There Can Only Be One: Concerns Sitting Ringside At The Rap Battle
The conflict between Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion have sparked sharp online reactions. DJ Sir Daniel reflects on the evolution of rap battles from Shanté's "Big Mama" to Nas' "Ether."
“What’s beef? Beef is when you make your enemies start your Jeep
Beef is when you roll no less than 30 deep
Beef is when I see you
Guaranteed to be in ICU…”
- Notorious B.I.G. “What’s Beef?”
Maybe I am experiencing PTSD or deja vu, but the anxiety is palpable. Finally, after a 48 hour rant in all caps, Nicki Minaj announced to her legion of Barbz “Tomorrow - 3PM PST - #BIGFOOT.” I, like many of you, lived through a range of emotions from “is she trolling?” to “is she okay?”
Thanks to social media, the birth of the latest rap beef starring Nicki Minaj & Megan Thee Stallion came to life in rapid time. Of course, both sides have been stewing in their own personal insecurities and anger for quite some time now. But this thing is real and it’s right in our faces without the courtesy of subliminal shots and thinly veiled references in songs or magazine interviews. We are here.
Thanks for reading Queue Points Mag! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
“Ya’ll just p*ss on me, sh*t on me, spit on my grave/Talk about me, laugh behind my back but in my face
Ya’ll some ‘well wishers,’ friendly acting, envy hiding snakes..”
- Nas “Ether”
“This is what hip-hop is all about!” is a very simplified sentiment many are sharing in their examinations of Nicki vs. Megan, but to me, this feels very different. I was only four days into my 21st year of adulthood when Tupac Shakur met his untimely death at the age of 25. We all know what happened the following March of 1997, but I will share with you what happened to me.
The music form that I once looked at with longing and adoration now gave me pause. My idols were being murdered, and the news channels kept their bullet-hole riddled bodies on a 24 hour loop for us to relive the tragedy over and over again.
The concept of feuds in the rap industry are not alien. As a matter of fact, “battle rapping” is one of the pillars of what it means to be an emcee. In 2024 the stakes are a lot higher.
- DJ Sir Daniel
Fast forward to December 4th, 2001 a country barely piecing itself back together after 9/11, gets rocked by Nas when he unleashed “Ether,” in what rap historians consider, one of the best consciously crafted “diss songs.” The focus of “Ether” - Jay-Z. Jay was well on his way to collecting his crown of rap supremacy and houses were soon divided. The industry was divided. Everyone from magazine writers to radio announcers felt compelled to pick sides. Once again, rap music became more unrecognizable to me.
“..an all you b*tches got your style from me, the capital S-H-A-N-T-E
You used to go to my show, analyze how the sound flow. On the downlow, f-ck around, lay around h*e!”
- Roxanne Shanté “Big Mama”
One Sunday in October, 1992, I was tuned into “Rhythm & Vibes,” an underground hip-hop show broadcasting from the campus of Georgia State University in Atlanta. It was one of those moments you never forget as a diehard rap fan. Talib Shabazz prefaced a new record he was about to drop from Roxanne Shanté as “shocking.” He went so far as to warn us that we may not be ready for its full impact. Shanté began sliding on the Grand Daddy I.U. and Kay Cee-produced beat reminding us who she was and that she was not to be played with. But, then she went further.
She began naming names. Big names. People we felt were untouchable by reputation, but Shanté tagged them one by one and as the kids say today, she kinda gagged me a lot.
The hoopla died down, years passed by and hip-hop evolved into a commercial juggernaut. Shanté became a pariah in the community she helped build. For close to twenty years, she and hip-hop broke up.
The concept of feuds in the rap industry are not alien. As a matter of fact, “battle rapping” is one of the pillars of what it means to be an emcee. In 2024 the stakes are a lot higher. Rap artists are no longer battling for neighborhood supremacy. Many artists require your allegiance to them and it’s not enough to just buy their album. The term “cult” is used frequently to describe certain fanbases. Cult leaders depend on unquestioned loyalty and an aggressive approach to anyone that voices criticism.
If your livelihood depended on a streaming platform to pay you pennies on the dollar for your art, it stands to reason you feel the need to dominate the marketplace. But, at what cost? Today, as both a fan and cultural commentator of hip-hop music, I am struck at how much the industry leans into conflict and controversy to sell merchandise.
Traditional album roll-outs are a thing of the past making way for guerilla tactics with social media in their arsenal. I am exhausted and find myself checking out bit-by-bit. During the height of all the hip-hop 50th anniversary celebrations, dream hampton, prolific journalist and filmmaker, sent my head spinning with her response to a question in an article in the Washington Post:
Helena Andrews-Dyer: ‘Do you still believe hip-hop is revolutionary? Was it ever?’
dream hampton: ‘You can’t be a revolutionary with broken gender politics. You can’t be a revolutionary and be homophobic. And this is before we even get to capitalism. To be homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic? No, you’re not a revolutionary. You’re not even a radical. You’re actually quite status quo. What it was was a radical sound, and that’s not even true anymore.’
I was dumbfounded. I was in complete agreement.
My hope for this 21st century generation of rappers is that they grow old. Because at this point, growing old is the real flex. Maturing and aging is the real title-bout for all the clout.
Join Queue Points On Wednesday, January 31, 2024 at 8PM ET for Intended Souley, Exclusively on Mixcloud
Rap beefs have moved from the stage to the record to the streets and finally to the fans. In our current moment, the beefs between two women MCs have boiled over, and it got us thinking about one of the greatest diss records of all time - “Big Mama” by Roxanne Shanté.
On this inaugural episode of Intended Souley, Queue Points’ members-only monthly show, we are reminiscing about the song, the period, and what we can learn from it. Join us on Mixcloud as we play some music from the era and chat about 1992.
#HipHop #QueuePoints #IntendedSouley #MembersOnly