Hip-hop’s No. 1 commandment, from generation-to-generation, has always been Thou Shalt Not Steal. Being a youth culture based on coming up with that next fresh new style, no matter how much has changed in hip-hop’s 40-year history, the absolute worst accusation you could level at someone would be to call them a “biter.” Since the dawn of battling, rappers have dissed one another over everything from having names reminiscent of established acts to jacking song concepts and a punchline or two. But in the entire four decades of beats and rhymes, there’s never been any rhyme-stealing allegations like those currently facing Sacramento rapper Task1ne.
2015 began strong for Task1ne. A local hero in Sacramento who had won the city’s Sammie (Sacramento Area Music Award) for MC of the year three years prior, his buzz from strong clips of him rapping on the Internet and lauded live shows made him seem like a surefire future hip-hop superstar.
That was until April 10 when a mysterious YouTube account named expose crabs emerged with a video titled “Task1ne sells stolen verse.” The clip begins with Task1ne’s a cappella recording of a verse, followed by rapper ChrisCo’s verse from his 2012 song “Straight Up” with Jon Connor and Elzhi, and then ending with the aforementioned Task1ne verse, only this time over a beat. The similarities are staggering, 10 consecutive almost identical lines.
According to expose crabs’ video info, when Task was confronted with the stolen lines he claimed, “he got the verse from a ghostwriter and had no clue.” If true, this could perhaps have been chalked up to a one-time freak occurrence. That possibility was extinguished three days later when YouTube account 24.7.HIP.HOP. uploaded a video that featured Task1ne allegedly stealing lines from established underground MCs Diabolic and Nino Bless. Once again, the clip contained the original performances, followed by Task1ne’s almost word-for-word direct lifting of other lines. Soon fans and critics alike were Googling Task1ne’s lyrics and coming up with an increasing number of incidents of possible plagiarism.
Connecticut rapper Apathy, who was notified by a fan who noticed how similar a series of Task1ne lines in video performances were to his own, told Complex, “I’ve never seen anything even remotely close to how much shit he stole from people. It makes me think if anything he said is original, and you can’t even be sure.” Still, he remained calm. “I didn’t become enraged or fly off the handle. It’s just a huge annoyance. It’s a sad thing too. I didn’t really go to any lengths to do anything.”
Things got even stranger one week later when another YouTube account, this one named Task1ne Bites, uploaded a video titled “Task1ne exposed biting Sha Stimuli’s WHOLE song ‘Good Day.’” The clip first features rapper Sha Stimuli’s entire song, followed by Task1ne over a different beat stealing the entire track word-for-word. Stimuli, who finally heard the track after seeing a Google Alert with the video’s title, said, “I couldn’t get through the whole thing because it was really disturbing for me. I looked at some of his other rhymes somebody sent me, and I saw he took something else of mine from a radio verse. Somebody said he took something else, but I didn’t want to research anymore. It was too weird. On one side, I’m flattered, on the other side, you must have decided to take it because you saw my views and followers and [thought you] could snatch it. It’s weird.”
Diabolic also discovered he was among the most bitten. “I found well over 20 different verses of his with my verses in them, mixed with other stuff. Word-for-word verbatim. It would be four bars of one verse I did, four bars of another one, obscure stuff, features I’ve done for people and stuff from my album. I’ve never even heard of something like this before. It’s unprecedented honestly.”
Around the time that angered fans discovered Task1ne’s personal YouTube page had several of the allegedly plagiarized artists’ music among his liked and favorites playlists, he shut down his social media accounts and changed his Twitter to private.
While the accusations have hurt Task1ne’s reputation, the ripple effect has been detrimental to others in the hip-hop community as well. Some of Task1ne's most-viewed performance clips that show him spitting allegedly stolen lyrics originated from online hip-hop platform TeamBackPack. Therefore, Task has erroneously been described as a “TeamBackPack MC.” In actuality, TeamBackPack is neither a label nor a group and has featured over a hundred different MCs performing in their TeamBackPack cyphers. In TeamBackPack’s six years of existence, Task is the only artist to appear in their videos who is accused of biting.
I’ve never even heard of something like this before It’s unprecedented honestly. —Diabolic
Also put in an uncomfortable position are hip-hop groups who’ve paid Task1ne for verses and now are unsure about releasing them as they may be stolen property. Producer DopeSickBeats of Santa Cruz group Sprites said they paid $100 for a Task1ne verse, which took him over a month to make after he received payment. “Our biggest feature and appeal to a wider audience was just exposed as a fraud. We consulted a friend in the scene who suggested we don't use the verse and consider it a financial loss. I thought that was the best course of action, and the outpouring of ‘R.I.P. Task's career’ posts confirmed that.” DopeSickBeats believes the verse Task gave them was not only “wonderfully written” but actually an original due to the specific instructions they gave him for the subject matter, which he said “makes it even more heartbreaking.”
On April 19, Task1ne re-emerged, reactivating all of his social media accounts and posting a video titled “Response.” Strangely edited to cut back and forth between two shots on either side of his face and not looking directly at the camera, Task begins, “What did I do? I am guilty of overworking myself and cutting corners, and by doing so I broke hip-hop’s No. 1 rule with these tracks and features. I’m sorry.”
Task continues by offering the tearful explanation that he felt in order to advance his career he had to take every feature, adding his low self-esteem got the best of him and he felt he had to do whatever he could to keep the attention. He then cites his battles with depression and how, with all the sudden attention, he couldn’t keep up with the demand.
At about the halfway point, the clip takes a bizarre turn where Task mentions his frustration with the rap format, (“How many times can a man boast or battle before he can speak on his heart?”) and, when describing the backlash, says, “You know what really keeps me up at night? What bothers me the most is my choices...has brought out the worst in all of you. I’m sorry for that.” He closes by saying he’ll always be an artist and always be Task1ne.
The artists he allegedly plagiarized were not thrilled with the apology. Apathy had issues with it from the start. “First of all, it’s called a ‘Response’ instead of ‘An Apology,’ which is fucking foul in the first place. He made it more about himself...rallying people to be in his corner.”
Diabolic had similar feelings. “It’s offensive. It’s completely disingenuous. He didn’t say what he did.... You’re guilty of stealing people’s shit, passing it off as your own, being a fraud, disrespecting hip-hop as a culture, and then you tried to play the victim.”
“To me it was contrived,” said Sha Stimuli. “It was edited, it wasn’t an apology at all. I felt it was just cowardice and sad. It disturbed me even more.”
The usually productive Task uncharacteristically hasn’t released any new music or video clips since the “Response.” It’s uncertain whether Task1ne will be able to return to rapping. Some jokingly theorize this widespread theft may have been a plan of Task’s from the beginning. Along with his social media artist bios consisting of “Chuck Norris Facts” jokes with Task’s name put in place of Norris’, Task revealed on a comment from 2013 on his Facebook page that he named himself after the Marvel Comics’ villain the Taskmaster, whose superhuman ability is to mimic and replicate the characteristics and abilities of others.
Task1ne did not respond to numerous attempts to reach him for this article.
Chaz Kangas is a writer living in New York. Follow him @Chazraps.