A lifetime ago, before rap beefs boiled down to one-sided massacres over ghostwriters and courtesy tweets, diss tracks used to carry real stakes. They were pointed, personal, vicious. They ignited rivalries that erupted in actual shots fired (R.I.P. ‘Pac and Biggie). But in the new rap reality of today, America and our neighbors to the North are in the grips of the comparatively polite international conflict (shout-out to Norm) that is the Meek Mill-Drake War of 2015.
At stake as the world gives Philly’s Meek Mill another week to match his onetime best bud Drake diss-for-diss: Street cred. Twitter cachet. Nicki’s relationship status. Maybe a lawsuit or two.
With all of hip-hopdom invested in the Meek-Drake face-off, The Daily Beast asked hip-hop legend Ice Cube about the beef.
“Drake is winning right now,” Cube laughed, before graciously adding a charitable stay of execution for Mill. “But, you know… Meek could come back.”
We also asked the rest of the cast and crew of Universal’s sprawling N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton to pick a side. Stars Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Jason Mitchell wisely remained neutral, instead bursting into a cacophony of LOLs while shouting “Get off me!” at the film’s Beverly Hills press junket. “They’ll make a movie about that one day,” is all director F. Gary Gray would say.
But the film’s resident diss king, Ice Cube, is better suited to weigh in. The 46-year-old Compton-raised rapper-turned-filmmaker is a producer on Straight Outta Compton, which highlights how he dropped one of the most savage diss tracks of all time on ex-squad bros Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and manager Jerry Heller with 1991’s “No Vaseline”:
“I saw it coming, that’s why I went solo And kept on stomping While y’all muthafuckas moved straight outta Compton Living with the Whites, one big house And not another nigga in sight.”
-Ice Cube, “No Vaseline”
“Back then, we were angry and mad at each other,” recalled Cube. “We had so many raw emotions right there on the surface. Diss records came out, and we got physical behind our diss records. There were fights and squabbles.”
One such fight re-created in the film went down when members of Above The Law, signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records, jumped Cube and his Da Lench Mob crew at a music conference in 1990. “At one point—and this isn’t in the movie—me and Eazy got on the phone after our feud,” said Cube. “We were like, ‘We should just keep this on wax, no matter how mad we get and how much shit we talk. Let’s keep it on wax because once we take it to the streets it ain’t hip-hop no more. It’s gangbanging.’ We all fought to try to get out of the gangbang lifestyle and not have to deal with that every day. Why go back?”
Meanwhile, up in Toronto this weekend Drake went ahead and declared a victory for himself while playing a game of kickball with LeBron James:
Compared to the heated diss war that kept N.W.A. divided until Eazy-E’s death—prompted by N.W.A.’s “Message to B.A.,” followed by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Fuck Wit Dre Day” and Eazy-E’s “Real Muthaphukkin’ Gs”—Meek Mill’s ongoing tiff with the 6 God is, Cube says, “very entertaining.”
“It’s funny,” Cube grinned. “To me it’s like going back to the essence of hip-hop: Who can rap the best? I don’t think anybody’s going to get jumped or get their asses whooped, but it’s fun to sit back and watch.”