From Azealia Banks and T.I. all the way back to Soulja Boy versus Ice-T and GZA, we examine what qualifies up and coming artists to go to battle with veteran emcees.
Last week, Azealia Banks sent minor shockwaves through the Internet by taking the type of shots at T.I. that are usually reserved for veterans. It should be noted that Banks is a relative newcomer with a strong Internet buzz but no physical album, while Tip is 11 years deep into a career that includes seven albums with a few executive credits added in for good measure. If you’re a fan of Hip Hop’s cyclical nature, perhaps you appreciate something that resembles a repeat of Tip pissing off vets by proclaiming himself “King of the South” while still a relative rookie. For traditionalists, Banks sniping likely represents both the current sensational, “oh no, he/she didn’t” nature of the culture and a rising trend of Web savvy artists with no catalogue taking shots at their elders.
From Fat Trel (and to a much lesser extent Tyler the Creator) versus Rah Digga, Kreayshawn versus Rick Ross, and even Lil B versus Joe Budden—we seem to get annual versions of old versus new in the ongoing battle for relevance and respect in Hip Hop. Even Ice-T and GZA found themselves squaring off against Soulja Boy in a generational beef in 2008. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that all the youthful challengers (save Tyler and Soulja Boy) lack even one physical album. Is that a byproduct of their respective ages or their skill set? Should any of the above questions even matter?
Ageism exists in every aspect of society, and we’re no exception. So sadly, rookies are relegated to the comment section and Twitter for responses this time around. But, in hopes of gaining some clarity, I asked frequent DX contributor and freelance writer Nadine Graham to weigh on the latest incarnation of Hip Hop’s battle of old versus young. Are we witnessing a Hip Hop version of Grumpy Old Men, or should these newcomers pad their collective resumes before engaging in battle with seasoned veterans?
“Your fame and cars should be listed as magnets / Legends never die / But they can get shot and killed / Ain’t nothing glitter / When you’re battling emcees you once imitated in the mirror / So to down syndrome you kneel…” –De La Soul, “Down Syndrome.”
Omar: My first thought was that pretty much every element of culture has this mentality that power is never ceded cordially. The old gatekeepers are pushed out of the way, and a new generation asserts its dominance. Hip Hop likes to lean on the fifth pillar—knowledge and/or understanding of the culture. But this idea of new artists throwing OGs under the bus seems to directly contradict that. Would you agree or disagree?
Nadine: Respect is an element increasingly lost on the youth—especially those new to the Hip Hop industry. Influenced by arrogance and a thirst to be re-tweeted, the newbies almost clearly have a distaste for the integrity early Rap beef—between icon and iconoclast—was built on. While we all can accept that times have changed, and things have evolved, it wasn't too long ago that LL Cool J and Canibus went at it. On wax. They weren’t lazy about going back and forth, bringing the wrath with them all within a few bars. The fact that Hip Hop prides itself on these elements: knowledge, wisdom and understanding the culture—these youngin’s are absolutely contradicting what they should be representing. Technology has made them all lazy. Why cut a record when you can post a cutting remark about an OG and gain followers?
Omar: Preach! Is there a cutoff point though? Canibus had a handful of singles and notable guest appearances before trying to go at LL. From what I remember, he didn’t have an album out either, but one was on the way. And LL thought enough of him to throw him on a remix with himself, Method Man, DMX and Redman. While Azealia Banks made some valid claims about the perception of Tip’s street credibility, I don't think the same can be said about her.
Nadine: Hmm...true indeed. But even in agreeing, I don’t know if the same rules apply here. I think that’s where the development of technology comes into play. For example, Azealia Banks would have to grind a million times harder back in ‘96 in order to see the shine Canibus was seeing back then. Her success now is unfathomable if she had to stick with the same marketing platform that Canibus had available to him.
Her career exists in this way, in this time, mainly because of the luxuries these spoiled brats are privy to now. These up-and-comers have a whole new way to push themselves, their images and (seemingly, lastly), their music. For an even sharper contrast: Apple in 1997 was pretty much non-existent, but 15 years later? Inescapable. There’s the issue of instant gratification and overexposure in this age (where are you, Kreayshawn?), which a lot of times leads to major moves to the head of the industry, very quickly. Or to the pits of oblivion, equally fast. Accelerated success births two-headed, showboating, mixtape slingers, yet to debut an LP. The Internet has almost made it entirely, a free-for-all...
A History Of (Lyrical) Violence
“West Coast California till my motherfuckin’ death / I’ve been patient / Waiting taking painstaking steps / Watching these old ass rappers finally run out of breath / Snatch the baton / Running a marathon…” –Bishop Lamont, “On Top Now” featuring Black Milk and Stat Quo.
Omar: I’d add that there’s a certain amount of entitlement in the equation too. Remember Odd Future dissing any blogs that didn’t post their material when they were unsigned artists on the come up? Is 50 Cent to blame for this phenomenon? He wasn’t an Internet artist, but he gained a whole lot of notoriety by instigating beef with critically and commercially successful vets like Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah and Slick Rick on “How To Rob.” At the time, he had the respect of Jam Master Jay, but little else to hang his hat on.
