Last Friday night, I was watching a TiVo'd episode of Oprah's Next Chapter (my life is really glamorous, you guys). Queen Oprah was interviewing 50 Cent (fitty, if you will), and the thugged out rapper (known for surviving nine bullet wounds,) was coming across as more of a gentle soul in a fitted sweater than a former hustler turned rap music mogul. In one of Oprah’s more rap-savvy moments she asked 50, why he likes to provoke other rappers. “Battling has always been a part of the culture,” 50 said. “So in order to create the challenge, they say something that irritates another artist and they compete and they go back and forth.”
50’s explanation of rap wars is exactly the type of rose-colored explanation that one should give to a class-act like Oprah. To Oprah, Fitty makes rap battles sound fun, and kind of charming: a friendly competition between rhyme-spitting equals. At the end of the segment, Oprah feels pretty darn good about rap wars, and so do we.
Obviously, the rap reality is far less charming. These rap duals have many-a-time ended in deaths. (Anyone else get the chills from Biggie’s super prescient album titles Ready to Die? and Life After Death?) Most recently, and quite publically, Chris Brown and Drake have added their name to this epic rap-war roster with their bottle tossing display, allegedly over Rihanna.
Even though the bottle throwing, gun wielding, entourage battling, side of the rap wars make the headlines, what hooks me to the feuds are the subtle lyrical spars that make these wars quaint in the way that 50 Cent assures Oprah that they are.
With the Chris Brown and Drake war, the lyrical weapons have been wielded for over three years now. In a soulful 2009 track, “Famous Girl’, Chris Brown sings about Rihanna: “Drake would say that/ You’re the “Best He Ever Had”” and “I was wrong for writing “Disturbia”/ But I meant it in “Forever”/ We were ‘posted to be together.”
Chris Brown’s lyrics in 2012, post Drake bottle-battle, are decidedly more cutting but still on the Drake-Rihanna target. In a Game remix to the Chief Keef song, “I Don’t Like”, Brown spits: “They throwin’ bottles, I’m throwin’ models” (he’s setting the scene, you guys). And then goes full-on to a direct Drake attack, “Them eyebrows, man, them shits is yikes/ OVO, you overdosed, screamin’ YOLO no, I live twice.” That last lyrics is a comment on the Drake track “The Motto” which features the hook, “You only live once, that’s the motto n**** YOLO.”
Drake, for his part, apparently rapped about Rihanna on his track ‘Fireworks’ in 2010. “What happened between us that night it always seems to trouble me/ Now all of a sudden these gossip brags wanna cover me.”
The Chris Brown/Drake/Rihanna lyric-athon is only one instance of this musical history war. Tupac didn’t mince words when he attacked Biggie on his track “Hit ‘em Up”: “Biggie remember when I use to let you sleep on the couch/ And beg the b*tch to let you sleep in the house/ Now it’s all about Versace/ You copied my style/ Five shots couldn’t drop me/ I took it and smiled.”
Even 50 Cent and Oprah have a little ongoing feud. In 2009, years before the sit-down interview I spent my Friday night watching, 50 told the Associated Press about Oprah, “Oprah’s audience is my audience’s parents. So, I could care less about Oprah or her show.”
If rap feuds are to go on, (and I unfortunately don’t see a way they won’t) I only wish they could stick to these wars-of-words. Lyrics and rhymes are more cutting (and less lethal) than the weapons and wounds. Keep the rap battles to the airwaves, and make Fitty's rosy, quaint explanation of the "challenge" "culture" be nothing more than a track on repeat.