Do fightin' words really have an expiration date?
Revisionist history adds a noted sense of immediacy to the legendary Jay-Z Vs. Nas beef. Yet in reality, the time between opening volley and counterstrike was unusually long, especially by today's standards. Jay-Z’s “Takeover” was released on September 11th, 2001 and Nas dropped “Ether” on December 4th of that same year. In this day and age, such a delay would be perceived as weakness. It’s not uncommon to hear people say “they on the clock” once the first shot is fired. Perhaps such a mentality is fuelled purely by selfish bloodlust, as a fast turnaround means new, and often passionate, music. Yet this proverbial “clock” tends to present a false narrative; a delayed response time should not be mistaken for cowardice, though it so often is.
Consider a few of last year’s prominent feuds, namely Drake Vs. Pusha T and Eminem Vs. Machine Gun Kelly. The former feud found Drake’s “Duppy” facing off against Pusha T’s “The Story Of Adidon.” While tension had been simmering between both parties for some time, the notorious beef unfolded over one incendiary week. Pusha T’s “Infrared” dropped on May 25th. Drake responded to the subs with “Duppy,” which he released on that same day. Four days later, Pusha T replied with “The Story Of Adidon” on May 29th. One of the years biggest feuds unfolded in fewer than ninety-six hours. Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly’s beef transpired with a similarly brief turnaround time. On August 31st, Eminem set it off with “Not Alike.” Machine Gun Kelly clapped back on September 8th with “Rap Devil.” Eminem concluded the war with “Killshot” on September 14th; in dryly comedic fashion, our own post title for “Killshot” comes complete with an emphatic Finally.
In hindsight, I suppose we’re all guilty of getting caught in the hype on a reactionary basis. In such a competitive sport, the preservation of reputation can feel like the end-all-be-all. It’s not easy to have one’s dirty laundry aired in such a public forum, allowing millions of social media users to judge, troll, ridicule, memeify, and malleate an already volatile narrative. If one hundred thousand people clamor for an immediate response, prematurely citing “cowardice” in the event it never comes, the court of public opinion ultimately runs the risk of shifting against the defendant. Lest we forget, however, that back in 2002 Eminem unleashed two diss tracks to Benzino in “The Sauce” and “Nail In The Coffin.” Both tracks were penned in response to Zino’s “Pull Your Skirt Up,” and released a month-and-a-half after its release. Now Imagine Eminem took one-and-a-half months to respond to Machine Gun Kelly. Even if “Killshot” remained exactly as is, it’s entirely possible that the modern world would have moved on, the sheen of the battle long having dulled.
Yet when Nas and Jay-Z went to war all those years ago, that was hardly the case. The landscape was vastly different, with little-to-no social media. Print outlets like The Source and XXL carried notable weight in providing news and insight into hip-hop culture. That’s not to say the fan response to “Takeover” was any different than a modern-day post-diss high. Yet the public sense of urgency was far more contained, largely expressed through word of mouth by sheer necessity. I was only twelve when I heard “Takeover,” and I can still remember hearing “Ether” for the first time, downloading it in my friend’s basement. There was no timeline analysis or questioning of reputation gained and lost, only an appreciation of Nas’ unrelenting and ruthless bars.
Were social media to be in play, it would have likely shifted perception. The risk of groupthink is never far, and it’s easy to imagine “Takeover” as being premium meme fodder. Imagine the lines “you were a ballerina, I got the pictures I’ve seen ya,” complete with legions of amateur PhotoShops depicting exactly that. Case in point, examine this “REACTIONS” post to Drake’s “Duppy” for some context. In fairness, the birth of meme culture would have likely added an additional layer of comedy to some of hip-hop’s classic feuds. And it’s not as if people should be blamed for living the internet era. It’s no secret that news travels faster now, with endless content available at the bat of an eyelash. This generation has long been associated with “Instant Gratification,” due largely in part to the internet’s facilitation of damn near everything. Now, if Drake wants to hit the studio and release “Duppy,” he can upload it to SoundCloud hours later (as he did). Twenty years ago, Drake would have had to resort to different measures altogether.
Consider that some of the greatest diss tracks in hip-hop history, including “Takeover” and “Ether,” were released on official studio albums. In fact, many prominent diss records arrived on physical copies, which meant above all else, the printing process. 2Pac’s “Hit Em Up” was originally released on June 4th, 1996, as a B-Side to the “How Do U Want It” single. We mustn’t forget that “Hit Em Up” was penned as a response to Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya,” which was released all the way back on February 20th, 1995. Yet when we look back on their feud with a historian’s lens, Biggie and Pac’s still stands among hip-hop’s most storied beefs. Likewise for Ice Cube’s war with his former group NWA, which ultimately spawned the classic “No Vaseline.” Given that NWA wasted little time in blasting Cube on their albums 100 Miles and Runnin' (August 14th, 1990) and N****z4Life (May 28th, 1991), Cube ultimately felt compelled to place nail firmly in coffin. On October 29th, 1991, five months after NWA dubbed him Benedict Arnold, Ice Cube delivered “No Vaseline.”
Today, a five-month delay between diss tracks is unheard of. Instead, eight-day delays are eternal. Four-days is fair game. Twenty-four hours is ideal. We recently saw Tory Lanez earn praise for his approach to diss-track marketing, which found him engaging in two spirited tilts with Joyner Lucas and Don Q. The former found him releasing two tracks in fewer than forty-eight hours, a pace matched by Joyner. The latter found Lanez responding to Q’s “I’m Not Joyner” in fewer than twenty-four. Now imagine if Don Q, or Joyner Lucas for that matter, issued a response tonight. How do you think his efforts would be met?