Nadine: Entitlement is a major issue. And maybe in a sense, 50 could be held responsible for all of this now, but he adhered to the rules of Rap. He went at the “old[er]heads,” but in a clever way that still embodied the spirit of battle Rap. Although, I guess at that point he was battling himself, since no one knew who he was really.
My main beef (so to speak) with these new kids is the fact that they don’t really incorporate the culture into these back and forths. It’s as if they just like the instant attention of saying something online and getting hits, instead of actually making hits. The whole thing with the Azealias is messy, because neither of them have even recorded a chin check verse like real rappers do. To be totally fair, we ought to make mention that Tip inserted himself in the Azealia beef when he publicly scolded Banks on Drama’s show. Let those ladies handle it on their own. I actually think Banks is talented to push a scalding, wig-peeling verse out.
Things Fall Apart
“Niggas ain’t giving a fuck about your flows no more / You ain’t the star you was / Fuckin’ the same hoes no more / Promoters ain’t paying and booking you for shows no more / You ain’t whipping the Range / You ain’t whipping the Rolls no more…” –Busta Rhymes, “Legend Of The Fall Offs.”
Omar: How many allowances should we make for established artists that are making subpar material? If an artist is making garbage and thriving off of their reputation from yesteryear, does the spirit of competition call for a new jack to put them down?
Nadine: As far as allowances for OGs, I believe you only get so many chances at this thing of ours. Hip Hop is all about the changing of the guards by ousting. Nothing is passed down in Rap, it’s taken by force. This genre has a bloodthirst, and every rapper has that desire to be on top. Some of the OGs sleep on the new cats, riding past successes as if those make them untouchable. But more likely than not, they even knocked the crown from someone’s head at some point in their careers. If you choose to play, you have to bring your best, or get off the court because the newcomers are not taking it easy on you, nor should they.
Omar: Are we suffering from “angry old folks” syndrome? You know how old heads are always like, “Well, back in my day...” I can’t help but be subjective here. I look at someone like Rah Digga, and strictly as a listener that buys music I’m not really feeling any of her new material. But on an emcee level, I’m not in a position to criticize her. I remember her rocking stages pregnant. She’s held her own side by side on tracks with Lauryn Hill and Busta Rhymes. Conversely, I look at Fat Trel and the Slutty Boyz and nothing on their resume can touch that. All he can say is that Rah Digga “looks like a man.” And since he kind of has breasts and runs with a crew named the Slutty Boyz, I find that hilarious. Digga may be leaning on her previous work more than her current stuff, but Fat Trel is leaning on nothing. At least Tyler has released a retail album and has been part of another retail group album with Odd Future.
Nadine: I feel like that all the time, and I don’t even consider myself a purist or anything. I like some of the new kids; they made a lane for themselves and are dedicated to putting their own spin on their interpretation of Hip Hop—keeping things fresh.
I do, however, think that kicking OGs during their afternoon nap to gain career momentum is a cowardly stance. The term, “Put Up or Shut Up” often comes to mind when thinking of most of these old versus new beefs. My belief is that the youth should have noteworthy tracks in their catalogue for certain before stepping to a vet. They should have solid verses at the very least. Disregarding the strength of a good verse when going at anyone’s head should be grounds for dismissal. Without that as a foundation, the “beef” is merely a popularity contest. And you know how kids love those.
“Many motherfuckers criticize pros and how they play / And many motherfuckers criticize rappers and what they say / Even though they criticize / Secretly they fantasize / But they know they’ll never be paid to play…” –Ice Cube, “No Country For Young Men.”
If you’re of the belief that Hip Hop culture has roots in “the dozens,” then you most likely have to make the concession that their will be some level of juvenile insults involved. We’ve seen this from Tupac saying De La Soul looked “like Larry Holmes all flabby and sick” to Nas making fun of Jay-Z’s lips. Essentially it’s a non-issue, because those are barbs coming from established veterans. But if you’re Kreayshawn, and you’re only notable contribution is “Gucci, Gucci,” you may want to bring something more substantial than dick jokes when going at someone like Rick Ross who has a few gold albums under his belt.
Ultimately, emerging and established emcees probably want the same thing—to be judged based on their skills. Denying a talented newcomer exposure or dismissing a veteran solely based on their age are both equally patronizing. Lost in the hype of viral disses is the fact that Hip Hop’s most epic battles contained actual substance. All elements of popular culture embrace the next new thing. And this seems to be magnified in Hip Hop, where self-appointed “tastemakers” want the praise and potential money that comes from telling you what and whom you should be paying attention to. New artists occasionally have and will continue unseat their older counterparts. At the very least—as Canibus proved—some can give veterans a run for their money. Looking back at the examples of Canibus, and 50 Cent, it should be noted that they were able to sustain careers and maintain their respective fans after the beef stopped cooking.
In the spirit of competition (and Hip Hop), hungry emcees will always battle for the throne. And since controversy sells, we’ll all most likely keep watching and listening as the cycle perpetuates itself.
Nadine Graham has been contributing to HipHopDX since 2010, but her words have also been featured in numerous publications including The Source, XXL and Juicy. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @FourFingerRings.