Talking about their feud in recent interviews, Jay-Z and Jim Jones both sound like fans. On Hot 97, Jay-Z compared Jones’ attacks to a bench player booing his team’s star, said that rap needs a board of directors to keep people from pulling dumb shit like that. Or here’s Jones, talking to Allhiphop.com: “I listened to his album. I’d say there was about two songs on there that was decent … I was really disappointed in the album, man. You know?” (They’re both right, but nevermind.) Talking about each other, neither one shows the fire of, say, Baby telling XXL that he hates B.G. and Mannie Fresh and Juvenile with all his soul, that he despises everything those guys stand for. Jay-Z and Jim Jones both seem to be looking at this feud with a sort of cool remove, like they don’t have all that much invested in it personally but they’re interested to see how it plays out.
It’s hard to imagine Jim Jones getting his feelings hurt by all this; he doesn’t really have anything to lose. When Jones first explicitly bashed Jay on wax a month or so ago, it looked like a sort of foolish, quixotic move. Cam’ron had tried the same thing earlier in the year, and Jay had absolutely buried him just by refusing to respond. Cam’s about fifteen times the rapper that Jones is, but Cam’s attack, with its unlistenable hook and its lame punchlines about sandals, was almost shockingly feeble. When Jay didn’t respond, Cam looked desperate for attention, a little kid yelling that he hated his teacher. Jay’s silence had an audible effect on Cam; he followed the track up with a halfhearted freestyle over Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down,” of all things, and he sounded resigned and depressed, possibly even making fun of himself with that line about how the only G4 he’s on is a laptop. When Jay finally got around to addressing Cam on “Dig a Hole,” he didn’t have a whole lot to say, but he’d already won, so it didn’t much matter. Jay played that attack so perfectly that it’s truly bizarre to see him getting so huffy about a dis track from Jim Jones, the worst rapper in a crew of shitty rappers. By acknowledging Jones’ existence, he’s already fucked up. By retaliating with a freestyle over the beat to Jones’ song, flipping Jones’ catchphrase and leaving Jones’ voice on the hook, Jay’s pretty much admitted defeat. And because Jay’s freestyle is going to get plenty of radio play, it’ll only serve to boost the spin-count on Jones’ only hit and drive it even further up the charts. “We Fly High” is a truly awful song, and it’s only managed to become a success because there aren’t a whole lot of great rap singles out now and because it’s got a memorable catchphrase that’s fun to yell. So Jones has managed to turn himself into a blip on the cultural radar through sheer luck and timing, and now Jay-Z is prolonging Jones’ fifteen minutes by treating him as a worthy adversary. Jay’s made so many tactical errors in this whole thing that you’d think he’d never been through a public rap feud before; it’s simply amazing that he’s lost his perspective so completely that he’d let Jones’ attack get under his skin at all. And Jones knows it; in the Allhiphop interview, he talks about how all this nonsense is only going to further help him. It’s Christmas morning for him, and he also lets us know how much he loves Christmas.
If Jay had actually managed to bury Jones with his attack, maybe he’d still come out looking OK, but substituting “Brooklyn” for “Ballin'” isn’t going to cut it. The semi-subliminal line about how “it’s over for you dames” is the most memorable thing he has to say. He also makes completely ridiculous threats about shooting Jones, plugs his fake champagne, and gives a self-impressed “wow” after making a convoluted pun on the word Jones. Jones followed Jay’s dis up on the same day, putting out another version of the track and serving the internet feeding-frenzy brilliantly. Jones makes the brilliant move of leaving Jay’s vocals intact, sarcastically cheerleading Jay with devastating comic timing: “Let’s go, Jay!,” “I hear you!” Jones can’t rap, and his follow-up verse doesn’t have a single good line, but he’s funny, and his ad-libs totally obliterate anything Jay might have on him: “Go old-head! Go old-head!,” “Tell Nas buy you a kufi for Christmas so I could smack that shit off your head!,” “If you would’ve just called me, I might’ve put you on the remix, let you say ‘Ballin’!'” He doesn’t sound like he’s got his career on the line; he sounds like he’s having fun. As a public figure, Jones is pretty much completely loathsome, a no-talent hanger-on who’s managed to sell a few copies of his abysmal records by latching onto some of the right people and by coming up with a fun catchphrase. But he managed to attack Jay-Z, maybe the greatest rapper in history, at the exact moment when he was at his most vulnerable, when he was getting ready to come out of his fake retirement with an album of boring entitlement and out-of-character self-doubt. Jones has created a sort of reactionary persona, the young outlaw who can’t believe that this pathetic old man is getting so soft, playing brash and ruthless where Jay is lazy and out-of-touch. In his great Times article, Kelefa Sanneh asks Jay whether the fifteen-year-old Jay would’ve had any use for Kingdom Come, and Jay basically dodges the question. Jones is playing a character that might as well be based on the fifteen-year-old Jay, and it would be hard to blame the actual fifteen-year-olds of the world if they found Jones’ character more compelling than Jay’s. So now Jim Jones has managed to instigate a beef with Jay-Z. And as of right now, he’s winning. Welcome to Bizarro World.