Where’s the Beef?

January 19, 2009

Mid 90’s hip-hop has seen more media play in the last two weeks than it has in the last ten years thanks to the release of Notorious, a biopic about the life of Notorious B.I.G.  Biggie’s short life spells an incomparable script: a stratospheric rise from crack dealer to rap hero, and an instant collapse from glory when he was slain on the streets of Los Angeles.

Notorious was killed in March 1997, six months after Tupac Shakur was killed in Las Vegas.  The two waged an acrimonious war of lyrics and, it stands to reason, bullets as their East and West Coast stables fought for rap supremacy, each killing the other to achieve the most Pyrrhic victory.

It could be the day that changed hip-hop forever.

Three months after Biggie was shot, Puff Daddy released “I’ll Be Missing You” and the rap world was forever viewed through a more saccharine lens.  Gone were Pac’s lines like “Lil’ Ceaser, go ask ya homie how I leave ya / cut your young ass up, leave you in pieces, now be deceased.”

Instead, Sting performed live on a #1 rap single.  Sting.

The late 90’s were filled with broke-ass rappers like Ja Rule and DMX, and in the early 2000’s, Ludacris and Nelly entertained across race, age and gender, but didn’t really gall anyone.  Nobody’s going to shoot someone over “I’ve got hoes / in different area codes” and Nelly’s hit about how hot it is in the club won’t offend those blokes across the coast.

Then a few years later, everything changed.  Rap evolved, almost as the internet did.  It became open-source and collaborative.

In contrast to the mid-90’s, when rap’s two biggest stars, Biggie and Tupac, wouldn’t whisper a positive word about the other, during the past two years, the five titans of hip-hop have done nothing but work together, brag about one another, boost each other’s bankroll and hustle to push hip-hop back to the mainstream after a decade off.

Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z, T.I. and Young Jeezy.  Each has put out a chart-topping record in the last two or three years and worked with another on a hit or three.  Four of them even teamed up to release one (admittedly fucking terrible) song recently.

Moreover, each is developing an independent character.  Lil’ Wayne is the playboy, Kanye the emotive poet, Jay-Z the mogul, Jeezy the social philosopher and T.I. the felon.  The music is renowned.  Lil Wayne’s The Carter III is nominated for Best Album at the Grammy’s, next to … Radiohead and Robert Plant.

There’s still a little hardass here though; T.I. is going to jail for a year come March, for possession of unlicensed machine guns.  That’s pretty bad.  But it’s just screaming for the album of the decade to drop when he gets out.

But there are no more Congressional hearings about hip-hop.  In 1993, hip-hop’s most recognizable businessman was Suge Knight, the Jeff Skilling of hip-hop.  Now, it is Jay-Z, who owns the New Jersey Nets and until the market collapsed, had plans to redesign an entire neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Kanye West designs his own Louis Vuitton sneakers, and is generally seen as the best-dressed man in entertainment.

In 1993, rap’s two stars decided to kill each other.

P.S. Juicy J. and DJ Paul won an Oscar.


One Response to “Where’s the Beef?”

  1. LED Torch said

    you can always say that Kanye West is a good singer but he will never be as good as michael jackson .:`

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