What Happened To The Essence Of Hip Hop: The Battle? A Critique Of Drake v.s. Meek Mill

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Remember when the Battle used to change the landscape of Hip-Hop and everything that came with it? Ever since party emcee Busy Bee was poetically murdered by Kool Moe Dee in 1981, Hip-Hop heads have held the battle as the highest practice for differentiating the real from the fake. The Battle has taken and destroyed the careers of many but also carved many of the heads we put on Hip-Hop’s Mount Rushmore. Battles are like Robert Dinero’s character in the classic film Taxi Driver: here to flush the streets of all the garbage! Those who survive move on with the always evolving culture; and those who do not, are a constant reminder of what used to be and is no longer. Remember when KRS-One ruthlessly went at The Juice Crew’s MC Shan for claiming Hip-Hop had it’s birth in Queens? First of all, MC Shan never said that and it was all a huge misunderstanding, but Hip-Hop was brought to a halt by KRS-One’s infamous diss track “South Bronx;” and when MC Shan failed to deliver a proper response with “Kill That Noise,” the streets went even crazier when KRS-One came back with the knockout “The Bridge Is Over.” What came of all this? KRS-One went on to become one of the greatest emcees of all time, leading a conscious movement with the classic albums Criminal Minded, By All Means Necessary and Edutainment. And MC Shan, well, went on to do nothing. You have to understand, MC Shan was not a nobody; he was the fucking man, and he and Marley Marl, the hottest DJ of the time, lead the powerful Juice Crew, which included powerhouses like Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane. In fact, KRS-One was the nobody in this scenario: a failed graffiti artist turned underground emcee. But after KRS called out MC Shan for being a liar and a fake (which he wasn’t,) and Shan failed to defend himself properly, the Juice Crew’s influence evaporated and Boogie Down Productions became the new squad to fuck with.The streets said out with the swag and talkin’ slick, lets go back to poetry and staying true to our roots! Every major Battle that has followed the KRS-One/ MC Shan feud has defined the direction the culture was moving in; and in the case of Drake v.s. Meek, the horizon looks quite awful.

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Hip-Hop history, like the history of war, always repeats itself. Every major Battle in Hip-Hop history has almost always followed the same formula: Flashy/ Braggy Rapper v.s. Conscious/Lyricist. For example, as I mentioned before, Busy Bee (flashy) v.s. Kool Moe Dee (lyricist;) and then there are Battles of complexity like Jay-Z (flashy lyrcist) v.s. Nas (conscious lyrcist.) My personal favorite Battle of all time is the infamous Jay-Z v.s. Nas fued. I was too young to catch Ice Cube (lyrcist) v.s. Eazy-E (flashy,) and I was too dumb to understand that The Notorious B.I.G. (flashy lyrcist) v.s. Tupac Shakur (conscious lyricst) went far beyond the art of Battling and lead to the deaths of our Culture’s greatest Emcees. Some of Hip-Hop’s greatest battles never even happened. They were squashed before anything could ever be put on wax. There are many accounts of Rakim Allah (conscious lyricist) penning disses for Big Daddy Kane (flashy lyricist,) but that was stopped before anything groundbreaking could happen. Imagine if the world got to witness that! That’s why I hold the Battle between Nas and Jay-Z dear to my heart. That shit was my generation’s Rakim vs Big Daddy Kane. For the longest time, battles consisted of an obviously more skilled Emcee v.s. a rapper who just knew how to rhyme. But ever since Battles like Biggie and 2pac, Common and Ice Cube, and the legend of Rakim and Kane, Battles between two legends/titans going head to head became the new standard for trading words on wax. If KRS-One went to war against the Juice Crew’s best lyricist, Big Daddy Kane, instead of MC Shan, who knows if the Blast Master would’ve had the legendary career he has today. There’s no telling. But Jay-Z and Nas really did happen, and I was blessed to witness history.

