For many rap listeners, the news that MGK had recorded — and released! — a diss track responding to Eminem’s snipes on “Not Alike” from his surprise album Kamikaze, the collective reaction was one of disbelief. After all, Eminem has long been considered one of the preeminent battle rappers on the scene for over two decades. Considering many of the foes that previously got on his bad side have more or less disappeared from the spotlight in the years since, poking that particular bear would seem to be an unhealthy career move from the younger rapper.
Then again, maybe not. Yes, Eminem is one of the most technically precise and skilled rappers to come along since the late ’90s advent of underground rap, but the matchup isn’t quite as lopsided as it may seem. Although he’s got a seemingly undefeated record and the benefit of popularity on his side, MGK is no slouch and has proved through his opening salvo on “Rap Devil” that he’s plenty clever, lyrically capable, and perhaps most importantly, has no fear. In fact, when the details of Em’s victories and the current matchup are examined more closely, Machine Gun Kelly stands a better chance in a battle with Eminem than you might think.
First of all, rap battles can often be fun and dramatic, with great imagined stakes for their participants in the minds of fans, but one thing no rap battle has ever actually done is ended a career. While some skeptics and more enthusiastic fans would undoubtedly dredge up dozens of counterexamples to try to prove this incorrect, it’s important to remember to find conclusions that fit the facts and not twist the facts to fit conclusions we want to believe. In this case, the fact is that career slides attributed to rap battles deny Father Time his due; in all of human history, he’s the only one to remain undefeated.
Fans shouldn’t forget that any of the rappers whose careers were seemingly “ended” by a rap beef coincided with the emergence of a younger, fitter rival in a genre that values youth over experience. LL Cool J was the new kid on the block when he dispatched Kool Moe Dee, appealing to a newer generation of rap fans with his flashier, more direct style. Similarly, when Eminem is credited with “ending” Ja Rule’s career after being drawn into the infamous feud between Ja and 50 Cent, it often discounts Ja Rule simply hitting the same career slump that countless rappers before him had.
Ja’s fifth studio album, Blood In My Eye, suffered from inadequate singles born of his need to appear tough in the face of adversity, but still sold enough to peak at No.1 on Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop chart and No.6 on the 200 albums chart. Its follow-up, R.U.L.E., was nearly as successful. By any metric, the assault from Eminem had little to no effect on Ja’s commercial or critical success — at least, not as much as Ja’s own musical shifts and the later actions of federal agents who shut down Ja’s label, Murder Inc., in 2005 over supposed drug connections.