Although science has yet to chart the lunar moons of hip-hop, every so often the bling from 2Pac’s shiny-gold-bathtub era passes from behind the shade of Big L’s New York Yankees “fitted,” and the heavenly eclipse gives us a brief glow of what hip-hop used to be.
This happened this past week, when hip-hop purists got treated to not one, not two, but three of arguably the most iconic hip-hop moments in the history of the sport.
First, if you haven’t logged into Twitter or Facebook and have had your phone off all weekend, let me be the first to tell you that Remy Ma decided that she was tired of Nicki Minaj’s subliminal shots, so she spit seven minutes of dead-body-face hot, molten lava at the hip-pop princess, who has now found herself in a full-on dirty, New York City street brawl that she’s going to have to rap-battle—not gimmick, not sing—her way out of.
On Thursday, two of the biggest producers ever to put needle to record—Swizz Beatz (who produced damn near all of Ruff Ryders’ most famous catalog) and Just Blaze (the early-era Roc-a-Fella go-to hit man)—battled in what can only be called a hit-for-hit war. They literally went song for song, playing only joints that they produced over the last 20 years, for damn near three hours straight, and it was epic.
And lastly, in a less publicized moment but one that was equally important for the cultural moment, hip-hop veteran Mysonne went on Funkmaster Flex’s Hot 97 show and spit eight minutes of pure James Baldwin bars that took listeners from what hip-hop and the game was to what it’s become now.
And all of it—the rap battle, the battle of the beats and Mysonne speaking truth to power—was a throwback jersey two sizes too big, the embodiment of what hip-hop used to be. And it was grand.
This is a lot to swallow, so let’s break it all down into easily digestible portions.
Remy Ma vs. Nicki Minaj
First, there are rules to this shit. On the streets, the code of warfare remains that you can’t pull out a gun unless you intend to use it, and in hip-hop, you cannot touch Nas’ 2001 “Ether” beat unless you plan to destroy your opponent.
Remy Ma released “ShETHER,” and I couldn’t hear the whole song because my fucking phone melted; that’s how hot it was.
She murdered Nicki—and that isn’t an exaggeration—in classic rap-battle style. She took Nicki’s name and destroyed it with brutal wordplay. Remy went into rumors about Nicki having sex with Lil Wayne and Drake and exposed them. She went into charges that Nicki’s brother raped a 12-year-old and bodied her with it. She even talked about Nicki’s ass being fake and released some new info about a possible addiction to cocaine and pills.
Remy reached way back into 2011 and talked about the time Nicki wore a pink chicken-wing necklace. She has also muted any chance Nicki may have had for a rebuttal by acknowledging what has been speculated about for years: that Minaj doesn’t write her own raps. While real life doesn’t give a shit about street cred, hip-hop stays checking résumés, and Remy Ma has a history of being legendary in the game. Heads remember that time she bodied Lady Luck on Fight Klub back when MTV2 still showed videos.
Also, not to exploit the violence in hip-hop, but it carries weight when you can boast about really being violent and your hood fax says that it’s so.
In 2007, Remy Ma was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder after an argument outside a New York City nightclub over missing money. The confrontation led to an altercation that ended with Makeda Barnes-Joseph, a friend of Remy Ma’s, being shot twice in the stomach.
It’s hard to check someone who was really on the streets and in these battles. The beauty of this is that a new Remy Ma emerged from prison. She is now a loving mother whose life has played out on Love & Hip Hop like a hood-fabulous fairy tale. Those verses Remy shot at Nicki were 2007-hungry Remy who isn’t here for show and flash; those verses were layered and nuanced, and it will take hip-hop archaeologists months to uncover all of the subliminal shots that were inside her lyrics.
Nicki has only one option here: She has to “300 Bars and Runnin’” her way out of this. She literally has to spit near 15 minutes of uncut, raw-fish scale, with no breaks, over some of the most iconic beats ever made. No wigs, no goofy voices, straight bars, because Remy isn’t going to stop coming for her neck.
Nicki only has, like, 14.3 hours to respond, and Issa Rae put it best:
Either way, no matter what happens, hip-hop needed this breath of fresh air.
Swizz Beatz vs. Just Blaze
Take arguably two of the most iconic producers for the last 20 years and put them in a room. Have them battle each other, going song for song, improvising samples and playing snippets of some of the most influential music ever made, and stream it all on Instagram Live to a packed house.
That’s what happened Friday when Swizz Beatz and Just Blaze decided that for fun and, more importantly, for the culture, they were going to bring back the joy that built hip-hop and put on a free show that would have sold out Madison Square Garden within hours just because they wanted to.
And it was epic.
For almost three hours, the two went hit for hit, which included a Beyoncé-hit battle and a “Ruff Ryders vs. Roc-a-Fella” battle. At one point, each producer threw a few R&B songs he’d done in the mix. Just Blaze went to his classic work with Jay Electronica, and Swizz Beatz leaned into his catalog with Jadakiss. In the end, after Just Blaze played Hov’s “Public Service Announcement,” Swizz Beatz went into his bag of tricks and pulled out an unreleased track (“The Bath Salt Song”) featuring Jay Z, Nas, Jadakiss and DMX and shut the shit down.
“This is for the people; it’s not for either one of us,” Just Blaze said.
“I think the culture need this,” Swizz Beatz added. “It shouldn’t be no politics involved ... this was more about unity.”
They even challenged other producers, including Pharrell vs. Timbaland and Pete Rock vs. DJ Premier. Hopefully the hip-hop gods are listening.
In the end, the only real winners were the fans of hip-hop.
Watch the entire show here:
Mysonne’s Funkmaster Flex Freestyle
Look, I know it wasn’t a freestyle because no one really spits unwrittens anymore, but I would argue that Mysonne’s written shit that he spit during his recent appearance on Funkmaster Flex’s show was better than most of the mumble rap that’s being forced down our earholes these days.
This was old-school, well-enunciated rap at its finest. You can close your eyes as Mysonne takes you through not only what hip-hop used to be but what it’s become and how it lost its way. I won’t bore you with my analysis of his lyrics because, truthfully, Mysonne’s vision doesn’t need explaining. He puts it all into his verses, and a real fan of lyrics will be proud of what he accomplished.
In all, it was great week for hip-hop. In fact, I would argue that it was one of the best ever. I can’t think of another week in which so much happened (for free) that brought back the feel of the ’80s, when I used to have to put two boom boxes in front of each other to record raps off the radio.
So, to hip-hop, I say: Thank you.