Hit & Miss: Rap Beefs

For this week's Hit & Miss, Andrew Hickey looks at the Rap Beefs that helped define careers, and those that fell on deaf ears...

HIT: JAY-Z vs NAS An example of rap beef being healthy, Jigga used this conflict to solidify himself as a rap legend and not simply someone who can sell a lot of records. The feud forced a stagnant Nas to return to his old self after being in a slumber of self-indulgence and gangsta posturing. It started on Jay-Z’s brutal The Takeover, which combined his subtle delivery with heavy shots like “had a spark when you started but now you're just garbage.” Nas responded with Ether, which replaced subtlety with straight up venom like “you 36 in a karate class, you Tae-Bo ho, tryna' work it out.” Some family issues were dragged into it but they knew when to call a truce. Now they’re all lovey-dovey with each other, go figure.
MISS: TUPAC vs BIGGIE The most famous rap beef of all time, this escalated almost like a social media feud would today, except instead of a tweet it was direct hearsay that got things started. After getting shot up in 1994, ‘Pac was looking to unleash hell on somebody, anybody. Good thing for him Notorious B.I.G and Diddy were for some reason pointed out as the culprits. The result was the absolutely vicious Hit ‘Em Up where he went after everyone from Big’s wife to almost the entire East Coast. As Biggie held back and didn’t openly respond ‘Pac continued his verbal assault. Apart from not being an even fight the worst part is the fact that both men ended up dead. That’s not a win for anybody.
HIT: MC EIHT vs DJ QUIK The West Coast has always been embroiled in beef one way or another. Despite having more unity than the East Coast there has been a history of in-fighting. The difference between coasts was displayed in the feud that pitted MC Eiht against DJ Quik where things almost turned fatal. While both have alleged gang ties they luckily kept things on track and off the street. Established as the front-man of Compton’s Most Wanted, Eiht broke out as a solo artist while DJ Quik was continuing his rise as one of Cali’s finest. Eiht’s solo career didn’t go so far but at least we got the classic diss anthems Duck Sick and Dollaz N Sense out of it.
MISS: NELLY vs KRS-ONE Just like Nelly and the band-aid on his face, this beef came seemingly out of nowhere. Like many rap feuds this was most likely born out of speculation rather than anything that was said particularly. Known for releasing cotton candy soft anthems like E.I, which were at least catchy, he suddenly released the vitriolic hater anthem #1, which many saw as a play on an early KRS-One track. Some of the lines about being “tired of people judging what’s real hip-hop” added to the speculation. Kris responded, probably out of manly peer pressure, and proceeded to tear Nelly a new one. While things got heated both have downplayed the fact that there was a beef.
HIT: KOOL MOE DEE vs LL COOL J This conflict represented that never-ending struggle between rap’s purist and commercial tendencies. On the purist side was pioneer Moe Dee, while new jack Cool J was the commercial pin-up boy. In what is still one of the most creative attacks in history Moe Dee used the track Let’s Go to break down what he thought ‘LL’ stood for. He came up with suggestions like “Lower Level”, “Limp Lover” and “Low Life.” In many minds though, Cool J got the last laugh with the classic album ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’. 10 years later LL managed to also dismantle upstart Canibus without getting blood on his hands. As far as we know Canibus and Moe Dee are still alive too.
MISS: KREAYSHAWN vs RICK ROSS Violence against women is never cool, even if said person releases terrible music. Never shy from saying something in poor taste, Ross can go from talking about kids in Africa to bragging about his sports car in the same line. Last year the Maybach man got caught up in a middling feud with Kreayshawn, after Trailer Park Barbie called him “fake” and questioned his skills between the sheets. Office Ricky retaliated by leaking nude photos of Kreay from when she was apparently underage. After getting into a brawl with her crew and threatening further violence things fizzled out. This whole feud can be filed under ‘meh’ alongside Royce Da 5’9” vs. D12 and Soulja Boy vs. Ice-T.
HIT: 50 CENT vs EVERYBODY From KRS-One to Chino XL, rap has a grand tradition of one single artist calling out seemingly everybody. The difference is 50 Cent took this template and turned it into money. Starting with his debut single How to Rob, he was like a black Eminem except he targeted other rappers rather than pop stars. Jay-Z was his first big prey before turning his attention to easy target Ja Rule. Transforming rap beef into an art form he had entertaining scraps with Cam’ron and Fat Joe, even though they were one-sided. He recently squashed the Joe beef but is keeping the dream alive, feuding with Rick Ross and possibly French Montana.
MISS: GAME vs 50 CENT/G-UNIT While 50 Cent turned beefing into an art, his former protégé Game attempted to use it as a blatant way to keep himself relevant. Already known for changing his voice to sound like his idols and name-dropping legends on every track, Game painted himself as the victim after falling out with 50 and the G-Unit crew. Saying that his former boss felt threatened by his talent he didn’t go by one minute without dissing Young Buck, Lloyd Banks or whoever he could. He went from a prospect to the annoying guy that doesn’t know when to leave the party. Eazy-E vs. Dr. Dre this was not.
HIT: ROXANNE SHANTE vs UTFO Combining entertainment with bloodsport, pioneering female rapper Roxanne Shante kick started her career in grand fashion. Releasing the legendary track ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’, about a stand-offish girl, UTFO unknowingly sparked one of rap’s first public beefs. After hearing the song plucky upstart Shante released ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’, where she claimed she was the subject of the song. UTFO responded by signing a new artist, who went by the name the Real Roxanne. Cashing in on the craze were a wave of novelty songs from nameless rappers, including ‘Do the Roxanne’ and ‘Roxanne's a Man’. They were innocent times but at least they had fun.
MISS: EMINEM vs BENZINO Whiteness in hip-hop has always been an issue but never has it been such a hotly debated topic than when Eminem came under attack from washed up never-was Benzino. The most respected white rapper ever, his credibility was brought into question when audio of Em making negative comments about black women was released. Despite the fact the tape was recorded when he was a teen ‘Zino used it as a platform to paint Em as the rap version of Elvis, a white man stealing black culture. What the bitter Boston native forgot is that Eminem is one of the best battle rappers of all time. Getting completely destroyed and discredited, Benzino has since fallen back under the radar.

