Is beef corny now? A look at 2014's big disputes.
When Biggie asked “What’s Beef?” on Life After Death, there is no way he saw 2014 coming. The definition of beef has mutated over time into something that neither him nor Tupac would be able to recognize. Rappers throw subtle jabs in their songs and then pose together for Instagram pictures. “When I see you/guaranteed to be in ICU” is now “When I see you subtweet I’mma subtweet back.”
First of all, Biggie and Tupac are somewhat responsible for where beef is now. Following their violent deaths, artists, handlers, and label executives have been wary about the consequences of going too far. Even as fans, we recognized that our stars have too much to lose to risk their lives in a dispute with another rapper. Passionate diss records make for enjoyable songs, but nobody wants their favorite rapper to die before their time.
But beef is also a reflection of the era that we live in. Not to sound like a cantankerous rap “old head,” but the rappers have become “soft.” They’re drawing from their own internal turmoil and emotions for creative inspiration. Street credentials are unnecessary, middle class suburbanites are welcome, and the new generation doesn’t have to prove their toughness. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as it is fun to listen to rappers just being themselves and making something new. But it does bring beef to a weird place.
And yet ego is an inherent part of the human experience, and when egos get bruised, things get hostile. And nobody is more prone to bruised egos than rappers. So what’s beef in 2014?
Beef is calculated and precise. The stakes are too high for rap stars to jeopardize their corporate sponsors or future opportunities. Social media platforms, specifically Vine and WorldStarHipHop, make fights and beatdowns a detached form of comedy. We enjoy every second of the action but want to disassociate ourselves from the moment. We watch the white girl throw a shovel at another girl and say that that could never be us. Those fights on Love & Hip-Hop and other reality television shows are for the rappers whose relevance faded years ago. Time has mended old beef: Nas can bring out Jay Z to rap alongside him at Coachella, while 50 Cent and Ja Rule can sit on the same plane without hurling a single insult at each other.
Beef is Jay Z and Drake trading barbs as they compete for rap supremacy. The battles have been about the right to rap about art, how being married distracts from making art, and most importantly, about eating fondue while watching basketball. And yet, the two appear to still be friends, and probably will remain friends. Every missed opportunity to collaborate is money flushed away.
Is it engaging? Ehhh… But at least it’s funny to watch a rapper who brands and sells lint rollers after using one for jeans disparage someone over eating fondue.
And at least this beef has resulted in music. There was that time when Joey Bada$$ and Lil B exchanged tweets, leading Joey to release a song and subsequently get laughed at for getting baited by a troll. And then there is every single rap beef Azealia Banks has engaged in, from Iggy Azalea to Angel Haze to Pharrell to that rapper in England who didn’t listen to her about corrections to a video. All of these moments have resulted in zero music.
And that’s a shame. Because to this date, rap fans have intense arguments over whether “Ether” or “Takeover” is better. Do we really want to talk about tweets or Instagram posts one week later?
Within this context, the beef between Lil Durk and Tyga has taken surprising turns despite stemming from familiar territory. For those unaware, the beef stems from Durk making a reference to Tyga’s fiancée, Blacc Chyna, on his upcoming single. Tyga, who wanted Durk to omit or alter the line, eventually stopped responding to Durk’s request for collaboration. This led to Durk’s attack to Tyga on his “Chi-Raq” remix. Two days later, Tyga had responded with his own “Chi-Raq” remix, refusing to back down and getting a verse from Game to back him up.
There seems to be more to this beef than meets the eye. On Durk’s newest single, “Party” with Young Thug, Durk says “pass me the hookah,” which is the chorus for Tyga’s collaboration with Thug, “Hookah.”
As admirable as it is for Tyga to refuse to back down from Lil Durk, and to return with a diss song, he has chosen the wrong target to attack in a song. Durk, a Chicago native who is reportedly an affiliate of the Black Disciples street gang, has a history of gun arrests and convictions. In 2012, fellow Chicago rapper Lil Jojo dissed Durk. Several days later, Jojo was shot and killed.
This is not to accuse Lil Durk of orchestrating the murder of Lil Jojo. How likely is it for Durk to run up on Tyga brandishing a gun? Not very. Durk is signed to Def Jam Records, is affiliated with French Montana’s Coke Boyz, and is a member of the 2014 XXL Freshman class. He has a momentum right now, and he would be beyond foolish to risk that by breaking the law. But Tyga should be careful when his upcoming tour heads to the Midwest. Both Durk and Game’s street affiliations in Chicago and Los Angeles have the potential for violence consequences.
More players have the potential to insert themselves into the mix, and the results will not be particularly appealing for rap fans who want to hear entertaining diss records. Shortly after Tyga and Game’s “Chi-Raq” remix came out, Chief Keef co-signed the song. Once friends, Keef and Durk appear to be in the midst of an estrangement, and if there is a rivalry that could spiral out of control, that would be one. While Keef now lives in the outskirts of Chicago (when not in Los Angeles), the same cannot be said for his fellow GBE crew members.
Also somehow involved in all of this is 40 Glocc, who while unaffiliated with Durk has had a longstanding beef with Game for reasons that are still not quite clear but likely go back to Game (and 40)’s affiliations with G-Unit. And then there is French Montana. While his Coke Boyz movement has been built through the streets, it’s his current rumored relationship with Khloe Kardashian that could interject him into the fray. That’s because prior to Khloe being spotted by French’s side in vehicles and in the studio, she was spotted twerking on and flirting with Game.
2014’s biggest, most legitimate rap beef involves a member of the Kardashian clan. Think about that.
For those longing for a time when rap beef wasn’t merely self-destructive tabloid fodder, there is still hope that every once in awhile, diss records can stem from an authentic place and result in music that is heartfelt. The epitome of that comes in Freddie Gibbs’ “Real.” A scathing indictment of Young Jeezy, who once signed Gibbs to his CTE imprint, the Gary rapper starts the Madlib-produced song by reminding fans that “everybody ain’t loyal,” before getting intimate and personal about his past relationship with the Snowman. Nothing is off the table: from Jeezy’s promises that were unfulfilled to a time when Jeezy could have confronted Gucci Mane at a club but chickened out.
No, Jeezy has not responded to Gibbs’ claims in any manner. However, the song itself has accomplished a lot. For starters, it has revived interest in his career, coming off of an ESGN compilation album that was perceived as lackluster. Gibbs’ Pinata album has been universally acclaimed, and now he is getting ready to drop a new project in the coming months to follow up. But more importantly, the passion and heart in Gibbs’ voice on “Real” make this a standout song off the album, a song that will stand the test of time. And that’s all we want from our beefs.