Roc Star Beef

Hip-hop's lyrical fight club

Class, there's a lot of material to cover today, so I'll be going fast. If you're confused, please stop me and ask questions, but know that this information is all very, very current, and entirely subject to change at the drop of a dime. Because in hip-hop, as in wrestling, allegiances can be quickly shifted, and the line between enemies and friends is often only as thin as a cashier's check.

Take it back a few weeks to Summer Jam, the annual hip-pop blowout held by New York's rap radio monolith Hot 97. Before bringing Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson) onstage to shock the crowd, Jay spoke his mind about a certain Queensbridge rapper and brought damning evidence to boot: "I don't care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews/You little fuck, I got money stacks bigger than you/When I was pushing weight back in '88, you was a ballerina/I got the picture, I seen ya." At this point, Jay pointed to the sky, and on screen overhead flashed a group of pictures depicting Prodigy as a young dancer, sporting leotards and surrounded by tutu-wearing girls in one.

"Ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov'," Jay rapped at the end of his skewering verse, and indeed, Nas has been on the wrong end of a fair amount of Roc-A-Fella family static, a role he's played since engaging Memphis Bleek, the Roc-A-Fella young gun with the most to prove, in a bizarre war of lyrical paraphrasing. Nas kicked it off on 1999's "Nastradamus," declaring, "You wanna ball 'til you fall? I can help you with that," an oblique reference to the chorus of Memph's "What You Think of That?" Bleek bit back on the first single from his last album, Coming of Age. On "My Mind Right," he snapped, "Your lifestyle's written, so who you supposed to be?" a dig based on the title of Nas' album It Was Written. Not to be out-quoted, Nas took a final swing on "Da Bridge 2001," from the recent QB's Finest compilation, asking young Bleek, "Wanna know who's life is written? The life I'm living, the ice, the women." Got all that? Good.

It would have seemed that these subtle jabs would have sated the combatants, but when Jay-Z called Nas out again at Summer Jam, it lit a spark of true wordsmithery under Nas' complacent brain, leading to one of his most vicious verses to date, taunting Jay-Z, "The fake king of New York, you show off/I counted off when you sampled my voice/I'm voodoo. Before you used to rap like the Fu Shnickens/Nas designed your blueprint, who you kiddin? It's the H to the izzo, M to the izzo/Fo shizzle you phony, the rapper version of Sisqo." The final refrain plays on the chorus of Jay-Z's new single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," which samples the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," a track that's dominating New York radio at the moment. Between albums, Nas had to take his attack to the radio directly, letting Hot 97's Funkmaster Flex debut the track on his mix show, generating even more instant public interest in the feud. (And for good measure, at the end of this verse Nas pokes at former Firm member Cormega, a belated retaliation for Mega's bitter, incendiary diatribe "Fuck Nas," which he released after being replaced in The Firm by Nature).

Still with me?

At the moment, Jay-Z hasn't responded to Nas (though rumors of "The Bridge Is Over 2001" are bubbling), but that may be because his Roc-A-Fella crew is entangled in yet another high-profile squabble, this one between Jigga prot駩 Beanie Sigel and Jadakiss, from the LOX. At the moment, Jadakiss is making a play for the swagger crown in New York, and taking on Roc-A-Fella's Number Two is helping to raise the Ruff Ryder's profile. On "Un Hunh," from his recently released solo album Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, Kiss proclaims "Had to stop eating red meat/'Cause I ate too many Beanie Macs." Beanie's got a retaliation verse making the mix tape rounds dissing Kiss over one of his own instrumentals ("Put Ya Hands Up"), and Kiss even dips into the LL Cool J battle archives, teasing Beanie, "you're just a worker, and your boss is my man."

That was a mouthful, and alarmingly, it doesn't even do justice to the scope and depths of these feuds, not to mention others I couldn't fit in here (Eminem/D12 and Esham, Eminem and Everlast, Eminem and me, Eminem and you). Coming up this week is The Source Awards, the industry glad-handfest that erupted in violence last year both backstage and in the audience. With all representatives of the warring camps in attendance, it'll be a highly combustible situation. So put your hands up. Nah, forget that. Keep your fingers crossed.

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