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Rap Repute: How Hip Hop Artists Struggle to Live Up to Their Raps
October's Very Own Battler
Real Life Battles
The dually collaborative and competitive nature of the hip hop genre illustrates what outcomes may present themselves in any situation. The tiff between rappers Aubrey “Drake” Graham and Robert Rahmeek “Meek Mill” Williams represents one of the brightest moments in the history of the lyrical sport. But at what point do friendships and business partnerships fizzle? What is the predictor for such relationships to no longer exist? The cynic would say that the battle between Graham and Williams is all to promote both parties' projects. While this maybe true, the rappers who appeared on songs together and have regarded each other with a modicum of respect have had this falling out due to the disloyalty of hip hop. No faction within the bounds of the genre is safe. From its inception, rappers have been laying tracks to trump the other one on the mic. Posturing, boasting, and pontificating all became tools of the trade. The more haughty a master of ceremonies (MC) presented him or herself, the greater the response and respect that individual would garner. As fickle as rappers seem, they at least remain true to themselves. Hardly will you find a rapper that is not arrogant and ready to spar on a song against a counterpart. That same drive to outdo their opponent is a force within the genre that has propelled some of the most renowned figures to greater artistic and commercial heights.
Graham’s rebuttal to the Twitter debacle which Williams initiated shall go down in the hip hop chronicles as one of the foremost retaliations. Instead of returning tweets against Williams, Graham like the eponymous lead in The Talented Mr. Ripley who uses deftness and cunning to outmaneuver his victims and avoid capture, released the diss track “Charged Up” to straighten out the matter musically. Though the effort received lukewarm reaction from some critics, it stands as a testament to Graham’s integrity and ability to address allegations of having ghostwriters and that he doesn’t need the money that he generates as a featured artist. In this world of backstabbing, bickering, and incessant beefing with former acquaintances, Graham boosted his ranking as a premier MC with the track “Back to Back.” Down to the cover art, which shows Toronto Blue Jays player Joe Carter just after hitting a home run to win the World Series back to back in the years 1992 and 1993 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the latter year, Graham planned out his apt retort as yet another one-up against his foe. Williams slouched and put forth a less than admirable effort to reply to Graham. “Wanna Know” received all the wrong press from corporations like White Castle and Mercedes-Benz on Twitter. All the memes that attacked Williams seemed to challenge the rapper’s ability to craft a potent battle rap. What this displays is the fact that even the most skilled artists with the power of the microphone fall short of delivering on the image they claim to portray. Williams, a former drug salesman, presents himself as a brash and brazen street dealer who places his faith in the trigger of a pistol or rifle. He’s been arrested for drug and gun possession and infuses his rhymes about his exploits. So, when he gets “bodied by a singing” rapper in Graham, he can only issue weak bars and retreat to a position of a loser. Graham who grew up in a middle class household, acted on a Nickelodeon teen series, and cut his teeth by distributing mixtapes about romantic relationships with women and making money, strips Williams of his stance as a hardened criminal. For both of them, though, their alleged confidence and egoism is actually destroyed by their dedication to humility. Each rapper may state on songs that they have the best cars, watches, houses, and court the finest ladies. Yet they also point to their charitable donations and time as a supreme virtue.
The Bitter Feud
An Entire Generation
In fact, in Graham’s track “Charged Up” he mentions that he has recently “did some charity today for the kids.” This is a peripheral issue. What Graham ought to be focused on is his lyrical prowess. He should be stacking his ones in order to provide a better life for his family and view charity as a marginal concern. And also in the following lines he paints a picture of rappers with whom he has feuded as “charity cases.” This means that it’s quite alright to disrespect other rappers and denounce their poverty and inability to achieve the wealth and women, but when it comes to children, they somehow find it within themselves to be at odds. All of the flashy lifestyle that they include in their raps is in stark contrast to the lives that most of these children lead. Is it their intention to conduct themselves in an aspirational light? Or do they just run on the spur of the moment, casting all caution to the wind? It’s like William's girlfriend and Graham’s label mate and friend Onika “Nicki Minaj” Maraj who states in the 2010 song “Bottoms Up” that she “gives a lot of money to the babies out in Haiti.” Rappers can be as vicious and merciless as they can on a recording but seek to balance that callousness with altruism. It’s interesting to note that this rap love triangle of sorts is all based on selfless dedication. Their smug exteriors belie their insecurities and confusion when it comes to conveying a mixed message of sacrifice and selfishness. They can cut down their opponents with precise verbal barrages that aim at their very manhood or womanhood. But when it comes to giving out turkeys, like Williams did in Philadelphia, and promoting the sense of life of a braggart/altruist, hip hop has helped to scar mentally an entire generation. Today’s rap listeners find that it’s permissible to assail their rivals, cut ties with former associates and friends, and to be a servile shmoo to those in need. Instead of recognizing their role as a voice who has attained the prominence and fortune that goes along with their talent, rappers often only see themselves as workers of creative destruction. They go out of their way to glorify the hooliganism and gangster mentality on a song and attempt to live that fantasy life.
The (Owl's) Eyes Have It
While this may not apply to Graham fully, he does dabble in drug talk when he remarks in the 2013 song “Versace,” “Call up Fernando to move a piano.” This is a reference to at least 88 kilograms of cocaine cleverly packaged as metaphor for shipping a keyboard musical instrument. So, that sense of overbearing and effortless candor sonically fails to live up to the glaring reality. Graham never sold a gram of cocaine or any other controlled substance but he’s all over the song advancing the drug culture. For a rapper who has never touched the stuff, Graham truly puts a reformed peddler in his place, lyrically. And for them to be feuding just after completing a riveting track, “R.I.C.O.” which some say saved Williams collection of songs. Not to be outdone by his at this time future nemesis, Graham once again makes a cocaine reference with the lines “ Go make 50 million then I give some millions to my people/ They gon' go Tony Montana and cop them some Shaq at the free throws.” Ever so adept at the wordplay, Graham here describes how a brick of cocaine is a pun on what former National Basketball Association great Shaquille O’Neal would do at the charity stripe. Now, this clearly is just another example of why all controlled substances ought to be decriminalized and legalized as soon as possible. For Graham to hop on a track and encourage the illegal trafficking of narcotics is atrocious. He had nothing to do with the drug game and for him to spew these bars about having ties to a drug ring is more than repugnant. This battle seems lopsided. Although Williams is a self-proclaimed man of the streets, he fails to completely communicate his allegedly aggressive demeanor. Graham made him out to be the fool and Williams bit. For his delayed response and weak attempt, Williams will be inducted into the hall of dishonor in hip hop. Will he bounce back from this erroneous stage in his life? Only time will tell. With the inevitable squashing of the beef possible and most likely to occur, maybe Graham and Williams will get back together and record more formidable songs. Their reputations depend on it.