In his August 2012 URL/Smack battle with veteran Loaded Lux, the upstart Calicoe rationalizes his tacit refusal to engage in a competition of poetic guile by contrasting the “real rap” of “gun bars” against the supposed effeminacy and whimsy of “metaphors.” Calicoe further implies that his authenticity and superiority is cemented by his incarcerated father’s known association with the Black Mafia Family criminal organization. The confrontation between the youthful challenger and the elder statesman is a battle rap archetype. Calicoe’s atavistic nihilism, however, is a new and different form of rhetoric that militates against any aesthetic judgement as it desperately mines glorified outlaw cliches.
In the mid-’80s the new jacks theorized their ambitions as progressive artistic missions.1 KRS-One’s annoyance that MC Shan’s airwave dominance was engineered by reigning deejay Mr. Magic ignited the Boogie Down Productions/Juice crew inter-boro rivalry, encapsulated in the scathing “The Bridge Is Over.”2 On “Ego Trippin'”3 Ultramagnetic MCs, taking their cue from KRS-One’s lyrical dismissal of laurel-sitting “kings,” mocked RUN DMC’s catchy cadences as lowest common denominator pandering.4 Even rivalries that appeared to center on personality clashes were understood to be contests of skilled performance.
- I am not suggesting that these artists did not also view their attempts to unseat those before them as competitive business moves. On the contrary, we can read these beefs as being informed by a desire to compete in a very limited market; if such a desire truly conflicts with a notion of communal uplift, these artists did not seem to mind the contradiction. [↩]
- In retrospect, “The Bridge Is Over” is a somewhat juvenile and intentionally misleading attack on MC Shan. Shan wasn’t just some hack rapper, even if his popularity was due in part to his associations. However, KRS-One’s displeasure with Shan’s undisputed reign is derived in part from a spirit of verbal competition, hence his use of a Jamaican patois-inspired “toasting” style on much of “The Bridge Is Over.” [↩]
- One reason “Ego Trippin'” sounds so powerful and forward thinking is that it showcases pioneering production styles made possible by Ced Gee’s collaboration with the late Paul C, in addition to introducing the world to Kool Keith’s unorthodox, innovative rhyme style. [↩]
- Interestingly, Calicoe’s attempt to paint Loaded Lux as an out of touch egghead includes a claim that Loaded Lux’s “wordplay” sounds like “nursery rhymes,” implying that they are too fanciful to be “real,” while Kool Keith’s attack on Run-DMC’s actual incorporation of nursery rhymes was a dismissal of poetic simplicity. [↩]