Hip-hop is a competitive field, one where rappers can blaze metaphoric paths of carnage, and where artists can roast each other in lyrical wars of attrition. Sometimes, these rap beefs can get out of hand and can lead to real violence, but the best rap beefs have always kept it within the confines of rhyme.
Out of the fires bursting from these conflicts arise the chosen few — artists that have been able to withstand the venom and dish out their own brand of verbal toxin instead. Here are four rap battles, where not only the fans of the format became the winners, but the participants emerged looking like battle-tested emcees ready to take on the next challenge.
Kool Moe Dee Vs LL Cool J
If you were to equate this beef to something more contemporary, it would be akin to the brief Common vs Drake feud: a young, smooth rapper rises and an old-school minded artist attempts to lyrically smack him into his place. Kool Moe Dee fired the first shots on wax here against LL Cool J, rapping in “How Ya Like Me Now,” “It irked my nerve, when I heard, a sucker rapper that I know I’ll serve.”
On the album cover of How Ya Like Me Now, a Jeep is parked on top of a red Kangol hat, Cool J’s trademark headwear. Moe Dee took exception to LL’s proclamation that he was the best rapper in the world. “Cool’s problem is that he’s beginning to believe in his own myth,” he told the L.A. Times in 1987.
LL responded on “Jack the Ripper,” rapping, “Last year you tried, this year you’re quitting.”
Moe Dee went on The Library show in 2014 and cleared up the impetus for the rap feud. “The basis of that battle… (LL Cool J) said, ‘I’m only 18 makin’ more than ya pops,’ and that was so counter-productive to say you’re worth more… because you’re making more money.”
At the height of the crack epidemic in the late ’80s, Moe Dee was accusing LL of being irresponsible with his lyrics, and suggesting that the working man was beneath him. “You have to upgrade your content, especially in this climate,” Moe Dee said.
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Dee came back from the “Jack the Ripper” track and responded in “Let’s Go,” rhyming, “Jack the Ripper, down with my zipper, you get paid to be a Moe Dee tipster.”
There are also stories circulating that in the late ’80s, Moe Dee chased LL off stage or out of clubs because the young MC was too scared to battle the more seasoned vet. In 1990, LL Cool J released Mama Said Knock You Out, and aimed several times at Kool Moe Dee: in “To Da Break Of Dawn,” LL makes fun of Dee’s trademark sunglasses, calling them “Star Trek shades” and describing him as a “burned up french fry.”
In the video for Kool Moe Dee’s 1991 track “Death Blow,” Dee rhymes from the inside of a boxing ring, beckoning LL to face him head-on in a battle for hip-hop supremacy and mirroring LL’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” video.
LL took some parting shots at Dee in “I Shot Ya” in 1995, but by then, the fuel serving this rap beef had dwindled. This was a case where the competitive nature of rap resulted in some great tracks, with both men throwing out their best salvos in a quest to be the better lyricist.
U.T.F.O. Vs Roxanne Shante
Elevated: Roxanne Shanté
The trouble with rap trio U.T.F.O. and Roxanne Shanté began when the former no-showed an appearance. Shante was supposedly walking by when she heard Mr. Magic and others complaining about the no-show, plotting revenge. Roxanne Shanté channeled their anger, releasing “Roxanne’s Revenge” in 1984 as a diss song that sampled U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne.” Roxanne, real name Lolita Shanté Gooden, was only 14 at the time of the recording, but her lyrical lacerations were felt by U.T.F.O. “Roxanne’s Revenge” was a hit, and launched Roxanne Shanté into the conversation for best young MC in the game.
In response, the trio backed a track by Elease Jack, who called herself The Real Roxanne, and who released “The Real Roxanne.”
The Roxanne War spawned a number of diss records, with rappers in both camps (and others) releasing tracks that purported to show the viewpoints of Roxanne’s relatives — it became quite convoluted. Shanté’s career would never quite reach the stratosphere as her debut single suggested, but for a time she was the definitive talk of the hip hop world.
Eminem Vs The Source
Like LL Cool J in his beef with Kool Moe Dee, Eminem was already on his way to becoming a superstar — the battle with The Source only helped to elevate Em’s status in the game. The Source, the definitive publication in rap music, was ran by Dave Mays and rapper/record executive Benzino. Benzino seemed to find a problem with Eminem’s rising star, and the magazine did much to try and discredit his career, including releasing an old recording of Eminem dropping the “n-word” in an early rap. Eminem, for his part, released several songs dissing Ray Benzino: “Nail in the Coffin,” and “The Sauce.”
With Marshal going against the biggest magazine in the industry, the feud was painted as an aging rapper using his printed word to bedevil the hottest act in the game, and after The Source released several magazine covers denouncing Eminem, it worked toward discrediting the publication itself, many seeing the magazine as a pedestal for Mays, Benzino, and their beefs. Since then, Benzino has apologized for his part in the feud, and Eminem came out seemingly on the winning end. But, not many who have beefed with the Court Jester of Rap have come out on the other side as a winner.
BDP vs Juice Crew
In 1985, Marley Marl and MC Shan released “The Bridge,” a tunnel-banging track that proposed that Queensbridge was the birthplace of hip-hop. KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions (BDP) took offense to the claim, and released their “South Bronx” in 1986, staking the merits of the Bronx as the fatherland of rap music.
In response to the claim that Queensbridge birthed the rap movement, KRS-One rapped, “If you pop that junk up in the Bronx you might not live.”
KRS came off as the real star in “The Bridge Wars,” eviscerating MC Shan with deep lyrical content that was well ahead of its time in 1986 and ’87. More tracks were released in the aftermath of the first two shots: “Kill That Noise” and “The Bridge is Over” were released by Shan and KRS respectively. In the former, Shan claims that he never purported Queens as the birthplace of hip-hop, while in the latter, KRS mocks Marley Marl and the Juice Crew. Much of the venom spawned between the emcees resulted from a moment when Mr. Magic, a DJ and producer who sided with the Juice Crew, did not recognize and respect KRS-One and Scott La Rock when they presented themselves as upcoming artists.
Other emcees, like Poet and Cool C, joined in the melodic melee that ensued, but in 1987, Scott La Rock was killed, and it changed KRS-One’s outlook on music and life. There were still shots fired in song, especially in KRS-One’s 1990 album Edutainment, but the bulk of the virulent wax battle was left behind in the ’80s. Since then, KRS is recognized as one of the greatest poets on wax that ever lived, and the war with Shan and the Juice Crew only helped to elevate his game.
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