. But tension had always existed between Los Angeles and New York from the days when the Rotten Apple looked down on everybody. The East Coast had an elitist attitude, but they earned that right. In ’96, Ghostface Killah, Mobb Deep, Redman, M.O.P., and Busta Rhymes all released bangin’ material. Mos Def and Sean Price of Heltah Skeltah were just beginning their careers. And Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt maneuvered Jigga Man from Jaz-O hype man to the man who would be king.