Revenge of the Mad Rappers

When hip hoppers use violence to silence their critics

Some rappers and producers contend that, partly because hip hop journalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, writers feel they have free rein to make or break an artist. "It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see," rappers Mase and Puffy lament on "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." The more prominent the rapper or producer the more vicious the attacks.

Combs has been under constant surveillance by hip hop journalists since the outbreak of the so-called East Coast–West Coast rapper rivalry, which some say led to the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. Prior to Shakur's death, there had been a simmering feud between Biggie and Combs and Shakur and Death Row records boss Marion "Suge" Knight. Shakur accused Biggie of involvement in a 1994 robbery in which Shakur was shot several times and lost $40,000 in jewelry. Two years later, Shakur died from wounds suffered in a driveby shooting in Las Vegas. Biggie was killed in a driveby in Los Angeles in March 1997. No arrests have been made in either case, and police say they have received little cooperation from witnesses.

Tight lips in the industry prompted hip hop photojournalist Ernie Paniccioli to write and circulate this conspiracy theory involving some of the leading characters:

"Suge insults Puffy/Tupac gets shot & robbed/blames Puffy & Big/Tupac disses Bad Boy Crew on wax/Tupac gets killed/Dre leaves Death Row Records/Suge goes back to jail for nine years on a parole beef/Snoop goes to NY/Meets with Puff & crew/Makes them believe it's cool to go to Cali/Snoop & Puffy hold a press conference to publicly state that there is no more East West beef. (Some people still believe in the Easter Bunny.)/Bad Boy Crew goes to L.A. for The Soul Train Awards...Big is killed."

Bill Stephney blames the attacks on a generation of tempestuous young hip hoppers. "In the early '80s, hip hop actually had its own inbred criticism," he explains. "We came up in the time of The Village Voice being the center of hip hop journalism. That died somewhere in the '90s. When John Leland wrote that he actually liked Flava Flav over Chuck D of Public Enemy, Chuck said bring the noise. He didn't go looking for John Leland. Later on, of course, Greg Tate wrote something about Chuck, and Chuck referred to him as a ‘porch nigga.' Still, the artists from the generation of the battles sort of built up emotional calluses against criticism. The new generation has none of that."

Perhaps Dawsey put it best in his 1993 response to attacks on hip hop journalists. "Hip-hop's gotta face it," he wrote. "The young blacks who shaped its core are growing up, have grown up. As we get older, we're going to scrutinize our subculture, its beauty and strengths as well as its contradictions. We have an obligation to bring to hip-hop culture an intelligent critique....If a rapper falls off or comes out fake, then the black community to whom his music claims to speak ought to be able to say he's fallen off without worrying about having pistols pulled on them."

Research: W. Michelle Beckles
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