How Hip-Hop Media Has Changed Rap Beef

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

Dan Runcie

Every week, Trapital's free memo will give you insights on the latest moves in music, media, and culture. Join 32K+ readers who stay ahead of the trends:

Podcasts and video series offer more approaches for artists to play to their strengths and take shots at each other.

Pusha T (via Shutterstock)

The ongoing beef between Drake and Pusha T has officially transitioned to interview shows and podcasts. A few weeks ago, the “In My Feelings” rapper stopped by HBO’s The Shop to shed light on his issues with both Kanye West and King Push. Two days later, Push stepped into The Joe Budden Podcast to refute Drake’s claims and share some scandalous details of his own. The G.O.O.D. Music-OVO Sound drama continues a rising trend. Rap beef is expanding to other forms of media.

This year’s other high profile beef, Nicki Minaj-Cardi B, has had its fair share of shade thrown during interviews, social media posts, and award shows. Still, neither artist has released an official diss record. Even Joe Budden—a rapper turned podcaster who once made a living off diss records—recently used airtime on his own podcast to clap back at Eminem.

This wasn’t always the case though. Not too long ago, rappers had to respond in the studio. When the Jay Z-Nas beef was at its peak in the early 2000s, Jay still did promo runs on Hot 97, BET’s 106 & Park, and other shows. But each host had the same question for Jay, “When are you going to respond to Nas?” No one wanted to hear Jay’s thoughts or opinions unless it was over a beat.

Today, hip-hop media has gained notable influence. Artists can now pursue different routes to body their opponent. Podcasts and interviews introduce new tactics that diss tracks don’t offer. But media disses won’t work for everyone. Some rappers are still better off with a well-timed, well-crafted diss record.

Instead of replying on wax and waiting for hip-hop fans to make a verdict, Pusha T went straight to the court of public opinion itself to redirect the discussion.

Controlling the narrative 

Today’s biggest hip-hop podcasts have been snatched up by large outlets. TIDAL and Spotify added Rap Radar and The Joe Budden Podcast to their respective lineups. N.O.R.E.’s Drink Champs was bought by Revolt. The Shop started as an Uninterrupted video series before it became a co-production with HBO. Each show knows that its content shapes how audiences think. Artists realize it too.

Drake’s appearance on The Shop was a meticulous attempt to dismiss the beef, control the narrative, and still get a few shots out at both Ye and Push. The episode was essentially an informal interview with questions from LeBron James and Maverick Carter, CEO of Uninterrupted and LeBron’s lifelong friend. Whether Drake actually proved he’s moved on is questionable, but he did succeed at temporarily steering the conversation. To no surprise, Pusha T had issues with it:

“With that particular show, Maverick [Carter] ruined the whole show. The way he alley-ooped the questions was nuts. On top of that, it was very biased… I just don’t like how the narrative has changed. And it’s not true.

Push felt like Drake got more softball questions than a Republican senator on Fox News. He was not about to sit back and let Drake’s barbershop testimonial take over. He chose to visit The Joe Budden Podcast, a source that was going to cover the beef anyway, to share lewd details on what really went down. Instead of replying on wax and waiting for hip-hop fans to make a verdict, Pusha T went straight to the court of public opinion itself to redirect the discussion.

The DAYTONA rapper had nothing to gain from dropping another diss record. He already won the battle. Any further diss tracks would just get compared to his most recent one against Drake, “The Story of Adidon.” Rap purists would have spent more time comparing the quality of the tracks instead of focusing on the message Push delivered.

Playing to strengths

Both Drake and Pusha T are extremely calculated. Their outlets of choice played to each rapper’s strength. Drake is a former actor who’s long flirted with a return to Hollywood. He seemed right at home in a high-end barbershop that serves Merlot. Pusha T however, who still says “they say the company I keep is not corporate enough,” is less likely to be found in The Shop. The G.O.O.D. Music President is a much better fit for the basement couch vibe with Rory, Mal, and Budden—a fellow rap purist himself. It’s also unlikely that any barber in The Shop knows what to do with Pusha T’s box braids.

