February 7, 2003

End the Trend

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The battle. From the early inception of hip-hop, duels between MC’s, break dancers, or DJ’s have become a defining element of the culture surrounding this evolving music form. Hip-hop battles were as natural as the three-stripe Adidas jumpsuits that defined the old school aesthetic. People gathered at clubs or the local hangout to witness this feat, as intense competition led to displays of overwhelming skill and showmanship. It was the shouts of amazement from the audience that would determine who would emerge victorious and who would have to return to their home for hours more practice. In this sense, these publicly performed battles rendered hip-hop a democratic art form: the voice of the people decided what the future would sound like and served as a creative impetus for the advancement of the music. Though the spirit of competition continues, recent battles in hip-hop, now fought out through media sources and song lyrics, seem to have lost this populist edge, and are won by the loudness of one’s voice instead of the level of one’s skill.

An example of one of the most recent hip-hop rivalries, manifested both in the hip-hop media and in the music, is the controversy surrounding Benzino and Eminem. In this duel, the battleground is no longer the club, and these petty conflicts don’t seem to be doing much for the advancement of the music. This conflict is representative of the new hip-hop battles, where the artists fight amongst themselves; removed from the immediate judgment of the listeners — the people. Benzino, the co-owner of hip-hop magazine The Source, seems to have little objection to using his publication as a platform for self-promotion or to shoot insults at other rappers, as The Source has also chimed in on the side of their co-owner, printing cartoons that shine the unfavorable light of Elvis and Vanilla Ice onto Eminem.

On the subject of the white-rapper phenom, Benzino most clearly articulates his attack on Eminem in “Pull Your Skirt Up,” in which he rhymes “I’m gonna’ pull your skirt up/ expose your true sex