The killing over the weekend of Christopher Wallace, the rapper known as the Notorious B.I.G., a k a Biggie Smalls, will no doubt be seen in hip-hop circles as the most recent chapter in the so-called East Coast-West Coast rivalry, though there is no concrete evidence to support that suspicion.

The rivalry has included verbal sparring and several highly publicized incidents of violence. Most of the East Coast faction is affiliated with Bad Boy Entertainment in New York -- the home of the Notorious B.I.G., Junior Mafia, Lil' Kim and Faith Evans. Those on the West Coast have been affiliated with Death Row Records in Los Angeles -- home of Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, the late Tupac Shakur and, until his recent departure to form his own label, Dr. Dre.

With Wallace's death, and the shooting death of Shakur six months ago, two pillars holding up the East-West conflict have fallen.

The deaths of two of its most talented artists has become a sad endgame for the genre dubbed by the media and music industry as "gangsta rap" -- which at its best has been a poetic document of the economically tattered and violence-torn lives in the inner city and at its worst has glorified criminals, violence and drugs and debased women. Despite these ghetto roots, more gangsta albums have sold in suburban malls than in urban shopping districts, earning millions for the recording industry during this decade.

Though Schooly D, a rapper from Philadelphia, is generally recognized among rap aficionados as the first gangsta rapper, the form was born in its popular incarnation in 1989 in the angry lyrics of NWA, which chronicled life and lifestyles in the crime- and gang-ridden neighborhoods of south-central Los Angeles and sold a huge quantity of recordings without the benefit of radio airplay.

"When I'm called off/ I gotta sawed-off/ Squeeze the trigger/ And bodies are hauled off," the group rapped in its seminal album "Straight Outta Compton."

When NWA disbanded, the solo acts it spawned, including Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E, continued the hard-core street tradition. As conflicts arose between the former group mates, notably Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, much of the violent braggadocio was focused on each other, as one rapper detailed on record and video how he would beat down the other. Though some artists commented on social issues such as police brutality, much of the sparring between rappers centered on who was badder, who had the biggest gun, who came from the roughest 'hood. All these elements determined who was a "real g," a real gangsta, not just a boy with a record contract playing a "studio gangsta." GANGSTA RAP'S FALLEN TRIO MARION "SUGE" KNIGHT

A former football player who got his start in the music business as a bodyguard for R&B singer Bobby Brown, he hit pay dirt as part-owner of rapper Vanilla Ice's publishing rights. In 1992, Knight launched the remarkably successful rap label Death Row, whose stable has included top West Coast rappers Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Tha Dogg Pound. Knight has a fearsome reputation: Rumors of his strong-arm tactics have circulated in the hip-hop community for years. Eleven days ago, a superior court judge in Los Angeles sentenced Knight, 31, to nine years in prison for a probation violation. Knight's lawyer has said his client will continue to "set the course and direction" of the label from his jail cell. TUPAC SHAKUR

Shakur, who rapped as both "2Pac" and "Makaveli," began his career as a member of the cartoonish '80s rap group Digital Underground. He made his solo debut as a rapper in 1991, then proceeded to star in several Hollywood films: "Juice," "Poetic Justice," "Above the Rim" and "Gridlock'd." Despite being one of the top West Coast rappers, Shakur could not stay out of trouble: He spent 11 months in jail after his highly publicized conviction in December 1994 for sexually abusing a woman in a Manhattan hotel room. In November 1994, Shakur was shot five times in an apparent robbery attempt in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio. His album "Me Against the World," recorded before he went to prison, went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart while he was incarcerated. Shakur, 25, was fatally shot last September in Las Vegas after drive-by assailants pumped four bullets into his chest. His posthumous album, "The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory," has sold more than 2 million copies. THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.

The top East Coast rapper, also known as Biggie Smalls but born Christopher Wallace, frequently rapped about the world he knew as a former crack dealer from Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section. He was honored as rap artist of the year at the Billboard Awards in 1995; his single "One More Chance/Stay With Me" was named the best rap single that year. His debut album, "Ready to Die," sold more than 1 million copies. Wallace had a history of run-ins with the law. Last summer he was arrested after police said they found marijuana and firearms at his Teaneck, N.J., home. Months earlier, he was charged with assault in New York after using a baseball bat to attack a pair of autograph-seekers. For the latter, he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Wallace, 24, was fatally shot while leaving a party in Los Angeles early on Sunday. A ROAD PAVED WITH VIOLENCE Nov. 30, 1994: Rapper Tupac Shakur is shot five times in an apparent robbery attempt in the lobby of Times Square's Quad Recording Studios. New York police call the shooting a routine mugging, but Shakur loudly blames it on various rap rivals. April 1995: In an interview published in Vibe magazine, Shakur implicates several East Coast music industry figures in the shooting: New York-based Bad Boy Entertainment label head Sean "Puffy" Combs, Bad Boy rapper the Notorious B.I.G. (aka) Biggie Smalls and Combs's mentor Andre Harrell, now the CEO of Motown Records. August 1995: The Notorious B.I.G., Harrell and Combs tell Vibe they had no connection to Shakur's shooting. Aug. 3, 1995: Marion "Suge" Knight, CEO of the Los Angeles-based Death Row label, makes disparaging remarks about Combs from the stage of a rap awards ceremony at New York's Madison Square Garden. Sept. 24, 1995: During a party in an Atlanta nightclub, Death Row employee Jake Robles, one of Knight's bodyguards, is fatally shot. Knight openly blames Combs and his entourage. October 1995: Shakur signs with Knight's Death Row label. Oct. 21, 1995: Billboard magazine reports that Combs didn't show up at a Miami music industry conference because of threats leveled by Knight. Nov. 30, 1995: A year to the day after Shakur was shot in Manhattan, rapper Randy "Stretch" Walker is slain in a Queens drive-by. Walker had witnessed Shakur's shooting, and Shakur had implied in a Vibe interview that Walker may have been involved. March 19, 1996: Police seal the VIP area at the Soul Train Music Awards show in Los Angeles after a scuffle breaks out between East Coast and West Coast contingents. Spring 1996: The video for Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dogg's "2 of Americaz Most Wanted" depicts a fictional scene of the Notorious B.I.G. and Combs being punished for setting up Shakur. June 1996: Death Row releases a Shakur B-side, "Hit 'Em Up," in which Shakur rages that he slept with the Notorious B.I.G.'s wife, Faith Evans -- "I {expletive} your bitch, you fat {expletive}" -- and threatens to go after the Notorious B.I.G. and Combs, among others. Sept. 13 1996: Shakur dies six days after drive-by assailants in Las Vegas pumped four bullets into his chest. Knight, who was driving the car, sustained minor injuries. March 9, 1997: The Notorious B.I.G. is slain in a drive-by shooting outside a Los Angeles party celebrating the Soul Train awards. Compiled by Alona Wartofsky