As detrimental as it can be at times, beef has always been part of hip-hop’s DNA. In Ice-T’s ‘The Art of Rap’ documentary, beef master KRS-One recalls his career starting after someone dissed his clothes. Those were the days when rappers would fight over who had the most creative lines and who rocked the party the best, not who has the most money or who stole who’s diamond chain. Depending on the tone and context, beef is one of the healthiest and most entertaining parts of the rap game, especially if it results in artists stepping their game up (looking at Nas circa 2001). Just like theatre, there needs to be an emotional attachment or something on the line to even care, rather than artists just beefing because they can.

The conflicts between the likes of Boogie Down Productions and the Juice crew in the ‘80s and the Jay-Z and Nas feud captured imaginations because they were ultimately about the music. Today’s dudes should take notes on how to beef without it turning fatal. None of the pioneering beefers were thrown in jail or killed as the result of a rap beef. In the social media era there’s so many beefs popping up, it’s almost hard to even know how they started. Lil Wayne, who got completely murked by Pusha T in one-sided fashion, admits that he reacted purely out of emotion when he recorded his diss. The worst example of beef is when it publicly spills out into violence and ignorant behaviour, during a tribute to a dead legend no less. If we’re going to devolve into violence I’d rather see Hulk Hogan vs. Bubba the Love Sponge. At least they’d be fighting over something, even if it’s about the release of a sex tape. How do these public beefs come across in the mainstream media? It looks like some ignorant rappers doing ignorant shit again. Some of these feuds don’t even have anything to do with music or even the artist themselves, it’s between associates within their crew. That’s not to say that all modern beefs aren’t about a larger issue, like Lupe Fiasco crusading against Chief Keef and ‘ratchet rap’.

If they’re not playing out at award shows the current breeding ground for rap beef is Twitter. A vague statement or reference will escalate into full-on beef over the course of a few tweets, even when they claim not to care or want to get involved. Beef is now a formula that the music industry and artists feed off to boost their record sales. It’s not doing anything for the “art” or the “culture”, if such a thing even exists in this homogenised era. Beef and competition are needed but let’s just have a clean fight, is that too much to ask as a rap fan and a person? With that in mind it’s time to dig into the words and moments that captivated and those that made us groan. Miss any beefs? Let us know!