The rappers Drake & Meek Mill began a rap beef in June. The way that this beef has been played out is a testament to the expanding boundaries of rap, but it also shows some of the traps that rappers are facing in the age of social media.
Where’s the Beef?
Here’s a quick refresher for those who are unfamiliar with the controversy.
Meek Mill, upset that Drake, who was at the time an ally and collaborator, didn’t support his album publicly, accused Drake of one of rap’s cardinal sins for not writing his lyrics.
This beef will soon spread beyond the Twitterverse.
Drake, following the rules of engagement in rap, released Charged Up as a diss track on July 25, 2013. The lyrics convey subdued bravado and annoyance but are sung over a dreamy synth backdrop, defying its title.
Drake addresses Meek Mill directly in the song:
It’s not like I need to make money off a movie. I see that you niggas are having a hard time going gold. You’re turning into so-and-sos no one knows.
When beefing, it is common to trade barbs – blow for blow and tit for Tat.
Meek Mill tweeted a reply in this case.
Drake then released a new diss track, Back to Back.
It was a meme-inducing crowdpleaser with lyrics that referred to Meek Mill’s subordinate position in relation to Nicki Minaj (who is much more significant).
Meek Mill responded with his song. Wanta Know samples The Undertaker’s entrance song, which has the characteristic funeral tolls that seem to indicate the end of this feud.
The fans’ reaction was muted. The fans expected more. Meek Mill’s weak apology was a sign that the beef was still there but had lost its swagger.
There are many types of beef.
A beef is a conflict that occurs between two individuals. There’s a big difference between a beef in the street and if it takes place in music.
In his 1997 song What is Beef?, Notorious BIG describes the former.
When you can’t sleep, you need beef. Your moms aren’t safe on the street.
It’s easy to take Biggie’s lyrics literally rather than figuratively, given that his much-publicized feud with Tupac Shakur led to both their deaths (actually).
The lyrics are meant to be interpreted in terms of inequality through the street ethic of survival that was forged during the cold winters of poverty.
Mos Def observed:
Beef is when one gangster doesn’t do it right, and another decides to take his life. / It is not the famous niggas who do this on the microphone, but what George Bush does in a fight.
In hip-hop and rap, beef has a completely different meaning. Its meaning in this context is more closely tied to the tradition of The Dozens, or an exchange of insults with a winner, than it is in shootings.
Sweet beef is what this is.
Beef is a fundamental part of rap, whether it is through freestyle battles or records that diss other rappers. It defines the boundaries and also is determined by them.
The boundaries of these boundaries can be geographically defined. This was evident in the classic beef between Queenbridge’s Juice Crew and South Bronx Boogie Down Productions. We saw this with the rivalry between Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records.
These feuds were more symbolic than physical. The first was about the origins of rap. In the second case, it was all about dominance of style. In both cases, the beef was about asserting a claim to the rap scene, declaring who owned the block.
Most often, however, beef is all about the “juice” or asserting yourself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of rap.
Similar to Blues tradition, MCs gain credibility by engaging – either through collaboration or provocation – with the best. Rappers respect MCs who can prove their worth.
If a beef makes the headlines in pop culture, then it usually means that one or more of the MCs is well-respected. They are the core MCs of the rap scene and are the ones that can bring in the other MCs on the fringe.
Both Drake and Meek Mill are part of the hip-hop world. Meek Mill is less established than Drake, and his position is therefore more precarious: a loss in battle may sever those very ties that brought him to the core. Meek Mill’s relationship with Nicki Minaj should keep him close to the body. Other MCs who don’t have such strong bonds aren’t as lucky.
Consider, for instance, the 2002 Ja Rule-50 cent beef. 50 Cent, then a marginal MC with connections to Dr Dre, Eminem, and others, effectively ended Ja Rule’s career via a series of diss songs, including the track that is considered the final blow, Back Down.