Hip-Hop Needs More Unifying Moments

On Friday, September 7th, Nicki Minaj had a shoe hurled at her head. The attack came courtesy of “I Like It” rapper The news media ran with the story at a breakneck speed, and the pair themselves would go on to trade words online about the altercation. For Cardi’s part, she posted a lengthy screenshot to Instagram where she noted the following: “I’ve let a lot of sh*t slide! I let you sneak diss me, I let you lie on me, I let you attempt to stop by bags, f**k up the way I eat! [But] when you mention my child, you choose to like comments about me as a mother, make comments about my abilities to take care of my daughter is when all bets are f**kin off!!” Nicki’s proper clapback came during her Monday broadcast of Apple Music’s Queen Radio, when she said of Cardi: “You’re angry and you’re sad. This is not funny. Get this woman some f—in help.”

Consider the murky grounds upon which this beef was founded; speculation has run rampant that the storyline was a record label fabrication, or perhaps simply fans suggesting there can only be one talented female rapper in the game. Some point to the lead single off Migos’ album Culture II, “Motorsport,” as being the instigator; in an interview with Zane Lowe for Beats1, Nicki claimed to have been hurt by Cardi’s lack of appreciation of being featured with one of the decade’s top female artists. Whatever the true catalyst for the bad blood, it’s probable that the beef will continue to play out over the next few weeks.

Yet while beefs are thoroughly ingrained within the fabric of the rap genre, it’s important that they are not the primary narrative. Sure, they often dominate the conversation, as we’re currently seeing with Nicki and Cardi, or the ongoing feud between Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly (which has currently culminated in Em’s searing “Killshot” rebuttal). But they also have a history of turning intensely sour. Lil Kim vs. Foxy Brown. 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. Biggie vs. Tupac.

In the wake of losing XXXTentacion, Jimmy Wopo, and Mac Miller, it’s important that hip-hop as a whole strives for more unifying moments. Take Drake and Meek Mill’s reunion on the Boston leg of the “Aubrey & the Three Migos” Tour. When the Philadelphia native was brought on stage, the former rivals coexisted like nothing had transpired since the days of making “R.I.C.O”. The ghostwriting claims and “Back to Back” subliminals were cast aside, and it became about the music, and above all, putting differences aside.  

Legends never die, but people do. In the case of Biggie and Tupac, their war of words and tragic deaths have been an ongoing topic of conversation; discussion of their impact will forever be followed by thoughts of what could’ve been. XXXTentacion and Mac Miller have now ignited similar conversations, with people such as Kanye West and Post Malone lending their thoughts on Twitter. “I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here thank you for existing,” West said of XXX on June 18th, expressing the problem many face, of things left unsaid.

Hip-hop is a genre built on the foundations of language. An artist’s dexterity in the booth is in part based on their lyrical ability, their cadence of delivery that lends bars to the beat and vice-versa. A challenger in the genre who starts beef can therefore make or break your career. It’s a moment that can build credibility and lead to some damn good records. Rappers have a tendency to put out some of their best music when backed into a corner, throwing every jab and hook they can think of; see Nas’ “Ether” or Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up”. Brutal honesty can slap more than a beat, and suddenly we’re watching Michael Jordan in the oft-referenced game six. MGK and Em’s current back-and-forth is a prime example of how to run things. MGK’s “Rap Devil” came out swinging, poignant and offensive enough to draw a response from one of the biggest MC’s in the game.  Em replies with his Lil Tay-referencing “Killshot,” and now the mic is up for grabs again. The sonic blows continue until the public crowns a winner.

Not unlike the post-game court, a beef needs to have sportsmanship, where everybody ultimately shakes hands, says “good game,” and leaves it in the booth. LeBron and Steph coming to blows after a match-up wouldn’t prove who was the better player, but would instead be a spectacle similar to the Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004. No matter how heated things get, emotions should never manifest themselves as an inclination to cause real-world harm. Even with the most intense beef, there has to be a conclusion, a unifying moment where differences are placed aside for the sake of each artists’ sanity. Drake and Meek taking the stage together was such a time, a reflection of both artists’ longevity and audience-desired nostalgia for their work together. While the crowd response was deafening, one can’t help but wonder the response if this were a Tupac and Biggie show in 2018, with both men alive and sitting on a catalog of hits.

Coming together is a facet of hip-hop perhaps even more so than beef. Joint projects and tours are staples of the genre, and evidence that the public welcomes collaboration in addition to feuds. Often times, when fans talk about an upcoming album the first thing they want to discuss are the features and producers. Remixes with added artists often take things from good to great, with Yo Gotti’s Nicki-assisted “Down in the DM” and Kanye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” with Jay-Z as key examples. Collaborations get people hype in a way solo releases occasionally struggle to, and co-signs are one of the sure-fire ways to blow up (Blocboy JB, Rae Sremmurd).  The popularity of large-scale events like Coachella and Governors Ball further prove a keen audience interest in seeing artists perform in the same space, hyping each other up and reminding people why they’re all fans in the first place.

While beef is an unavoidable part of the game and certainly leads to quality music, it can’t be allowed to spill from the studio to the streets. Fans love a good diss track; a brawl, less so. “Just let me be great,” Jay-Z rapped on his 2013 track “F.U.T.W.” It’s something all artists should be allowed to do without having to constantly keep a lookout.  The only time rappers should have to watch their back is during a celebrity basketball game. The people will buy both disses and collabs, so there’s no need to specialize in just one.