Similarly, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B have played to their own strengths throughout their beef. Nicki shines brightest when she’s taking shots at her rivals in front of a live audience. The MTV Video Music Awards have become her personal version of The Shade Room. Over the years, she’s taken the stage to publicly call out Miley Cyrus, Travis Scott, Cardi, and others.

Nicki’s last diss track—a response to Remy Ma’s “ShETHER”—was received poorly by fans. She hasn’t recorded a popular diss track since “Roman’s Revenge” in 2010. Her recent shots at Cardi B include a tearful interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe, a dismissive conversation with Hot 97’s Ebro, and a countless number of subtweets.

Cardi is also no stranger to leveraging the spotlight to her advantage. She subbed Nicki in her acceptance speech at the VMAs. The “Bodak Yellow” rapper has risen to fame because of her media personality and image. She never positioned herself as a lyricist, so why would she change her style up now to drop a diss record?

Earlier this week in an interview with Ebro, she doubled down on her decision not to drop a diss track against Nicki. “The way that I came up, it was never about dissing nobody, and I still feel like I don’t need to diss anybody for nothing. My music was never about that.”

Despite ongoing rumors of shelved diss tracks from both artists, nothing has been released. Like Drake and Pusha T, the New York rappers disses through the media are attempts to seem unbothered, even though they are both clearly annoyed to some extent.

The diss record will still live on

After getting called out on Eminem’s Kamikaze album, 28-year-old rapper Machine Gun Kelly released the diss record and music video “Rap Devil,” which is targeted at his idol turned rival. The record sparked an immediate response from Slim Shady called “Killshot.” MGK may not have won the battle, but he wisely captured the media wave. After the diss, he immediately dropped an EP and did a post-beef press run on The Breakfast Club and other shows.

MGK’s diss track forced Eminem to respond. It gave MGK more exposure than he’s ever had and turned the table back to the 46-year-old Detroit rapper. It would have been much easier for Eminem to ignore an MGK podcast appearance or radio interview. Media outlets were not proactively checking for MGK’s response to the situation. Unlike Drake and Pusha T, no TMZ reporters were seeking out MGK to ask how he felt about the situation. He had to stir up all the smoke himself.

It made sense for Eminem to drop “Killshot” as well. The Detroit rapper lives for making diss records but he was never a media savant like Drake or Cardi. Like Jay and Nas, Eminem rose to fame as a rapper in an era where diss records were still mandatory.

Interviews have not always been a slam dunk for addressing beef. Back in 2003, Ja Rule did an interview with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to address the rapper’s beef with 50 Cent. Ja tried to seem like he cared less than he did, even though he was on a promo run for Blood in My Eye, an album full of disses against 50 Cent and G-Unit. The Murder Inc. rapper was little ahead of his time in attempting to manipulate the media to his advantage, but a little ahead of himself to think that 50 Cent wouldn’t clown him for the ill-timed publicity stunt.

Today’s artists are pushed to plan out their attacks like a disciplined military regime. Interviews, podcasts, and media appearances have expanded the opportunities for what’s possible. They have also resurfaced the debate on what’s acceptable and what’s not in rap beef.

Drake thinks Pusha T and Kanye crossed the line and broke the rules. Meanwhile, Pusha T thinks there are no rules, which is not too surprising. Keep in mind, this is the same man who stood up at his own wedding to rap about selling coke. Drake’s lucky Push didn’t take a shot at him during the wedding vows.

Join the music executives, business leaders, and venture capitalists who read Trapital.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

Like this essay? Share it!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Want more? Trapital's free memo
gives you insights on the latest trends in music, media, and culture:

"The stuff that Trapital puts out is fantastic. Really interesting insights into the industry, artists trends, and market trends."
Mike Weissman
CEO, SoundCloud
“You tell the true stories. Not just the end product, but how you get to the end product. Your point of view on it is dope.”
Steve Stoute
CEO, UnitedMasters and Translation