I never enjoy relaying this stuff. But: there is a feud between high-level rappers. Last week, Pusha T—formerly of the Virginia duo, Clipse, currently signed to Kanye West's Good Music (that was Pusha rapping on Kanye's 2010 masterpiece, "Runaway")—released a new song called "Exodus: 23" that he made with R&B star The-Dream. It's great; an ice-cold diatribe against an unnamed rival who raps tough but lacks genuine street cred and hides behind other people and is "signed to one nigga who's signed to another nigga that's signed to three niggas." A lot of people assumed the song is about Drake, who is signed to Lil Wayne's Young Money Records, a subsidiary of Bryan "Baby" Williams and and his brother Ronald's Cash Money Records. Or maybe Lil Wayne himself. (There is history of strife between Lil Wayne and Clipse and also between Pusha's Good Music labelmate Common and Drake.) Whatever the case, Lil Wayne took the song personally, and then took it to Twitter.
Fuk pusha t and anybody that love em
— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) May 24, 2012
Then, Friday night, Wayne released a new song, "Ghoulish," that starts off with same words and ends by quoting the classic "What Happened to That Boy?"—a collaboration between Baby and Clipse (recorded in 2002, before any problems had arisen between the two camps) about murdering someone who was "talking shit."
Oy. Like I said, I hate this stuff. Having worked at Vibe magazine during the mid-'90s "East vs. West" rap war that preceded the murders of Biggie and Tupac, I am all-too-aware of how ugly it can get—and of the role that media coverage can play in fanning flames. I admit to being torn, though: The music born from personal anger can be so excellent. Thinking about it starts to touch upon some heady issues: the value of satiating base instincts, the ethical and moral cost of great art. I wish people wouldn't fight, especially people with access to guns. But, whether or not I am comfortable with the fact, I often like to listen to such music made by such people.
Would it be better if people didn't make these kinds of songs? Maybe. I'm sure that if two people are mad at each other, or two groups of people, having verbal taunts and threats of violence blasting out of passing car stereos can't help cooler heads prevail. It's more difficult to take things back that have been said in public. (And thus, publicizing rap beef, even with an overwrought blog post on a website with a poetry section, becomes problematic.) In most cases, I would think that if a situation is really headed towards violence, it would get there with or without the personal soundtrack and the sensationalist news coverage to prod it along. But I don't want to let reckless rappers, or myself, off the hook too easy. (Excuse me, that should be, "off the heezy too easy.") The gladiatorial elements of boxing and football and certain reality television shows already bother me a lot. Shouldn't the fact that I find entertainment in other people's strife, even that which I know could lead to real-life violence, bother me too?
The fact that the stuff is so often lucrative makes all this worse. Rap beef is a proven career strategy. (Controversy sells, you might have heard.) Artists have made lots of money by airing their personal grievances on record. Many of them having done so as calculatedly as chess masters; some of them having surely concocted some umbrage, or at least exaggerated it, in order to create a spark. It's a horrible thought that someone might have found his or herself weighing the risk of being punched or shot at versus the potential rewards of press attention and record sales. (And so compounds my guilt, theoretically, if I have contributed to the rewarding.) I've always suspected that we'll someday learn that at least one of history's high-profile rap beefs was in fact a ruse: two artists, friends, deciding to stage a dispute for mutual gain. Like professional wrestling: "The Great Rap-n-Roll Swindle." In 2009, Jim Jones admitted he once floated such an idea to his old friend and Diplomats partner Cam'ron, before the two suffered a real-and-actual falling out (or did they?)—and, of course, a subsequent reunion. Daz and Kurupt of the Dog Pound were supposedly very mad at each other for a very short time six or seven years ago. I was half-expecting them to start cracking up in the middle of the interviews they did about it at the time.
Certainly, though, much of the bad blood is real. It's a small, incestuous scene, the rap world, full of professional competition and jealousy and paranoia and perceived slights. And love triangles. And so, so much testosterone. And crews too eager to prove their mettle. And again, guns. The potential to do harm boasted about in beef songs is real.
But would I want these songs to not exist? I don't think so. I can say something like, I wish they didn't have to exist, or, I wish the sentiments they express didn't exist, or, I wish people never got mad at each other and that there was never any reason for anyone to fight anyone else. But that's a fantasy world, obviously. And as long as people are having such feelings, any feelings, I'm glad they make art out of them. Even if I am tangentially complicit in enjoying it, or writing about it. Good art is worth a lot.
But here's hoping it stays as art. Or, even better, that Pusha T and Lil Wayne are at this very moment sitting on the back of a tour bus together, laughing, eating cereal, toasting the success of their ingenious cross-marketing campaign. I'd be happy to be that kind of dupe.