Like the music genre itself, rap beefs have evolved over time. Though braggadocio and insults remain the foundation, beefs mirror the changing zeitgeist, and the threats of real life violence heard in the gangster rap era of the ‘90s have been supplanted with taunts about middling Twitter followerships.
One might wrongly assume that rap beefs reached their zenith when Drake’s “Back To Back” earned a Grammy nom for pulling a banger out of a Meek Mill diss. But just as the Oscars often overlook indie films ahead of their time, phenomenal rap beefs lacking the name-recognition of a Top 40 artist fall through the cracks and into obscurity.
One such beef, originating on the comedy podcast Get Up On This, is so captivating that it not only deserves your attention, but demands it.
Hosted by Jensen Karp and Matthew Robinson, two Angelenos with tendrils in the comedy, film, and music world, Get Up On This gives listeners weekly suggestions of cool shit to check out. Over the years, the podcast has built up a roster of beloved superfans, a la Howard Stern’s “Wack Pack,” but instead of prank calls and public humiliation, the Get Up fans send in their amateur (amateur, but not at all amateur sounding) raps as segment intros.
All was copacetic in the Get Up universe until new-ish kid to the fan/rapper game, William Giovanni, took an unprovoked lyrical swing at Shawn Collins, “the batman of rap” and an elder statesman of the Get Up fan/rapper game. The hosts played this track on the show and chuckled at the moxie of Giovanni’s attempt to cheekily call out a somewhat dormant Collins and moved on.
But Giovanni had roused a sleeping giant, and it didn’t take long for Collins to fire back with a savage return volley. Karp and Robinson quickly realized that they had something special on their hands and declared an official start to “Beef Season.”
In the ensuing weeks, "Beef Season" took over the podcast. Other fan/rappers threw songs into the mix, either taking sides in this civil war of sorts, or putting bystanders in their crosshairs. The stakes kept heightening. “Beef Season” t-shirt designs emerged, Shawn Collins put out a professionally-done music video, domain names were purchased. One rapper, Garrett Plummer, went so far as to drop an entire six-track "Beef Season" album. The hosts even had to release a special "Beef Season" episode of the podcast just to catch new and old listeners up on all the drama.
What could’ve been filed away as the inside-joke laden esoterica of a somewhat popular podcast was elevated by the undeniable fact that these tracks are fucking FIRE. A Fast Company article covering "Beef Season" noted that this may be the best rap beef in years, but what the author, Joe Berkowitz, failed to convey in his write up, is that these aren’t just good diss tracks. With their lyrical complexity, homages to mainstream artists, cohesive themes, and earworm beats, the songs of "Beef Season" might just be some of the best music happening in hip-hop today. Full stop.
Complex sat down with co-host Jensen Karp, who actually comes from a battle rap background, to get his take on all things beef, the state of hip-hop, and the insanity transpiring on his show.
What are the ingredients of a good beef?
It’s my old man side talking but, for me, it’s about the punchline. I was as influenced by Don Rickles as I was by Tim Dog when I was a battle rapper. It’s the dozens. So that to me is the quintessential element of a good beef. But there’s also something to be said for making a song out of it. Which is something I think Canibus helped usher in. It wasn’t just scathing, it was hot!
Is there any topic that’s off limits while beefing?
I don’t play that game. Garrett Plummer brought up my dead dad in his song. I just don’t think it’s that serious. I came up in hip-hop when I was the only person who looked like this, so there were seven million things you could say to offend me and I just grew thick skin.
It all comes down to context too. Like the rape jokes in comedy thing from a few years back. If I wrote down Louis C.K. and Dane Cook’s rape jokes they’d both look really similar. But the way they’re said, and the history of both people make them so so different. Make it smart and you’re fine.
Describe your reaction when you heard Shawn Collins’ response to the original William Giovanni diss track.
When we first heard the small diss from William, Matty and I were joking like, “Oh, those are words.” We were just fucking around saying “that’s definitely a challenge.” And Shawn lives a normal life, so I didn’t think he would be popping back up. But suddenly we get his email with the response, listen to it, and go, “Oh my God! I think we have a beef!”
Even after forwarding it to Matty, we both had no idea what it could turn into. Eventually it started to feel like Jay Z and Nas, because there’s one guy who’s doing a traditional punchline, punchline, punchline, and another guy who’s doing these complex rhythms and on-trend beats, things that are a little more 2016.
You have to take a stance. Who is currently winning "Beef Season?"
William Giovanni doesn’t like that I like Shawn Collins. It’s obvious in his phone calls. It’s obvious in his songs. He titled a song “Armen Weitzman," which is clearly a diss at me.
If you go by tweets and emails, it really is close to 50/50.
I think it’s very hard to say Shawn isn’t winning, and there’s a few reasons. One, Shawn is competing in a very-battle centric fashion. You remember his punchlines. But "Beef Season" also has amazing hooks, and while the Bullet Club hook from William is the best thing to come out of this battle, Shawn created the sort of radio-ready hooks that have made this so special. As of right now, Shawn has a small edge. And when I say small, I mean small.
Another theme of "Beef Season" has been an almost affectionate homoeroticism. It’s not like prison yard “I’ll make you my bitch” talk but more like “I will caress you.”
Yeah, they’ll make love to each other. Shawn’s big thing during the phone call [from the "Beef Season" special episode] was that he wanted to drive out to Pittsburgh and take William to Six Flags as a Make-a-Wish kid.
I love King of the Dot and Don’t Flop and watch them religiously, but it’s crazy that these guys are so smart and progressive and modern and there’s still so many gay jokes. And I know that if you were to ask them, I know they’d be like “dude I’m fucking around in a dumb rap battle” and I understand that, but it’d be cool to see that change. Everything has been sweet and kind in our thing. No one wants to punch each other. They just want to ridicule and mock.
What was your favorite mainstream hip-hop beef of all time?
I love Canibus and LL Cool J. That was the first time someone I didn’t really know came out of nowhere to sort of win at first. One of those “Oh, shit!” moments where you realize you can do that. But I liked some of the more underground ones too, like El-P vs Sole.
Are there any non-rappers you’d like to see have a civilian beef?
That’s what this presidential campaign has been. Donald Trump has come out like Canibus. He came at the other candidates with “Little Marco” and dick size and I recognized it immediately as the things you do when battling.
Have you had any career beefs?
I’ve had too many beefs. Had some issues with Tyrese on the radio, yelling his name on Power 106 every day. Kain, one of Diddy’s rappers. I tried to go at him. No reason to, but I did. And on Twitter, though my rap career was so short, I’ve taken on that aesthetic for making jokes there. I’ve had beefs there with Chris Brown. He DM’d me “fuck you” once. And the whole Chet Hanks story. And brushfires like with Souplantation. I’m always looking for that stuff.
This is purely an attempt to incite beef in the spirit of the season, but there’s a new podcast called The Beef and Dairy Network. It’s at 51 on the iTunes comedy charts while Get Up On This is nowhere to be seen. Your thoughts?
We will take them on, 100 percent. We own the name “beef.” No one else owns it. If they want to come at us for it, we’re down. That’s how "Beef Season" is. No asks. It’s just open season on anyone and everyone.
Karp’s book Kanye West Owes Me $300 and Other True Stories From a White Rapper Who Almost Made it Big comes out June 7th.