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What’s Beef?

The State Of Rap Feuds In Today’s Hip-Hop Climate

2Pac vs. Biggie. Jay-Z vs. Nas. Ice Cube vs. N.W.A. G-Unit vs. Murder Inc. 50 Cent vs. The Game. These, among several others, are well-publicized rap feuds that have determined lyrical and mainstream supremacy, for better or for worse. Obviously, the most famous of the beefs I mentioned is 2Pac vs. Biggie. Both MCs weren’t just trying to prove who was more braggadocios or who had the better mic skills. They were representing their coasts. At this point in time, repping your hood was much more important to your credibility than it is now. The two dominant locations in hip-hop were the birthplace of hip-hop, New York City, and the rapidly rising to hip-hop prominence city of Los Angeles.

For a few years, you could argue that Los Angeles took the crown from New York City after the formation of Death Row Records in 1991 and Dr. Dre dropping The Chronic at the tail end of 1992. This tipping of the scales didn’t please east coast hip-hop heads. When the east coast stormed back in 1993 with Puff Daddy forming Bad Boy Records and the release of Biggie’s Ready To Die in 1994, the fight for hip-hop supremacy was on. Both coasts aimed for the jugular with vicious and not so subliminal disses towards each other on wax and in the press. This ultimately came to a close when 2Pac was murdered in September of 1996 and Biggie was murdered in March of 1997. Both their deaths shook up the hip-hop community and the musical landscape as a whole. Although the music released during the time of the feud was some of the best rap ever released, did they go too far? Was it worth it to go through all that trouble? Those questions among many others were left for rappers at the time as well as future MCs to ponder, which is displayed well in the feud between Jay-Z and Nas.

When Jay-Z and Nas had their beef with each other, it was for different reasons compared to 2Pac and Biggie. After Biggie died, the throne for the best New York MC was for the taking. Jay-Z made his first public attempt at the throne at Hot 97‘s Summer Jam concert in 2001 when he called out Nas and Prodigy of Mobb Deep by performing a snippet of his diss track “Takeover” from his upcoming album The Blueprint. When the final version was released in September 2001, the track sent shockwaves through hip-hop and many wondered if Nas would respond. When he did with the jaw-dropping “Ether” of his album Stillmatic later that December and Jay came back days later with “Supa Ugly,” their feud began to show shades of what had happened only a few years prior with 2Pac and Biggie. The difference though was that this beef was squashed. They had learned from their predecessors that the hatred they had toward each other wasn’t worth dying over. Jay-Z even signed Nas in 2006 when Jay was the president of Def Jam and have collaborated on tracks since. But since the height of the feud between Jay-Z and Nas, there hasn’t been a beef between rappers that was as escalated, relevant, or important.

Many hip-hop heads and critics have expressed that rap has become pedestrian in recent years. While I would tend to disagree with that statement, I think what is trying to said by the hip-hop heads and critics in question is that they think there is lack of competition in the rap game to push the genre to newer and greater heights. This very sentiment was recently conveyed in August by Kendrick Lamar in his verse on Big Sean’ s song “Control.” The highlight of Kendrick’s verse is when he calls out his fellow rap contemporaries with these lines:

“I’m usually homeboys with the same n****s I’m rhymin’ with

But this is hip-hop and them n****s should know what time it is

And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale

Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake

Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller

I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n****s

Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you n****s

They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n****s

What is competition? I’m trying to raise the bar high”

These lyrics set social media off into a frenzy and many were waiting for responses from the rappers Kendrick mentioned. Some rappers like Mac Miller and J. Cole took these lines with a grain of salt, but others like Drake didn’t take these lines too lightly. Drake said that those lines were more for a reaction and that “Kendrick’s not murdering me, at all, in any platform.” At BET Awards earlier this month, Kendrick responded to Drake in a cypher with the lines, “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped “Control”/And tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.” At this point, the budding rivalry between Drake and Kendrick is only on the level of lyrical supremacy, and it seems unfathomable that it will ever be anymore than that. The deaths of 2Pac and Biggie as well as the near fatal beef between Jay-Z and Nas have taught the rappers of this generation that the rap game is not something to die for, but the competition is something that is necessary to make themselves better and first and foremost, hip-hop better.

Written by Andy MacKay. Tune into Hip Hop Hype every Saturday from 10-midnight on 90.7fm KJHK.