The history of feuds in hip hop dates all the way back to its beginning days: Biggie and Tupac, Nas and Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim, the list goes on. Most recently, Meek Mill and Drake went at it, going back and forth on social media, with it even extending into the music itself. Beefs like this are used as publicity tools, keeping rappers in the spotlight for weeks at a time during a lull in their release schedules. If you dig in and find out why these feuds erupt in the first place though, what you see is a colossal waste of everyone’s time and energy.
Let’s take for example the most infamous feud in hip hop history: The East Coast/West Coast beef of the late 80s/early 90s. It began mostly as a friendly rivalry between regions. Hip hop may have been born in New York City, but the Big Apple soon found competition down in Los Angeles. Artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg began their respective rises to prominence, and suddenly rappers from either end of the country were competing for superiority. Eventually, things got bloody, leading to the violent deaths of icons on both sides of the aisle; both Tupac and Biggie Smalls were gunned down, and the feud came to a head.
The root cause of all that mayhem wasn’t particularly noble. It was merely a competition to see who could make the better music, quickly spiraling into a back-and-forth of he said/she said. Simply put, the industry had devolved into a schoolyard mentality. Talented artists were gunned down for inane and petty reasons, driven to violence by the greed and ego inherent in the greater music industry.
Today, artists haven’t gotten any more mature. If anything, it’s only continued to devolve, and in a lot of ways it’s our fault too. We as a culture are buying into the hype, with the Meek/Drake feud finding itself a trending topic on social media on a daily basis. Theirs is a beef rooted in the same level of immaturity and publicity hounding. The short story is as follows: Meek accused Drake of not writing his own rhymes in retaliation for Drake not promoting Meek’s new album on Twitter. It’s a conflict that sounds more like something between 13 year-old children than grown men making millions of dollars, and yet here we are applauding on the sidelines.
The Meek/Drake conflict is the quintessential example of a time-wasting exercise. The complaints voiced by both rappers are those of fully grown adults holding on for dear life to their childish egos. Who cares that someone didn’t Tweet about your album? And why bother with diss songs to feed the feud when you should be spending that energy on making quality music? It sure sells records for all involved, but at what cost?
At their worst, feuds in hip-hop can quite literally be fatal. At their best, they show the rest of the musical world that the those within the industry still haven’t managed to set aside their petty differences. The end result: It becomes less about the music, and all about the image, further propagating the ego problem hip-hop already has. We live in a golden age of music in terms of our ability to consume it, thanks in large part to the rise of affordable streaming services and bombastic live tours. Sadly, all this is lost on the newest generation of rappers, who have apparently learned nothing from their predecessors. What we need is for someone embroiled in one of these pointless feuds to stand up and ask: “Who cares?”
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