'I Guess' is Kathy Iandoli's battle cry of #shruglife. It's everything that impresses us and unimpresses us—which could be one in the same given the day.
I used to say that the demise of battle rap began following the final scene in the film 8 Mile.
For all intents and purposes, it's a great scene. Eminem, who portrays this Detroit battle rap upstart named B-Rabbit, is dragged for the duration of the movie by a crew known as the Free World, led by Anthony Mackie's character named Papa Doc. It's loosely based on Em's life, as B-Rabbit has an unhinged mom -- much like what we've learned of Debbie Mathers, a little sister he cares for -- reflecting both his daughter Hailie and his niece Laney in real life, and grows up in a trailer park. He's skilled, yet slept-on, which is probably their biggest difference since Eminem fans fall on their sword for that guy.
Anyway, throughout the film, a number of random things happen to B-Rabbit, as his best friend sleeps with his girlfriend (R.I.P. Brittany Murphy), his friend Cheddar Bob shoots himself (don't worry, guys, he survives), yada yada yada. So, when it's time for Eminem to have this big showdown with Papa Doc, he rattles off all of the possible disses that Papa Doc could throw out there, along with some dirt he dug up about Doc. And he delivers his bars in this cadence that vacillates between shrill and annoying younger brother, emphasizing certain words in this pearl-clutching way ("This guy's a GANGSTER? His real name is CLARENCE!").
B-Rabbit wins the battle and balance is restored. Yay. That was in the movies. But, in real life, battle rap turned trash for a hot second. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the sport, I saw firsthand what that scene did to multi-tiered battle rap leagues. Almost everybody adopted that weird B-Rabbit cadence and shit just turned so…personal.
What that movie did was mush together what was happening behind the scenes in the rappers' lives and what was supposed to be a sport of skill. So, the insults became more venomous. It was no longer about sucking as a rapper or having funny hair, but smacking people up and then bragging about it onstage. I don't even have to list examples. Just Google "battle rap fist fights" and you'll find all of them come after 8 Mile's 2002 debut. I'm waiting for some battle rap purist to come with some 1999 drama. But, we all know I don't care about your #facts machine.
Battle rap has since leveled out once again, though it was touch-and-go following the 2014 "Total Slaughter" battle between Joe Budden and battle rap veteran Hollow Da Don. For a hot second, there was a goal to merge battle rap with hip hop at street level and those two worlds never see eye-to-eye. Battle rappers rarely release hit singles and chart-topping rappers rarely succeed in battle rap.
And this is where everything became so convoluted because the words "beef" and "battle" began to be used interchangeably.
This brings us to the present. Last week, the second episode of HBO's "The Shop" premiered, as LeBron James chopped it up with Drake about life, fatherhood, and of course, the beef with Pusha T. Drake discussed why he refrained from releasing the track that was geared to be the death blow in that little war. We all thought it was due to a call from J. Prince. But, apparently, Drake said that he didn't want that to be his legacy -- the guy who lyrically murders his opponent with heinous words. This came after Pusha made some awful remarks about Noah "40" Shebib and the M.S. that he suffers from on "The Story of Adidon," the track that revealed Drake was a father (a little tidbit passed on by rapper/producer turned gossiping-Republican Kanye West). "I study rap battles for a living," Drake tells Bron, and affirms his historian status by saying Pusha violated by bringing 40 into it and backdoor wishing death upon him.
Drake is incorrect. Kind of.
Sure, a rap battle should never be so personal. Cut to my original sentiment about battle rap. It should be a sport. You never see MMA fighters walk out during weigh-ins and whispering to the others, "That's why I heard your eczema flare up prevented you from fighting your best last time." Like, no, shut the fuck up and show me your fists. Nobody needs the #yomama jokes. Same rules apply to rap battles.
Sorry Drake, you were in a rap beef, and when you're entangled in one of those, it's no holds barred. Biggie and Tupac died over a rap beef. JAY-Z put a photo of the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep dressed in his dance school clothes up on the huge screen at Summer Jam. Tupac made a reference to Prodigy's sickle cell anemia in "Hit Em Up." No, Drake, when you're a part of a beef, people are going to say some awful shit. If you were busy studying rap battles, then that was a mistake on your part because that entire situation between you, Pusha and West was personal. There was no room for cracks about shoe laces being untied. You should know that from your rap beef with Meek Mill.
So, once again, I blame 8 Mile because B-Rabbit has everyone still thinking rap battles are rap beefs, and rap beefs are rap battles. They are not the same. It feels old-fashioned to discuss any of this. But, given how many times that soundbite of Drake discussing Pusha has been retweeted, this topic required further dissection.
As a final note, I'll leave you with this:
Rap battles result in a winner and a loser. Rap beefs do not. The participants in rap beefs either die (real unfortunate talk), make peace (hello, Nas and JAY-Z), or never resolve the matter, but basically outgrow it (Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown). Whatever happens in-between is fair game.
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