“That’s the thing about this battle. It was the perfect battle because it never went to the streets, or physical, or anything. It was all about the two greatest rappers killing each other with words.” — DJ Cipha Sounds in an interview with UPROXX.
Rap feuds just aren’t what they used to be. In the 80s through the 90s and into the early 2000s, rap feuds carried a certain mystique about them. They were magnetic, must-hear radio. What other art form do you know of where its participants knowingly, and willingly attempt to verbally maim and discredit each other? It would be the equivalent of Picasso and van Gogh taking turns creating pieces that scorn each other with some sort of shaming element in artistic form.
One of the first known hip-hop battles occurred in the 80s, when KRS-One’s Boogie Down Crew went to verbal war with The Juice Crew over which section of New York was holding down the budding musical genre. After Ice Cube left N.W.A., the two rap entities traded barbs over a variety of industry topics. There was LL Cool J versus Kool Moe Dee, which resulted in this album cover showing Cool J’s trademark red Kangol resting under the wheel of a Jeep:
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Eminem declared war on everyone from Benzino to ICP to Ja Rule. But, the most vicious and volatile feud happened in the mid-90s between the east and west coast, which distilled into a singular battle between Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. Both parties fileted each other “on wax,” but the feud was so intense, it spilled out into the streets, and before the decade was over, both rappers would end up murdered.
Towards the end of the 2000s, rap beefs lost their gravitas, partly because it became an overused tactic — the concept became over-saturated with rappers like 50 Cent releasing diss songs every month — and partly because many high-level rappers smartened up to the fact that it would only elevate their opponent should they continue to mention their name in song. But, before the rap beef began to lose its muster, there was one, last epic rap war that would captivate not only hip-hop heads, but the public in general: Jay-Z versus Nas.