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After the deaths of Big and Pac, there was a void in Hip-Hop, especially in New York, because the King had been taken out by bad blooded beef and all he left behind was an empty throne and confusion. The only viable replacements for Frank White were Nas, who restored New York to it’s greatness with the classic Illmatic, and Biggie’s “right had man,” Jigga Jay-Z, who had just released the underground classic Reasonable Doubt. Before he passed away, Biggie Smalls was already trading words with Nas on wax with “Kick In The Door” and his highly disrespectul verse on Puff’s “Victory,” where he subliminally spat about kidnapping Nas’ daughter: I’m in your mama crib waitin’/ duct tapin’ your fam/ Destiny lays in my hands, gat lays at my waist. Biggie was a bad mother fucker. But he was gone, so naturally, Jay-Z continued the beef with “The City Is Mine” and had his eyes set on the empty throne. If Biggie had died in 1995, there would be no question Nas was the new King of the Big Apple; but with the emergence of another great lyricist like Jay-Z, it was on! Unfortunately, as Jay-Z’s star began to rise with no ending in sight, Nas’ career began to fall short and fans began to question his legacy and candidacy for King Of New York, and of course, the mighty Jay-Z was the lead perpetrator of this. From 1996 to 2000, the subliminal shots between Jay-Z and Nas were non-stop and even lead to broken appointments to collaborate, a short beef between Memphis Bleek and Nas, and an affair between Jay-Z and Nas’ baby’s mother. After Memphis Bleek had called out Nas for supposedly talking disrespectfully on “Nastradamus,” The Queens rapper responded on “The Bridge 2001” and went full force on the young emcee and for the first time openly took shots at Jay-Z to let the World know there was truly bad blood between both heirs of Biggie’s throne. He didn’t say Jigga by name but the message was clear: your whole crew is coffin bound/ your ho, your man, lieutenant, your boss get found. Naturally, Jay-Z responded, without saying Nas’ name, on Memphis Bleek’s “Mind Right (Remix,)” but the Hip-Hop world was changed forever when Jay took the feud to Battle status at Hot 97’s 2001 Summer Jam. Hova, being the mastermind he is, premiered “Take Over” and called out the Queens legend by name: ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov’! Nas responded with the very weak and almost forgotten “H to the Homo,” which lead Jay-Z to pen an entire verse dedicated to Nas on the full version of “Take Over,” where he questioned Nas’ consistency and credibility. To say the least, Nas’ career looked like it was over. It didn’t matter he had written the bible, Illmatic, because Jay-Z proved he was better on wax! The Battle was over. WRONG! Nas eventually released “Ether,” which is arguably the greatest diss record of all time and the unstoppable Jay-Z had finally met his match. That was a fucking Battle! Two classic albums came from this battle, The Blueprint and Stillmatic. And I know many of you reading this already know the history and importance of Jay Z v.s. Nas (I PRAY you do,) but I wrote this for the young dummies who think rapper’s trading words on Twitter and other social media outlets is Battling. It’s not.

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I’m tired of soft ass feuds and mindless bickering between rappers being turned into Battles by social media enthusiasts. Y’all are too addicted to the entertainment and silliness of rappers losing their cool on each other via tweets and memes. This allows mediocre art to be created and easily accepted, and most of the time, no art is created at all. And it’s not all your fault; many emcees, who I respect (Lupe Fiasco, Q-Tip, Action Bronson, Azealia Banks,) have become accustomed to this new way of airing out issues and accept and practice it themselves. This bullshit has become the norm. We’re living in a new Golden-Age of Hip-Hop where incredible music is being created all the time, but our Culture is being challenged by awful distractions orchestrated by the evils of social media.The top emcees of this new generation, without a doubt, are J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Big KRIT and Drake. Over the past two years, it seemed like history was once again on repeat with the supposed fued between Kendrick and Drizzy. I wanted to see that shit go down so bad and I still do. It never went down though. After Kendrick Lamar released his classic verse on Big Sean’s “Control,” where he challenged all his peers to inevitable competition, the game lost it and the line was drawn. Some rappers, who weren’t even named at all, responded in true Hip-Hop fashion with verses of their own. Even Drake took subliminal shots at K.Dot on “The Language;” but for the most part, most of the responses to “Control” were made on Twitter and followed by hashtags. What the fuck? As an avid Hip-Hop fan and true believer of its culture, I was disappointed. And now, with the soap opera which is Drake v.s. Meek Mill, my disappointment has turned into a burning resentment. First of all, a rapper like Meek Mill has no place challenging an emcee like Drake, who is arguably the best of his generation. The only reason we’re even talking about Meek is because he questioned Drizzy’s pen. To make matters worse, the washed up Funk Master Flex leaked a reference track with Drake’s alleged ghostwriter, Quentin Miller, rapping along “Ten Bands.” This is the only reason I started paying attention to this “Battle,” people! If you want to become one of the greats and be put in the same category as the legends before you, you better write your own goddamn rhymes! If it wasn’t for the reference track Flex childishly shared, I would’ve brushed off Meek’s allegations immediately, but Drake was put into a pretty bad corner and it had me worried for his legacy.

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And what did Drake do? He did nothing on Twitter. He stayed off Instagram. He kept it Hip-Hop and two days later, dropped a response in the form of music (“Charged Up”) towards Meek’s Twitter rant and storm of hashtags. What the fuck! A day later, the Toronto native dropped another, much more impressive diss track, “Back To Back,” and all those who began to doubt Drake, including myself, became believers again. I still don’t know if the ghostwriter allegations are true or not, I honestly stopped caring; what does matter to me, though, and restored my respect for Drake is he kept it Hip-Hop the entire time. It’s sad he had to respond to a C rapper like Meek Mill (he had no choice) and deliver pretty impressive diss records as a response to mindless tweets, but he still kept it Hip-Hop and made this silly feud into at least half a Battle. There is hope after all but it’ll be a battle to keep it all on wax. What you got @meekmill?

Written By: Marito Antonio Lopez

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