This past week New York City’s Hot 97 on air personality, legendary DJ Funkmaster Flex used his air time to go on a 10 minute rant about Jay Z’s website and smartphone app. Truthfully, I feel that the title of this post and that first sentence says it all. Do I really need to expand upon this? Rap beef used to be intriguing, provocative, often fun, and largely about skills on the mic. Who could out-rap the next guy was paramount. Whose turf was the best? Who could make the crowd move the most? Who had the most skills? Whose crew was the illest? That’s what mattered. And you know what? Whether a given beef was eventually resolved by those involved or not and/or whether or not the streets (i.e. Rap fans) decided upon a winner, the beef itself was resolved on wax. On record. With lyrics! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that Rap beef de-evolved from the largely pure skills-centered beefs of the MC Shan led Juice Crew vs. the KRS One’s Boogie Down Productions, LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee, and even Ice Cube vs. N.W.A. to beefs that were all too personal and became violent, like Biggie vs. 2Pac and Ja Rule vs. 50 Cent. I don’t condone the violent residue for which some of these beefs were at least partially responsible, but even those amplified battles resulted in some kick-ass Rap songs. The violence was terrible, unfortunate, and unnecessary… but the records were hot.
As Hip Hop grew, so did technology and media. This inevitably resulted in Hip Hop’s utilization of several forms of media in the late 70s and early 80s. Vinyl, cassettes, and of course radio were how most people got their Hip Hop fix. Eventually music videos and Rap themed shows such as Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City came into play, further expanding Rap’s reach. When the internet became readily available, Hip Hop capitalized and the Hip Hop consumer benefited. Simply put, as technology and media expanded, so did Hip Hop. When it comes to visibility and promotions, this is a wonderful thing. When it comes to Rap beef however, it hasn’t always worked out so well.
As media grew, so did a rapper’s means of attacking his/her rival. At first it was cool and fun, watching an amped LL fiercely declare victory in the ‘Mama Said Knock You Out‘ video for example, or even the more R rated but still enjoyable ‘Dre Day‘ video where the Death Row camp made fun of Eazy E by parodying him. To this day I chuckle when I watch Sleazy E’s shenanigans. Then rappers started making home videos or using interview time to viciously dis their competition. Initially the ability to not just listen to an emcee’s justification for beef but also see Tupac’s disdain for the Bad Boy camp or Ja Rule’s hatred of 50 Cent to site a few quick examples, was captivating. It was something we hadn’t seen before and it was intriguing to listen to and watch our favorite rappers tell their side of the story. Eventually the tactic not only got old, but some started to rely more on YouTube videos than lyrics to fight their Rap battles. And when we introduce social media into the equation, the skills-based Rap beef that plays itself out on record becomes something of a lost art. When Hip Hop can beef on the morning radio show, use YouTube to dis their rivals and troll their competition on Twitter and Instagram, what motivation does it have to actually write and record a provocative and creative dis record? Why utilize the craft that made you when you can just spew your hate on the air and syndicate it on the internet. Why use lyrics when you can tweet? The True School in me half-joking replies, ‘well, because dissing someone in 140 characters or less is not very effective and flat-out wack’… but I digress.
That said, I implore you to read the title of post and its very first sentence again. Hip Hop beef has gone to poop and that all of a sudden Funkmaster Flex is using his platform to go after Jay Z over website and mobile phone app beef is the embodiment of how ridiculously stupid Rap battles have gotten. I thought the Snoop Dogg vs. Iggy Azalea Instagram and Twitter battle was as low as it was going to get. If you had told me back in ’94 that Snoop would beef with an Australian chick, but never actually record a dis record and eventually (not so) gracefully bow out because another rapper asked him nicely, I would’ve countered with, “yeah right, and the Patriots are going to 6 Super Bowls in 14 years, right?” But it happened. And I tried to ignore how stupid I thought it was.
I also tried to look the other way when Q-Tip tried to give Iggy a lesson in Hip Hop history on Twitter. Why not just reach out verbally or write something for a publication, even if just an online one instead of typing 140 characters at a time to someone who didn’t ask for your opinion and has largely shown that for better and (very likely) worse she doesn’t give two craps about anything going on in the world around her, including an unsolicited Rap history lesson? Then somehow Wiz Khalifa, and Tyler The Creator, and Action Bronson, and most notably Azalea Banks all get involved in kind of but not really the same beef and it all becomes so nutty and confusing that I can’t even keep track of it all nor care to anymore. Mind you I love Hip Hop, write about it, and used to love all the Old School Rap beefs. I grew up on them and they made Rap more interesting for me. But when Funkmaster Flex and Jay Z feud over a website and an app, and the shots thrown include an on-air radio rant by Flex and the sudden news that Jay Z is considering purchasing Flex’s employers, namely Hot 97, I gotta say I’m over it. The lyrics don’t matter anymore. It’s all about who can talk crap most effectively and of course, whose wallets are deeper. Why write a dis rap when I can buy my competition? Yup… Hip Hop beef has officially gone to poop.
But it might not be all bad. When Kendrick dropped his now infamous ‘Control’ verse, I got that same rush I used to get when listening to Ice Cube’s ‘No Vaseline‘, BDP’s ‘The Bridge Is Over‘, or Nas’ ‘Ether‘. And though none of the dozens of replies (ranging from the likes of Lupe Fiasco, Joell Ortiz, and Meek Mill) were as dope or impactful as Kendrick’s verse, all in all they were fun to listen to and never de-evolved into overly personal attacks or egregious social media trolling. Also, as silly as I thought it when Macklemore used social media to share with the masses a screen shot of the text he wrote to Kendrick Lamar after beating him out for the Best Rap Album Grammy, expressing his regret and that he genuinely felt bad about how it all played out, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He’s young I figured, and he was sincere in his intent, so I gave him a pass. Kendrick didn’t make anything bigger out of it than was necessary. He could’ve given the privacy breach, but he didn’t. Absent were the unnecessary Twitter rants to address the incident. Though when asked about it in interviews he would go on to express some discomfort in Macklemore’s actions, he’d also make it a point to express that he doesn’t hold any grudges and is a fan of and respects Macklemore. These are are prime example of a new generation of young, prominent emcees who handled potentially fragile and instigative situations extremely well, to the point where they didn’t de-evolve into some ridiculous, unnecessary social media beef. Kendrick’s opponents kept in on wax. And Kendrick himself largely brushed off the retorts as well as whatever unease he felt after the Macklemore text. Perhaps there’s hope that Hip Hop will eventually figure this beef out thing again after all.