By Walter Dawkins
Gannett News Service
Throughout hip-hop's history, rappers have been dissing each other on records. This goes back to the classic battles between KRS-One vs. MC Shan and LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee, up to the recent clash between rap heavyweights Nas and Jay Z. These battles have often been funny and entertaining, creating some of rap music's classic recordings. But with the latest record battle - the long-running feud between current hip-hop king 50 Cent and rapper Ja Rule, which now has escalated to include some of hip-hop's biggest names - it has spiraled out of control.
This month, one of hip-hop's best-known DJs, New York's Hot 97's Funkmaster Flex, was so enraged when he heard "Hail Mary," the latest salvo in the 50 Cent/Ja Rule beef, that he went into a rant on the air, saying that he would never play any of these records again.
"I'm disappointed with everybody involved," Flex says, suggesting that battles like this can only breed negativity, and that as a DJ, he has the responsibility not to fuel the fire. Flex also took hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons - whose Def Jam Records distributes Ja Rule's label, Murder Inc. - to task for not doing more to help squash this disagreement.
Simmons denied to MTV that he's done nothing to make peace. "I hold meetings with these people and I'm working behind the scenes all the time," he says.
He's not the only one taking Flex's concerns seriously.
So does Lindsey Williams, a former vice president at EMI who has watched too many verbal disagreements turn violent.
"I blame the radio jocks for playing this stuff," Williams says. "The kids in the street want to hear this, but at the same time you know there will be repercussions."
Flex suggests Williams is "tired of seeing Tupac and Biggie and other cats losing their lives. He's part of the hip-hop culture and he's tired of seeing this. "
But Kay Slay, another DJ at Hot 97, sees the issue entirely differently than Flex. Slay argues that battling on records is part of what made hip-hop so successful. It's the premise of Eminem's movie 8 Mile.
"Hip-hop in the beginning revolved around battles. That's how you challenged the best so that you could become the best," says Slay.
He also believes that battling on albums might reduce real violence, as rappers work out their aggression on vinyl.
That said, Ja Rule and 50 Cent have had some very real incidents.
The problems started when Ja Rule spotted 50 Cent hanging out with someone he believed had just stolen several thousand dollars in jewelry from him. 50 Cent maintains that the two were just acquaintances, and he knew nothing about the robbery. But the two did have a physical altercation in Atlanta soon after, when both were staying at the same hotel. That escalated into an April 2000 incident in which members of Ja Rule and associates of Murder Inc. roughed up 50 Cent at Manhattan's Hit Factory studio.
Then the songs heated up. Last year, 50 Cent ridiculed Ja Rule on "Wangsta" (a song included on the soundtrack to Eminem's 8 Mile), calling him a wanna-be tough guy. Ja Rule fired back with "Loose Change," a freestyle that took aim at 50 Cent, his label owners Dr. Dre and Eminem, and his management company. That led to "Hail Mary," based on the music from the identically named Tupac hit, which features 50 Cent, Eminem and Busta Rhymes firing back at Ja Rule and Murder Inc. owner Irv Gotti, among others.
The difference between the current rap wars on wax and those of yesteryear is that these days the insults are extremely personal.
"Back in the day when Kool Moe Dee used to battle Busy Bee, they talked about their rap skills," Williams explains. "Now, it's Jay Z talking about having sex with Nas' girlfriend. Also, these days it's not about fighting. If cats have a fight, it's guaranteed to be a shootout the next day."
Williams believes the answer for this problem is simple: DJs should stop playing the records. "If they don't play them, no one will hear them, and then the artists will stop making them."
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