Before his tragic and untimely death, The Notorious B.I.G. famously asked ‘What’s beef?‘
In the late hours of Wednesday morning I woke to an alert on my phone, Twitter was going nuts at a diss track rapper Pusha T debuted on Hot 97, the number one radio station for hip-hop in New York.
The scathing track was aimed at Drake, who had issues with Pusha T’s shots at him on Infrared from his newest album DAYTONA (a modern day classic which you should definitely listen to).
Accused of being fake and questioning his use of ghostwriters (among other things) by the former Clipse member, Drake fired back with the brilliant Duppy Freestyle. At that moment I, along with other lovers of petty rap beef, thought ‘game over’. Surely there was no way Terrance could come back from such a lyrical beatdown.
WRONG! If 28-plus-years of listening to hip-hop has taught me anything its a) always expect the unexpected and b) never ever count out the underdog. Pusha T’s response to Duppy was evidence of those lessons when he premiered The Story of Adonis.
It was a brutal, personal and emasculating diss track fired towards the 6 God. From his father walking out on him when he was 5 years old (‘hell of a dad thing’) to speculations about being an absentee father himself, it was a no-holds-barred assault. It was so ruthless I sat in my bed contemplating for a few minutes what I just heard, processing every barbed line Pusha T sent towards Drake.
My moral side thought ‘did he go too far?’ but the black hoodie, mean mugging rap fan in me came out said, ‘No f*** that, this is rap beef – the strong devours the weak.’ In the end, the Highlander mentality won.
Sure, the Virginia rapper (born in The Bronx, New York) took it to a level I never expected him to but I can’t help but feel Drake is at fault for playing into his hands. He took the bait with Infrared and responded with a diss track worthy of Pusha’s response, almost like he was planning for these sequences of events to unfold.
Now if this is your first rap beef and you’re thinking ‘wow this is getting a bit heavy’, well strap yourselves in because Pusha T and Drake’s quarrel is an insignificant skirmish compared to rap beefs of the past.
Here are some of the nastiest rap disputes on wax which went way beyond the music.
Jay-Z vs Nas
The conflict between Nasir Jones and Shawn Carter was a battle for the supremacy of New York, there are so many kings in the mecca of hip-hop but only one could wear the crown.
But before any lyrical shots were fired or feelings and egos were hurt, Nas’s career was pretty much on life support.
The Jigga Man sensed the perfect opportunity to strike and proceeded to tear apart Nas and fellow Queensbridge legends Mobb Deep on Takeover (which was produced by a then unknown Kanye West).
But if Jay-Z thought he put the final nail in the coffin of Nas’s career, he was sadly mistaken. If anything Takeover had the complete opposite effect as it seemed to reawaken a long-dormant side of the iconic rapper, who fired back at him with Ether.
Hailed as the ultimate ‘clap-back response’ EVER Nas proceeded to lyrical teardown Jay-Z as he accused him of being ‘a fake, a p****, a stan’ and being ’36 in a karate class’. He also accused Jay-Z of constantly biting the late-great Biggie. Jay-Z responded with Superugly but by that time the damage was won.
While Jay-Z may have won the overall battle, Nas claimed the moral victory. While the two have put their differences aside God Son can still hold it over Jay’s head on how he one-upped him in their battle.
Ice Cube vs N.W.A
They say business and mates don’t mix, it was certainly true in the case of N.W.A. When Ice Cube left to go solo, unhappy with the bad contract he offered by his friend Eazy-E and group manager Jerry Heller (among over artistic issues), he kept his peace and deciding not to air out any grievances to the public.
However, that all changed when N.W.A dropped 100 Miles and Runnin’ and Real N*****, the latter being a full-blown diss track aimed at Cube who they referred to as Benedict Arnold, a traitor in the history books of America.
Cube paid them back in kindness as he finally aired out the group’s dirty laundry on the visceral No Vaseline. In one fell swoop, one man dismantled the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Rap Group’ as he tore into leader Eazy-E and Heller for shafting him out of royalties and credits for their critically acclaimed debut LP Straight Outta Compton.
Cube was relentless as he told his former group mates:
You lookin’ like straight bozos
I saw it comin’ that’s why I went solo
Kept on stompin’
When y’all muthaf***s moved Straight outta Compton
You got jealous when I got my own company
But I’m a man, and ain’t nobody helpin’ me
In a way, No Vaseline was the beginning of the end for one of hip-hop’s most iconic groups.
2Pac vs The Notorious B.I.G.
What can I say about this beef that hasn’t been already said in other articles, documentaries and think pieces? Ultimately the war between these two former friends, and by extension, the toxicity of the East coast/West coast beef, was a warning about the dangers of how rap beef can get out of hand.
It cost the lives of two remarkable artists and set off a chain of events which ultimately led to the murder cases of 2Pac and Biggie unsolved.
Before those unfortunate sequences of events, the rivalry between the East/West was at a boiling point by the time 2Pac was roped in. When he dropped the vicious Hit ’em Up, a response to Who Shot Ya? (which Biggie has always attested was never about 2Pac), the fiery rapper unleashed a torrent of anger and disrespect to the bad Boy family as a ‘staff, record label and as a mother f****ing crew’.
Making bold claims he slept with Biggie’s wife Faith Evans and mocking Mobb Deep’s Prodigy for having sickle cell it was abundantly clear 2Pac was beyond the point of caring about other people’s feelings.
It was an iconic moment in hip-hop… which ended in an awful and tragic manner.
Eminem and 50 Cent vs Ja Rule and Murda Inc
One minute you’re on top of the world as a multi-platinum selling artist, the next thing you know you’re dwelling at the bottom of irrelevancy, wondering how a festival you were part went completely FUBAR. This is the story of Jeffery Atkins, aka Ja Rule.
Someone who I considered the original Drake, it seemed like nothing could topple his world with classic hits like Always On Time, I’m Real and Between Me & You. And then a ghost from his past came back to haunt him in the form and an up-and-coming Curtis Jackson – aka 50 Cent.
Newly signed to Eminem’s Shady Records, 50 and Ja had a disliking to each other which went way back to before either were popping in mainstream hip-hop. 50 Cent had a legitimate gripe with Murda Inc label boss Irv Gotti and so he decided to hit him where it hurts, by discrediting and emasculating his number one artist, Ja Rule.
With the machine of Dr Dre and Eminem backing him, there was no way 50 Cent couldn’t win. After a slew of hardcore disses from 50, including the awesome Back Down Ja Rule fired back at everyone on the Shady/Aftermath label on Loose Change.
He saved a particular bar at the end for Eminem which involved his daughter Hallie.
Big mistake, up until that point Em remained completely neutral in the conflict but the minute his daughter was dragged into it he, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes took to the booth to tear Ja Rule in two.
They took Ja Rule apart piece-by-piece and he was never the same artist again.
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