When Action Bronson took a shot at Ghostface Killah on ESPN’s Sportsnation a couple of weeks ago, I felt compelled to write about it. Rappers, R&B types, and even pop stars these days seemingly go at it every other week over the dumbest things. I often glance and end up shaking my head wondering why I glanced in the first place. For example, not too long ago in reaction to Jay-Z and Funkmaster Flex going at it over a smartphone app, I wrote a piece entitled Hip Hop Beef Has Gone To Poop. An app beef is indeed a far cry from the good ol’ days of Shan vs. KRS One. When I recently found out that Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” is likely about Katy Perry I wanted to laugh hysterically, but the Hip Hop in me took over and instead I thought to myself how Taylor Swift is wack for not calling out Katy Perry by name. Then I laughed at how ridiculous it was that I had that reaction to a cat fight between two pop stars. My point here is that amidst all the pettiness we’re exposed to in our hyper information, social media driven age, worthwhile Rap beefs are too few and too far between.
That said, when Action Bronson replies to the inevitable Ghostface comparison with “he’s not rappin’ like this no more,” and follows up with “I’m just being honest,” (clip below) that plants the seed for a VERY WORTHWHILE battle, should Ghost choose to take the bait. Now it’s extremely unlikely that Bronson actually wanted to bait Ghostface Killah. His history of paying homage to Ghost as well as the Twitter apologies (which we’ll discuss further shortly) that he’s posted in response to the backlash of these recent events suggests that he didn’t want what Ghost potentially had coming for him. Plus why would anyone in their right mind intentionally provoke a man who’s arguably the most lyrically gifted and overall best emcee on the game changing Wu-Tang Clan??? A guy whose rap moniker ends in Killah, no less. I’m only half-joking. I’ve emceed myself. If Ghostface dissed me first, at that point it’s on, I’d have to reply. Rap after all is a competitive sport. But I’d have to be blackout inebriated with a gun to my head to intentionally provoke Ghostface. No way, no how. Not this Scholar.
So I’ll concede that it’s unlikely Action Bronson intended to piss off Ghostface Killah. That said, one of the first bosses I had as a young professional way back when taught me that often in life but particularly in the workplace, “perception is reality.” As an entertainer being interviewed on a national broadcast, Bronson was at his workplace when made those comments about Ghost. So whether or not it was his intention, his comments were perceived by many to be a slight and as such result in bait that Ghostface could take or simply choose to ignore. As a fan of Rap music and a part of Hip Hop culture, I felt that this potential beef between Bronson and Ghost would go well beyond the pettiness of the majority of today’s disputes. It would even go beyond lyricism, delivery, fan base support, and punch lines; and that’s not to minimize how fantastic a back and forth between these two very talented emcees would be from a bar for bar, track to track standpoint.
As I covered at length in my initial piece, this battle would be laced with elements of authenticity vs. appropriation, a potential rallying cry of sorts for those who caution that Hip Hop is in danger of going the way of Rock & Roll and Jazz; i.e. genres of music rooted in African American culture that were ultimately usurped and are now controlled by White America. It’s not the only component to consider, but it’s perhaps the juiciest and one that transcends both the beef itself and the artists at play. Action Bronson, a white emcee, by his own admission has been heavily influenced by and sounds a lot like Ghostface Killah. That’s in no way to minimize Bronson’s talent, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe that a good deal of the notoriety he’s gotten isn’t because of his complexion. A lot of emcees you never hear anything about sound like other well-known, established rappers. Action Bronson is the white dude that sounds like Ghostface. In the United States of America, particularly post Eminem, you can’t convince me that it hasn’t helped his cause. It’s not the only reason he’s known, but it’s certainly a considerable factor.
I didn’t think Ghostface would reply to Bronson’s slight. I wrote in my first piece that he didn’t really need to. For starters, at 45 years old he’s a grown ass man. Additionally, his legacy in Hip Hop and pop culture is set. Action Bronson can’t hold a candle to Ghostface Killah. Ghost doesn’t really need to be bothered with the likes of Action Bronson. Though both the Rap fan and Hip Hop purist in me wanted Ghost to take the bait and put Bronson in his place, I honestly thought he’d simply keep it moving. But NEWSFLASH, Ghostface replied. In a six and half minute video (which you can view below) set to the tune of Teddy Pendergrass, Ghostface “chin-checked” Action Bronson. From my standpoint, he didn’t quite “ether” or deciminate him in the way that many other Hip Hop sites are reporting. But he certainly fired a loud and clear waning shot. Let’s dig in.
