Make P.E.A.C.E., Not War

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

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C. Matthew Hamby

"All that beef ... is done, we had our fun. Let's get this money."

— Jay-Z

I imagine that somewhere "up there," 'Pac and Biggie are high-fiving each other over the public display of unity between Jay-Z and Nas during Jay's historic "I Declare War" concert in late October.

After a nearly decade-long feud, Nas and Jay-Z embraced and shared verses while an audience of nearly 20,000 fans watched Hip Hop history in the making at New Jersey's Continental Airlines Arena.

The collaboration by the two East Coast rivals has already generated speculation among Hip Hop bloggers: Was the concert about self-preservation (after all, who wants to be gunned down at the height of their career?), maturation, a plea for unity or plain ol' cash?

I say all the above. And there's nothing wrong with that.

While the historic gesture underscores the need for solidarity among rival Rap camps, it also makes perfect fiscal sense. Since the peak of their lyrical dispute, fans have been clamoring over the possibility of a collaboration between two of the greatest MCs currently in the game. Imagine the sales generated when God's Son meets Jay-Hova in the studio with Kanye behind the boards.

What comes after platinum?

Interestingly, Jay-Z put his shrewd marketing instinct to work and generated pre-concert hype by promising to "air out" MCs who had crossed him since the release of his last official LP, The Black Album. Fans were left wondering who — in addition to Nas — would be on his list of victims that night (50 Cent and Cam'ron would have also been safe bets).

Fortunately, the concert turned into more of a "We Are the (Rap) World" love-fest featuring a who's who list of guests including Kanye West, Young Jeezey, Freeway, T.I., Memphis Bleek, P-Diddy, The Lox and a special appearance by the recently freed Beenie Siegel. Fans made it clear that there was enough love to go around as the East Coast's Hip Hop elite united and rocked mics that night.

There was an unmistakable air of social responsibility in the duo's declaration of truce. As Jigga and Nas continue to grow older and wiser, they likely recognized the need to distance themselves from reckless rappers who pull drive-bys and stab people at award shows.

Yet some fans, critics and jaded observers have suggested that the feud between Jay-Z and Nas was manufactured to generate publicity and record sales (which might explain why less skilled rappers like 50 continue to boast strong record sales). But it was perceived as being real. In Hip Hop, that's about all that matters.

Most cite the 1996 death of Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., as the catalyst for the rivalry since Jay-Z and Nas were in direct competition for Biggie's vacant throne. Over the course of the next several years, the two would trade subtle insults and innuendos through their lyrics, culminating in 2001 with Jay Z's scathing single "Takeover" from The Blueprint. In the single, Jay mocked Nas for never recapturing the success generated by his debut album Illmatic ("You went from Nasty Nas to Esco's trash/Had a spark when you started but now you're just garbage") and drew attention to Nas' habit of flip-flopping between the image of a righteous, politically conscious MC and a gun-toting thug.

This was no longer an exchange of inside jabs; their rivalry became public and personal.

Funny thing about Hip Hop beefs: They can either end Rap careers (think: KRS-One vs. MC Shan) or rebuild them. When Nas fired back with his visceral response "Ether" from 2001's Stillmatic, he brought a swift end to what many consider the most raw Hip Hop battle the world had seen. After attacking Jay-Z's admittedly dumbed-down lyrical content ("You seem to be only concerned with dissin' women/Were you abused as a child, scared to smile, they called you ugly?") even the most loyal Jay-Z fans begrudgingly passed the mic to Nas.

That was nearly five years ago. Now Shawn Carter's strictly about The Business. As President and CEO of Def Jam Recordings and co-owner of the New Jersey Nets, his sights are set on the bottom line.

Meanwhile, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones appears perfectly content staying clear of the limelight and dropping the occasional 16 (including the well-aimed freestyle, "MC Burial") between platinum-selling double albums.

Lots of Hip Hop artists build their reps by fanning the flames of hateful lyrics. Fortunately, most mature and move on. Recognizing the responsibility that entertainers have to their often young and impressionable audiences, Jay-Z and Nas are demonstrating that true MCs should wage war against ideologies — not against one another. On that night when they stood together and shared the mic, they took their careers — and Hip Hop — to another level.

5 on the ledge
· Roxanne Shante (vs. UTFO) — "Roxanne's Revenge" When UTFO spun their infamous tale about an arrogant girl who wouldn't give guys the time of day, Shante anted up with one of the first in a series of Roxanne-related response raps.

· KRS-One (vs. MC Shan) — "The Bridge is Over" Kris killed Shan on the single but, more importantly, the two later appeared together in a Sprite ad that was inspired by their historic battle.

· Canibus (vs. LL Cool J) — "Second Round Knockout" Mad props to LL for staying in the game for all these years, but Canibus TKO'd the vet on this classic response to LL's single "4,3,2,1."

· Ice Cube (vs. Eazy-E) — "No Vaseline" Cube details the shady label tactics that lead to his split from NWA and Ruthless Records. The title alone pretty much says it all.

· 50 Cent (vs. Fat Joe) — "Piggy Bank" In addition to going after Joey Crack, Fitty fires shots at Jadakiss in this single from his sophomore LP, The Massacre. Doesn't he have enough enemies already

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