Where's the Beef?
It's on YouTube. Why that's a problem for hip-hop.
Beefs have always brought out the best in rappers. In 1986, it was a beef that launched the star of KRS-One, when his withering attacks on MC Shan effectively ended his rival's career. The following year, a young LL Cool J established his legend by felling old-school pioneer Kool Moe Dee. And in 2002, a beef reignited the careers of two giants, as Jay-Z and Nas clashed for the title of King of New York.
For most of rap's history, one-upmanship has been hip-hop's engine of change. Recently, however, beefs have lost some of their creative spark, as battles have migrated from albums and mix tapes to YouTube. Today, a rapper with wounded pride is more likely to cut a made-for-YouTube video than to bother penning a vicious rhyme. The result: videos with laughably bad production values showcasing sloppy dis tracks (or worse, no track at all). Why waste time writing music—the vocation of a musician, in theory—when you can upload a rant? YouTube has done wonders for spreading viral hip-hop dances like the Aunt Jackie and the Chicken Noodle Soup. But it's spoiling the beef.
Click here for a video slide show on how YouTube is ruining the hip-hop beef.
Hua Hsu teaches in the English department at Vassar College. He is completing his first book, A Floating Chinaman, about H.T. Tsiang, his imagined rival Pearl Buck, and the often contentious community of Americans writing about China in the 1930s and '40s.
Photograph of 50 Cent on Slate's home page by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images.