There's No Such Thing As Too Far in a Rap Battle

Some say Pusha T went too far in his war of words with Drake, and others say Drake needed to respond to save face. No matter what side of the argument you're on we all love rap beef, until we don’t. But if you’re scared, go to church.

Pusha T

Image via S. Savenok/Getty

Pusha T

After years of back-and-forth, the battle between Pusha-T and Drake finally erupted into open warfare late last month. As the disses were exchanged, there was a lot of talk about lines being crossed, of words that shouldn't have been said. I had the same thought initially when, after Drake mentioned Pusha’s fiancée by name, the Virginia rapper retaliated by mocking Drizzy’s producer Noah “40” Shebib for having MS.

I posted from the Complex Music Twitter account about that line being too far, and a swarm of people jumped in to call our account soft. And, as much as I hate to give Twitter commenters credit for anything, in retrospect they were right. However, the whole point of rap beefs is to constantly push boundaries and step over the line, and in that regard Pusha succeeded. The most memorable beefs wouldn’t exist if they didn't go too far, unfortunately. If you’re not into the disrespect shown in rap beefs, then maybe listen to gospel music. Have any of you ever watched a URL battle? They're all over YouTube and are disrespectful as hell.

I remember being mad young when I first heard “Hit Em Up,” where Pac referred to having sex with Big’s wife Faith Evans and poked fun at Prodigy’s sickle cell. And he was far from the only rapper to take it that far. Max B once made a song insinuating that Jim Jones’ then-girlfriend Chrissy “touched it in Miami” and he also took aim at the late Prodigy’s sickness in an episode of Maybach TV. In “Truth,”  Gucci Mane alluded to getting with Jeezy’s ex and blamed Jeezy for the death of his friend. Jay Z’s own mother made him apologize on the radio after saying he left used condoms on the car seat of Nas’ baby on “Super Ugly.” Crossing lines in rap battles is nothing new.

The most memorable beefs wouldn’t exist if they didn't go too far, unfortunately. If you’re not into the disrespect shown in rap beefs, then maybe listen to gospel music.

But all of that is nothing when it comes to the most disrespectful rappers to ever do it: 50 Cent and Cam’ron, respectively. To them, lines were made to be crossed. At their peak, they treated rap battles like street fights—everything was fair game. Cam once rapped to Nas: “Take your daughter, R Kelly, have my way with her face.” 50 Cent memorably interviewed Rick Ross’ baby mother on his website after the Maybach Music mogul mentioned Fif’s baby mother on “Mafia Music.” The G-Unit General took it a step further by sharing a sex tape of Ross' BM—a decision that may have won him some points in the battle, but ended up costing him millions.

Let's be clear, I personally feel like all those instances mentioned above were out of line, but I've never questioned why they were necessary. A rap battle isn’t for the faint of heart. These things are dick-swinging contests, and have been since Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J went at each other way back in the '80s. That profanity-free battle is a Disney movie compared to modern battles like the ones I've mentioned.

We wouldn't still be talking about “Duppy Freestyle” or “The Story of Adidon”—or any other notable rap beef, for that matter—if lines weren’t crossed. Drake wouldn’t have dropped a press release and had his camp leak info to TMZ, or agree to have the whole thing deaded by J. Prince, if things didn't go too far.

If you feel like any of barbs thrown in this latest beef—the naming of Pusha’s fiancée, the 40 diss, the announcement of a secret child, whatever—is too much, go ahead and call these transgressions out. Refuse to cover them on your website, don’t pay attention. But remember: trying to police what’s allowable in a rap beef isn’t A) benefiting anybody and B) isn’t even really possible. Rap beef is Cocaine City and Smack DVDs. Rap beef is about shock and horror. Rap beef isn't supposed to be respectful. Rap beef is not about being “woke” or politically correct (y'all making me sound like a Trump supporter, smfh).

In a perfect world, things wouldn't spill out into the streets, they'd eventually quiet down and the warring rappers would squash the beef with a picture or collab on a song. Both these things happened with Nas; he and Cam took a pic together years after their beef and he's even done songs with Jigga over the years. Still, as a rap fan and listener for most of my life, I'm aware of how diss tracks can snowball into something more serious than raps on a song.

As fans, we've paid the ultimate price in the mid-90's with the slayings of Big and Pac, we know a war of words could have real consequences. J. Prince talking Drake out of responding with his "career-derailing" diss song was the smart play, especially if his gut told him that this situation can take a turn for the worse. Yet, Drake not coming back at Push will still be viewed as him taking the L to the chest. That might sound contradictory but both of these things can be true at once. 

Drake and Pusha are grown men and are responsible for making their own decisions, they shouldn't let the mob or the people close to them talk them into taking things off wax. However, that's easier said than done, but as Jay said on the first verse of “Super Ugly,” “This is not beef, this is rap, homie/I don’t have a scratch on me.” Whether you think some lyrics are homophobic, violent, disrespectful, etc., remember that not everybody cares as much as you do about these things, especially when it comes to rap music. Please stop trying to tell us what we can and cannot say when it comes to rap beef. They're just words used to get a rise out of their opponent. It's not that serious, until it is.

Latest in Music