Ghostface replies in a noticeably upset, yet eerily calm, cool tone. He’s not happy, but he’s not going ham. It’s as if he’s conveying to both Bronson and whoever views that despite his frustration, he’s going to handle his business like a boss. He gets right to the point.
“I gave you a grace period.”
“I was supposed to destroy you a long time ago.”
Ghostface comes back to these points at the end of the video, but he’s effectively emphasizing the fact that he allowed Action Bronson to gain notoriety without calling him out on the obvious sonic and stylistic similarities. To be clear, whereas they do sound alike and both have a penchant for coming up with very lyrical, super creative rhymes, Ghostface is the more complete artist. Ghostface can and has over and over again deliver a track like “All That I Got Is You“, where he sacrifices some lyricism for vivid storytelling and the type of raw emotion that pierces at one’s heart. Bronson is at his best when he sounds like the Ghostface that comes up with crazy metaphors and complex rhyme patters. But Ghostface also has soul. That said however, Ghost’s point is very clear. He could’ve gone after Bronson early, but he let him eat. That Bronson up to this point had done nothing but praise Ghostface Killah surely has something to do with why Ghost sat back and watched.
“Who gives you the right to mention my name out your muthaf***ing mouth?”
“You could never fu*k with my pen.”
Ghostface goes on to tackle Bronson’s comments first hand. By never up to this point having attacked or so much as said anything negative about Bronson, Ghostface was being respectful of the up and coming artist. But when said artist undermines Ghostface’s prowess as an emcee (“he’s not rappin’ like this no more”), all that goes out the window. Ghost asserts that from an emcee skill standpoint, Bronson can’t touch him.
“I’m too nasty for you. This is why the fuck you look up to me and sound like me.”
“Your fans, those are my fans first.”
He then directly address Bronson’s history of paying homage so as to use it against him. By asserting that he’s “too nasty” for Bronson and slamming the point home by saying that his dominance as an emcee is exactly why Bronson emulates and pays homage to him, Ghostface effectively compromises most (if not all) leverage Bronson and any of his supporters and/or sympathizers may have. This notion of the teacher owning the wide-eyed student permeates the rest of the video and really is the crux of this battle. There’s no way to know for sure, but in Ghostface’s opinion it’s very possible that Action Bronson wouldn’t be where he is today if he didn’t sound like and borrow heavily from Ghost. Action Bronson’s fans are Ghostface Killah fans first. I agree.
“I’m not making this a black or white thing.”
“I’m making it a Ghost Action Bronson thing.”
Ghostface at this point distances himself from the element of this battle that I feel is most poignant. He doesn’t want to racialize the beef. To him, it’s about respect and staying in your lane. I applaud and respect Ghost for not stressing the race issue and emphatically stating that this is a man to man situation. That said, despite his detachment from it, there are strong elements of the black and white that many, myself included, won’t gloss over. It’s not unlike when Isaiah Thomas during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals commented that if Larry Bird were black he’d be just another regular player. In interviews and press conferences that followed the controversial statements Bird did his best to detach himself from the black white thing and put the focus on basketball, but in the media it was absolutely a black white thing and almost 30 years later that incident is still often regarded in the same context.
Ghostface, who’s right in the thick of battle, doesn’t see the appropriation vs. authenticity angle. He’s not worried about losing Hip Hop to mainstream America and how acts like Action Bronson, Iggy Azalea, and Riff Raff play into that if left un-discussed. I can’t fault him for not seeing it that way, but the fact is some do. As part of the some that do, I think it’s great that he’s tearing Action Bronson a new one. Even though Ghost isn’t focused on the appropriation element of this battle, his calling out of Bronson helps to foster dialogue to that end, and discourse is a critical first step in addressing any issue. I’m one of many who fear that Hip Hop is on its way to meet the same fate as Jazz and Rock and Roll, and I don’t want to see that happen. As such I applaud Ghostface for stepping up and protecting and emphasizing his authenticity in this beef with Bronson. In doing so, even if he outwardly is distancing himself from the appropriation angle, he’s also protecting Hip Hop. That’s dope.
“You don’t come out your mouth using my name [however] you want to use it just because the spotlight is in your face.”
“You have to learn how to watch what you say. I guess you never been taught that, because you’re not a real ni**a.”
