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What’s BEEF?

What can be learned from other people’s beefs.

If you’re a Hip Hop Head as I am, then you are probably familiar with rap beef. However, in case you’re not familiar, a rap beef is when two or more rappers engage in a dispute via music. Sometimes, the “beef” is contained inside of the music and eventually resolved with each party reaching an understanding, and moving forward with their careers. Other times, Hip Hop beefs or “rap battles” can result in injury or even death.

Examples of beefs that were resolved peacefully would be: Jay-Z vs Nas; Canibus vs LL Cool J; Common vs Ice Cube. These were all very publicized beefs that went on for years, but all parties were able to come to an agreement.

The best example of a Hip Hop beef that went terribly bad would be the infamous bicoastal rap war of the mid 1990’s that claimed the lives of two Hip Hop icons, Tupac “2Pac” Shakur, and Christopher “Notorious BIG” Wallace, 1996/1997, respectively.

Notorious BIG & Tupac

These disputes happen for a plethora of reasons (ego, jealousy, loyalty, women, men, money), but for the most part, they almost always stem from misunderstandings. When a person feels offended, it’s completely human to become defensive (especially when pride is being challenged) I would imagine that this is very stressful for some artists. However, I also believe that some artists enjoy the spirit of competition that’s included in these beefs — especially when the beef isn’t blatantly disrespectful or potentially violent.

While the artist is probably doing his or her best to provide the most clever lyrics for their diss tracks and answer songs, us onlookers enjoy the competition as though we are watching a boxing match. We choose sides, we support the artist we love. We give our take on the situation. We even engage in local beef, conversationally (usually. But it can get heated). When there is beef in Hip Hop, the whole culture and community is effected.

For me, the worst part of the beef is when it’s over. Yeah, I know… that sounds horrible, but I have a reason for feeling this way.

When there is beef between two artists, some of the best songs are born from it. I actually think that rappers work harder on diss tracks and answer songs than they do their other non-beef related tracks. Diss tracks are usually loaded with quotables that are repeated forever. The more clever the artists, the better his/her “disses” will be. And we, the Hip Hop community absolutely love those those songs! We relish the lyrics (and sometimes the beef). But hearing them live will only happen as long as the beef is kept alive. Of course, we all want the beef to end before it becomes violent (as it could and has). But while it’s going on, we’re all in!

Although these songs exist in various formats and can be played at anytime, the beef usually subsides. We, the audience, are left with the music and the memories. But when you go to your favorite rap artists concert, he/she will most likely not be performing those truly dope verses if the beef has ended. That sucks, but it doesn’t. However, I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t want to hear Nas do “Ether”, (his diss to Jay-Z); or Ice Cube do “No Vaseline” (his diss to NWA), in concert. The chances of that ever happening are slim and/or none. (Thank God for media!).

I once heard KRS-One (Boogie Down Productions) say that he will never perform “The Bridge Is Over” (a diss track directed to The Juice Crew) in it’s entirety, because he’s says some very disrespectful things (especially about Roxanne Shante), and he’s just not in that place anymore. He respects their families. This was profound in my opinion. Before he continued to explain why, I was only concerned with the idea of NEVER hearing him perform it live in concert. I had never considered the elapsed time, growth and maturity, concern for each other that occurs between human beings, even after a major beef. It’s possible to mend and have a change of attitude. I commend KRS for that. (But not MC Shan, who has elected to continue the beef.)

“Yo so wack, Let me say this for my black kids/Technically I didn’t take you out Shan—the crack did”

There has also been beefs that lasted for so long, that no one (maybe not even the artists involved) can even remember why we’re beefing (yes, I mean “we”. Hip Hop heads take the culture very seriously).

Does Life Imitate Art? Or, Does Art Imitate Life?

I have to ask that question because this is also how many of us (I’ve also been guilty of this) handle personal “beefs” in our own lives. Granted, our beefs are far less publicized, (at most, social media and our personal social media circles is as public as it will get.) but we feel them with the same vigor that the artists feel. These beefs often stem from the same things that celebrity beef comes from; ego, jealousy, money, money, etc. Usually, it stems from misunderstandings. Regardless of the scale on which you measure the weight of your personal beef, it’s impact makes a difference in your life and possibly the lives of others, even if only for a short while.

With the exception of a few, these disagreements are almost always resolved. And I will not judge those whose beefs are still active to this day. There could very well be good reasons for continuing the discord. Or at least continuing the distance. Consider that with personal beef, once it’s over — it’s usually over. Rappers have to possibly hear diss tracks about them, in passing, forever. Lol! I’m sure that after the beef is over, they can just laugh it off (even if there’s still a tiny sting there).

We are really not much different from the artists that we love. We all live, love, and grow together in humanity. Even when things go terribly wrong, we can always regain our composure, look at the situation rationally, and make better decisions. Or, we can look back at the situation and say, “this is stupid. Let’s squash it”.

KRS was able to settle his beef with Mr. Magic, of The Juice Crew before he passed away. But what if he wasn’t able to? Life is short and it’s getting shorter. As a vegetarian, I’ve got no use for beef. You don’t have to be vegetarian to agree to that. So as we move forward toward 2022, let’s decide what really matters. And, if it don’t apply — LET IT FLY!

…besides, once you settle the beef, you can’t perform it anymore anyway. 🤷🏾‍♀️

“Beef is not what Jay said to Nas;
Beef is when the working folks can’t find jobs.”

~Mos Def

* a really good read about the biggest Hip Hop beef; Pac and Biggie, is “Labyrinth” by Randall Sullivan. It’s very thorough and gives plenty of details. Click here to check it out!

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