Is It Time to Redefine the Boundaries of Rap Battles After Drake Took Shots at Kid Cudi?

The rules of engagement are changing.

By Marcus Reeves

Drake stirred a swarm of reactions from the Twittersvere when he dissed Kid Cudi via his new track “Two Birds, One Stone.” The 6 God took aim at Cudi’s current mental state, which we all know is not well, after the Man on the Moon rapper publicly announced he was going to rehab to combat “depression and suicidal urges” earlier this month.

Drizzy launched: “You were the man on the moon / Now you just go through your phases / Life of the angry and famous / Rap like I know I’m the greatest / Then give you the tropical flavors / Still never been on hiatus / You stay xanned and perked up / So when reality set in you don’t gotta face it.”

Hip hop heads understood the lyrical barb to be in response Cudi’s Twitter rant this past September, stating Drake’s only great because he has “30 people write songs” for him. But for many within hip hop’s millennial nation, Drake’s focus on Cudi’s current mental state in this battle was a low blow. And responses were swift. “Depression isn’t a ‘phase,’” tweeted Mallory Merk. “But thanks to adding to the terrible misconceptions of mental illness.” While @Jennahbz wrote: “Drake taking shots at Kid Cudi about his mental illness is just childish.” Obviously, in the age of social media, young hip hop fans have no problem raising concerns over a rapper’s offensive lyrics. Commendable, indeed.

But this criticism of Drake’s dis shows a new generational line being drawn for how far insults within a rap battle can go. Part of this pushback within the millennial hip hop set is merely rap’s traditional street brashness (remember folks, hip hop, like most Black folk culture, was NEVER built around being nice or sensitive) colliding with the hyper political correctness shaping their world. Not to mention the technological tool, i.e. social media, that gives music fans a voice as big and socially relevant and headline-grabbing as the hugest rap star. So, as a result, Drake taking a shot at Cudi’s fragile state is interpreted as insensitivity toward the mentally ill. Whereas hip hop’s older generation (of which this writer is a part of), would see it as simply a rapper’s battle-intuitive response. In fact, upon closer listen, Drake’s words really sound like he’s offering a colleague a brutally honest observation about alleged drug abuse.

But it would be interesting to see how other famous epic rap battles would fly in 2016. For example, the Biggie vs. Tupac battle, with its barbs of violence (B.I.G.’s 1995’s “Why Shot Ya”) and possible marital infidelity (Tupac’s 1996 “Hit ‘Em Up”) couldn’t have sustained itself with a generation whose grown up under anti-school bullying policies. Or the much ballyhooed Nas vs. Jay Z showdown where Jay crossed a major line on “Supa Ugly,” not only revealing he’d slept with Nas baby’s mother in Nas’ car but how he left condoms on the baby seat. Although Jay’s dis stirred major debates on whether going that dirty and personal was fair within a rap battle, it was ultimately decided that Jay had won, especially given that all’s fair in love and rap wars. But it’s hard to believe that’d be the case if Jay hurdled those words today. Not with sensitivity to woman’s issues as they are amongst this new generation. In fact, any pre-social media rapper — from ODB to Eminem — who pushed against the walls of political correctness would feel the tweeted wrath of the new hip hop America.

It feels like the two generations of rap fans that occupy the landscape within the culture are at a crossroads. Who holds the majority stake in the genre? Will the conservative old guard step aside to allow the progressive new guard to establish a new set of rules? How will this reshape the boundaries for battling rappers? Time will tell. Until then, It’s Drake: 1. Cudi: TBD. Hip hop’s rule still applies.