Ghost goes on to touch on points I’ve made regarding Bronson’s comments coming in the workplace and being unprovoked. Just because he’s on television doesn’t mean he can all of a sudden say whatever he wants to say about Ghostface Killah. If anything, he should be even more careful because again, as an entertainer you are at work when being interviewed on a national broadcast. Ghostface’s point is that Bronson needs to learn how to handle the spotlight because it’s clear he’s yet to figure out how to do so. He wasn’t backed into a corner by a seasoned entertainment interviewer to say something questionable about Ghostface. He just kind of said it. Why wouldn’t that piss Ghostface off?
I also find it interesting that in the above quote and throughout the video, Ghostface refers to Action Bronson using the n-word. It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone refer to a white person using that word but it pops out given the context and undertones of this situation. That said, it’s just the terminology that Ghost chooses to use and further highlights that he for one doesn’t see this beef as a black and white thing. That said however, what makes the above quote particularly potent is when he says Bronson isn’t a “real ni**a” for not having learned how to deal with the media. It’s as if he’s calling into question Bronson’s maturity and place within Hip Hop and Entertainment. As difficult as it may be to do for many to overlook the n-word’s roots and historical significance, Ghostface is really just saying that Bronson isn’t a real man. He’s not professional. He wasn’t able to handle a simple question without stirring the pot. A seasoned, capable artist deals with tougher lines of questioning all the time. Bronson crumbled.
By then proclaiming his “gangsta” by advising that he’s got “shooters” in all states and putting the smack down on younger troublemakers for getting rowdy on wax and then “running to the police” Ghostface effectively lets it be known that he’s not playing. He’s a bad mad indeed. And a funny one. Throughout the video he alludes to gutting Bronson like a pig and setting his beard on file, clowns him for walking “around the club with no shoes on” and constantly refers to him as “fat” and “funky.” It’s pretty damn funny to me. As he continues his warning shot, he makes one particularly strong point that helps explain why he got so agitated with how Action Bronson has reacted to this whole situation.
Ghostface explains that after hearing the comments on Sportsnation, he personally called Action Bronson to “check” him and asked him to “fix that sh*t now.” At this point Bronson tweeted his original apology, then promptly deleted it. In my first piece, I questioned this myself and though it suspect. Apparently Ghostface did too as he calls Bronson a “fraud” for doing so. It appears to have been the deletion of the initial apology tweets that ultimately led Ghost to making the warning shot video. Despite Bronson, in light of the warning shot video, tweeting a second apology (and not deleting it this time), Ghostface isn’t having it. When asked on Revolt TV whether he accepted Bronson’s latest apology, he simply replied “no, that’s it.”
Now I do applaud Action Bronson for apologizing again and for apparently having learned a tough lesson. His exact words on the 2nd tweet were “when ur wrong ur wrong and I was wrong. I apologized for the comments. I’ll always be a stand up human. Much love.” He could’ve ignored the situation or even worse irrationally defended himself, a la Iggy Azalea. He chose to apologize and deserves kudos for that. I can’t blame Ghostface for still being upset however, especially given the deletion of the first apology. Remember, the first apology was prompted by Ghostface’s personal phone call to Bronson. So for that to have been deleted must’ve felt like a slap in the face to Ghostface. A slap Ghost won’t forget too quickly, regardless of the follow-up “my bad.”
To conclude, it’s clear Ghostface is upset. He has every right to be. The warning shot video proves that Ghostface is ready to stake his claim as a stylistic originator and will not take take any crap from anyone, including Action Bronson. While he does steer clear of racial undertones, his setting the record straight as it relates to Action Bronson does a lot to foster dialogue in the context of appropriation vs. authenticity whether or not that’s a conscious intention of his. For Hip Hop purists, that’s a good thing. This next statement is an oversimplification to some extent, but simply put we don’t want to lose Hip Hop. So kudos to Ghostface for chin-checking Action Bronson. And to be fair, kudos to Bronson for apologizing, despite his original misstep in that regard. I’ll close by re-emphasizing that in my opinion, this video is indeed a warning shot, not a complete annihilation. If there’s one moment where Ghostface does indeed tear to Action Bronson to shreds it’s the following.
Here he reintroduces the gangsta element. One almost expects more “shooters” talk but instead Ghost follows up with:
“Where the fuck is your Supreme Clientele?”
“Where’s your Iron Man?”
“Where’s your Wizards of Poetry?”
“Where’s your Bulletproof Wallets?”
He goes Hip Hop instead. Catalog for catalog, album for album, track for track, bar for bar, Ghostface is a Hip Hop All-Time great. Action Bronson? Not so much. Case closed.