One of the consistently relevant aspects to Hip Hop (even predating it becoming a cash cow) is the art of competition extending to serious conflict. Where not so friendly disagreements in the past have led to squabbles for recognition and infamy at awards shows, charity events and music conferences, now the digital world has become the boxing ring for opponents to air out their differences. In 2012, Twitter is the place where Hip Hop artists are stating their differences. Crews are squaring off, veteran groups are breaking up (if only for a day) and it's all happening for the fans and media in real-time.
Beef Before Twitter
Prior to the rise of social media, Hip Hop beefs typically began with a warning shot - whether a subliminal lyric in a verse, a radio or magazine interview, or even something as simple as an awards acceptance speech or liner note. Often, the other party would respond in similar means. In the event where a hostile situation couldn't stay simply verbal, blows typically transpired at industry conferences, parties or live performances, most often after previous remarks were made. While there have always been tough-guys in Hip Hop good for some extra security, some of the 1990s most notorious altercations involved unlikely artists including Luke, KRS-One and Nate Dogg - and many others chronicled on QD3's Beef DVD series.
As the wake of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur's tragic murders placed matters into perspective and cooled the overall climate to a calmer setting where things could be settled on record. The most high-profile feud of the '00s: Jay-Z and Nas, eventually emerged reconciled acquaintances from their epic battle of 2001. There were some brutal accusations made in the fury, but punches were never thrown and and shots were never fired. Similarly, 50 Cent's juggernaut run from 2002 through 2007 rendered him Hip Hop's mightiest court jester as he placed himself at odds with many of Rap's stars (Ja Rule, Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Game, Cam'ron, Rick Ross, DJ Khaled and Young Buck to name a few) with crowds gravitating to his lampooning artistic peers on mixtapes. Although two of those incidents had dangerous repercussions (Ja Rule and Game), 50's battles after 2005 seemed to live in music and print, never bleeding into the streets, award shows or industry events. Most of Rap's A-listers followed suit.
Twitter: The Newest Arena For Hip Hop Conflict
Given the Internet proceeding to change a majority of daily interactions, where some emcees have been slower to embracing Twitter's potential (Young Jeezy once taking pride in not being tech savvy, stated "that sounds a lot like snitching"), while others have latched on for the automatic gratification of communicating directly with supporters and detractors alike. One such case of a brash tweet (a Twitter message of up to 140 characters often sent via smart phones) that quickly received a response was one directed to Brooklyn's Maino as he was shopping at a New Jersey mall, leading to a confrontation with the younger female sender in a YouTube video, gracefully resultant in cooler heads prevailing after a mild-mannered discussion. If artists can physically confront digital criticism from the fans in real-time, what happens with each other?
While the easiest assumption of Twitter's use in fueling angst filled announcements is that of a cheap attention-starved ploy, its gradual arrival as the epicenter of digital information dissemination has found even lower profile acts logging on when riled up. In the midst of promotion for A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes & Life documentary, Q-Tip angrily used the device to speak on behalf of the group's opposition to director Michael Rapaport's vision for the film, which landed them an interview with MTV surrounding the fracas. Also, the underground stopped in its tracks as tensions flared between Phonte and 9th Wonder on Twitter, both previously quiet about Little Brother's rift, had a disagreement over a song's leak. Interestingly, nine months later, the pair used the same social media methods to announce their personal reconciliation to fans. Instances like these prove Twitter's real-time technology, mixed with a fiery temper has led Hip Hop confrontation far beyond the artists who use threats in their lyrics or could ever be accused of a publicity stunt.
Formerly used for rash reactions brought on by short fuses and lapses in judgement, Twitter has made the damage control portion of a publicist's job that much harder in quelling intensified rumors. One of last year's notable shenanigans involved Fabolous playfully ribbing Ray J through tweets, leading to a reported shoving match shortly thereafter, likely due to massive retweets, as pressure fell on the latter's shoulders to respond forcefully. An online issue moved offline, and millions were watching, reading and waiting for next press of "send" from either party.