By now you’ve heard that Apple has recently jumped on the subscription-based streaming bandwagon. On Monday, the company revealed its new initiative, Apple Music, at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. The service is said to launch June 30 and will cost subscribers $9.99-$14.99 a month. Of course, launching a music initiative wouldn’t be complete without the presence of a mega-star to co-sign. Apple went with Drizzy (or rather, Drizzy went with Apple). Rocking a throwback Apple jacket, Aubrey “Drake” Graham aligned himself with Team Apple during an endearing keynote speech. “As an artist I can say, for all those kids sitting at home, it is truly amazing to be a part of something that I believe in.” Drake continued, “This is something that simplifies everything for the modern musician like myself, and the modern consumer like you.” Aubrey, your training on Degrassi has done you well.
Here’s the shade: In late March, Jay Z announced his quite similar initiative, Tidal, on a star-studded stage (We see you, Madonna!). Hov’s fancy streaming service will charge subscribers $9.99-$19.99 a month and boasts high-fidelity audio along with artist exclusives, as incentives. According to Billboard, Drake was initially courted by Tidal. The rapper was slated to be an artist partner with the company, but dropped-out last minute—as late as two days prior to Tidal’s launch. Fast forward to June and Drizzy claps back with a major endorsement for Apple Music.
So the rivalry ensues.
We’ve entered a new era in the music industry. It comes with a distinct turf war, and it’s happening online. Today, file sharing and new technologies have redirected the interests of rappers, and the arena in which they battle. Artists like Jay Z and Drake will gain dominance through commerciality, streaming supremacy, and aligning themselves with the right brand. This is the new hip-hop rivalry in the Internet age: Drizzy vs. Hov, gone digital.
“Beef” is pretty common in hip-hop, an arena that is as much about swagger and braggadocio as it is street poetry. And hip-hop rivalries have been ever-present: Back in the day, B-boys and B-girls would battle on the dance floor and MC’s would lay down a pithy verse or two for anyone that tried to “step” to them. For as long as there are wack rappers there will always be another, perhaps more talented, rapper to check him/her and remind them of their wackness. Rappers were also targeted based on where they lived. Old-school notions of owning the streets was key.
Feuds in the realm of rap were often driven by battles over turf, or a struggle to establish a dominant community, and neighborhood. And your ’hood dictated your clique.
One of hip-hop’s most prolific beefs boiled down to a competition of the coasts: East vs. West. Twenty years ago, the dominant names in hip-hop were The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. The rappers took shots at each other (and crew members), one line at a time. Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya” poured salt on a (literally) wounded Tupac just after he was shot in New York. Tupac’s “Hit Em Up” took no prisoners, with the face of Death Row Records bragging that he’d slept with Biggie’s wife, and would be Tupac’s last diss track before his death. B.I.G. and Pac led the lives they depicted in their music, and repped their ’hoods til the days they were gunned down.
Jay Z is no stranger to a good old hip-hop battle. In 2001, Hov went head-to-head with Queens rapper Nas. This was yet another classic hip-hop beef. The rivalry was, once again, based on territoriality and crew control: Nas’s group The Firm vs. Jay Z’s Roc-A-Fella. “Ether,” the 2001 track aimed at Jay, also attempted to establish borough dominance: “Queens niggas run y’all niggas, ask Russell Simmons,” said Nas.
Throughout the ’90s and early ’00s, a seemingly endless series of diss tracks and “beefs” would be used by the hip-hop community as promotional tools, from 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule to the more recent—and transparent—examples of Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks, and Tyler, the Creator vs. B.o.B.
In the present, a perfectly crafted rap song (even songs that take shots at other rappers and fill up tabloid columns) doesn’t have the same effect, in terms of profitability. Streaming and companies like Spotify, Tidal, and now Apple Music have completely changed the music industry. According to the 2014 Nielsen Music U.S. report, on-demand streaming is up 54 percent. Clearly, there are phenomenal opportunities for growth. Rappers with vast audiences want to give big business a shot, because these days, stacks have supplanted swagger.
Jigga Man is in the ring yet again, though the terms are entirely different. Now a multimilionaire entrepreneur, he’s left the lyrics at home (his last album was released via corporate sponsor Samsung). He’s vying for a major stake in the music industry, pitting him against 28-year-old upstart Drake and his Apple alliance. This digi-beef perfectly captures where the rap industry is today.
Or in the immortal words of the Wu-Tang Clan: “Cash Rules Everything Around Me, C.R.E.A.M. get the money, dolla dolla bill y’all.”