“…Getting your shoes, coat and your hat tooken”* – Eminem, “Marshall Mathers”
A little more than a decade ago, Eminem posed that question wondering why the hell good old fashioned Hip-Hop battling had gone soft. In 2001, the answer was simple: Hip-Hop was in a weird post-Biggie/Pac panic where we were so scared of repeating the craziness that led to their deaths that nobody really wanted to have a full-on feud.
I think the Jay-Z/Nas feud changed all of that though**.
Jay and Nas demonstrated how to properly feud and keep it on wax. They took their shots and kept it competitive, aggressive, mean and professional. This, of course, even trickled down to the Roc/D-Block feud that was equally as intense and nonviolent. Actually, from about 2001 up until 50 Cent was underhandedly trying end people’s careers and livelihoods (did you really need to fund a tell-all book by Nas’s baby momma or take Rick Ross’s out shopping?), Hip-Hop enjoyed a healthy few years of compelling beef. The spirit of diss records had returned and I was glued to my computer.
But like most people that try to mimic Jay, Hip-Hop got it wrong. Hov’s use of subliminals got bastardized. The way he insulted rappers without mentioning their name came from the Biggie school of “throwing bleach in your eye” and he was the master. His genius at this technique is illuminated on T.I.’s “Watch What You Say” – a 16-bar dissection of Lil Wayne that never mentioned the younger Carter’s name. Of course, that “feud” got even more confusing as Hov and Wayne ended up playing some weird love/hate tête-à-tête where they recorded together, sent subliminals and hugged on stage before finally acknowledging a feud existed.
Maybe that’s where things fell apart.
Or maybe it started to go downhill a couple of years before “Watch What You Say,” ironically, on T.I.’s previous album, King. T.I. launched into a vicious attack on the Just Blaze-produced “I’m Talking To You” where he proceed to insult…well…nobody apparently. Despite the fact he makes reference to “the real president Carter” (a dig at Wayne) and “you not trill, n*gga” (a stab at Rick Ross) and talked about how there should be no mistake who he’s insulting; Tip never addressed exactly who it was he was talking to and went on to make music with Ross and Wayne without any responses. While that whole situation appeared odd to me, it’s become all too commonplace these days.
Remember Odd Future saying they wanted B.o.B.’s “Airplane” to crash and have him die? And B.o.B. made a song called “No Future” and both kind of said that neither songs were meant as disses? Or just a couple of weeks ago when Alley Boy publicly dissed Jeezy then kind of cowered when pressed about it? Drake releasing and shot a damn video for a diss response to Common then, a week later, said he’d never respond to Common as if the song never happened while Common recorded a half-ass response before squashing the “beef” on the red carpet of the Grammys? And, of course, there’s The Game who seems to be the only person on the planet unsure as to if he’s actually been dissing Jay-Z for the last seven years or not.
I understand that rappers lie, but they usually fib about their past; stuff we can’t actually verify so there’s at least a modicum of plausible deniability. But, dog, we’re watching you actively lie to our f*cking faces. I wonder if the rap game is getting similar to the NBA Slam Dunk competition where these guys are considered brands more than just athletes/artists and a loss on a major stage damages more than just the individual’s reputation; it threatens their entire multimillion dollar operations. Still, if you’re going to talk about getting to the grassroots of the game, the man up and say what’s on your mind without backing down when getting pressed about it. That’s Hip-Hop. That’s bucking the establishment. And that’s what the game was built on.
Right now, we’re stuck with Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim being the most Hip-Hop back-and-forth we have right now. Now think about that for a minute.
* – And no, the irony isn’t lost on me that Em followed those lines with insults to Britney Spears, boy bands and a group of circus enthusiasts.
** – Y’know, between this, rappers’ fear of getting murdered on their own shit and the fact it birthed two classic albums, the Jay/Nas feud may go down as one of the most important events that changed the course of Hip-Hop. But that’s neither here nor there.