Remember when musician fights used to be interesting–or
at least memorable for more than two minutes? It’s hard to imagine as we expend
Twitter scrolling energy on Azealia Banks v. Angel Haze, Gaga vs. the Osbournes, Deadmau5 vs. Madonna, and the rest of the noise. Yet unbelievably, there was a time when music beef lived on in legend for decades.They were catfights with mystique, gravity, anticipation–even violence.
One of the many casualties of the TMI twitter/reality show epoch is the quality
of artist rivalries/feuds. These days, infighting is sparked by some ridiculous public
bullshit, which is then exacerbated by…even more bullshit. Musicians act on impulse before their managers can shush them, and we get the
pleasure of discovering over and over again that the artists we love are classless
– Angel Haze Vs. Azealia Banks: Who Won?
Yep, gone are the days when musician fights were worthy of a
documentary (Biggie vs.
Tupac) or a memoir
mention (Metallica vs. Megadeth) let alone an investigative
look back 20 years later (early punk rockers vs. each other, and themselves).
While it’s important not to romanticize this stuff — yes, some people died — there used to be a sense of fun in music feuds that we will never feel again, and for the music-loving public and anyone born before 2000, it’s worth mourning.
Everyone chose a side during Biggie vs. Tupac, Young Jeezy vs. Gucci Mane (well, some people did), Nas vs. Jay-Z, Clapton vs. Harrison, Marilyn Manson vs. his ribs, Courtney Love vs. her accusers (of murder) — even if they had little basis for it. The rumor mill and the lyrics were everything, the choice was visceral, and the fights were serious. These were not squabbling children, but megaliths, characters we basically invented and projected ourselves onto, who fueled our bloodthirsty American love of right and wrong, good and bad, and whatever other time-honored
mythical binaries. We didn’t know every real-time detail of the feuds, and people
got the facts wrong all the time. But it didn’t matter, because it was actually
interesting. Moreover, the people
were interesting because we didn’t have to hear about every time they took a dump.
Don’t get me wrong, Biggie and Tupac would have torn each
other apart on Twitter. Suge Knight might have implicated himself with an ill-timed “LOL!” Megadeth and Metallica would have released endless, dry statements about the “Mechanix” debacle, ruining the fun for everyone. Jayne County would have inflicted many-an amphetamine-addled Twitter scourges about Handsome Dick Manitoba before bashing in his collarbone with a mic stand. It’s nature vs. nurture, and it so happens that the “nurture” we’re living in doesn’t pander to mystery. I get it. But after witnessing dumb fight after dumb fight escalate and fade into the petty primordial soup it came from, it’s becoming clear that these things will only get stupider. The musicians will only get younger, and eventually, the gladiator illusion will be extinct.
There is one bastion of awesome that remains, however, and that is the diss track. There is nothing more beautiful in this world than people fighting through lyrics, and it’s thrilling to learn that good diss tracks didn’t die in the mid-2000s. Though Tupac’s “Hit em Up” actually scared people and the Azealia/Angel singles will probably be forgotten tomorrow, their return to the ringside artform is a glistening golden nugget in the shitstorm that is our future.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 15, 2013