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Should we always respect our elders?

DRAMA: The lyrical battle between rappers Common and Drake has garnered plenty of attention

AFTER learning of (and laughing at) the recent ‘beef’ between US rappers Common and Drake, I was forced to ask myself: ‘Am I getting old?’

Before I even got to grips with who said what or who started the battle, my immediate feeling upon hearing the two names involved in the saga was: ‘How has Drake got the nerve to show disrespect to a long-serving and well-respected rapper like Common?’

Of course, after closer dissection, I realised that Common was actually the one who ‘started it’. I’ll go with a condensed version of affairs or we’ll be here all day:

Last month, Common released the track Sweet, in which he threw lyrical shots, which were widely believed to be aimed at 25-year-old Drake. Referencing what many believed to be Drake’s popular combination of rapping and singing, 39-year-old Common rapped: “Some h*e ass n*****s, singing all around here man/la la la, you ain't no mother f*****g Frank Sinatra/li’l b*tch!”

Though the Chicago-born star never called Drake by name – and said in an interview that his alleged diss track was simply aimed at “whoever the cap fits” – Drake took the bait and hit back.

During a performance in California, the Canadian star took the opportunity to address his supposed feud with Common, telling the crowd: “I will never stop doing this for y’all… If you got something to say to me, say it to my mother f*****g face, n****r. Just coz I sing, I ain’t no b*tch.” He also used his verse on Rick Ross’s track Stay Schemin’ to fire shots at Common. Common then hit back – and so the ‘beef’ was established.

BEEF: The feud between Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj has been well documented

Aside from causing me to have a good old chuckle, (very often, seeing rappers’ diss lyrics in black and white only adds to the comedy value), the saga left me querying whether Drake hitting back at Common was the right thing to do.

Was it smart for a younger and less experienced rapper to take on a lyricist who is not only older, but widely revered in hip-hop circles for his clever wordplay and lyrical prowess? Particularly when Common didn’t initially reference him by name?

Renowned British hip-hop DJ Semtex feels that all is fair in life and lyrics.

“Artist beef in hip-hop is like everyday life on the street,” Semtex tells here! “It doesn't matter who you are, who you know, or where you’re from; anyone can get it. There are no rules, and no extenuating circumstances. If you can give it out, be prepared to receive it. And if you’re gonna pick a fight, just make sure you can win it.”

Dancehall DJ Robbo Ranx shares similar sentiments. Having witnessed many a lyrical clash, in which new dancehall talents have gone up against the genre’s elite (think Vybz Kartel taking shots at his one-time mentor Bounty Killer), Ranx feels that age has no bearing in a lyrical war of words.

“Whether you’ve been in the music business for 25 years or 25 minutes, it’s still a competitive business,” he says. “In most walks of life, respecting your elders is key. But in music, it can be very competitive.

“That said, with lyrical battles, it’s just word throwing. I think deep down, Vybz Kartel probably respects Bounty Killer. Most of the time, younger acts challenging older acts is just about them trying to prove themselves. Most of the time, there’s no real disrespect intended.”

One artist who has often been vocal about respecting pioneers is British MC Wiley. Often dubbed the ‘godfather of grime,’ the 32-year-old is credited for paving the way for fellow MCs like Dizzee Rascal and Chipmunk and has often expressed his belief in showing credit where it’s due.

In an interview with here! in August last year, Wiley said: “Some of the young artists…they know that all I’ll ever do is help them. They know it. But what they do is get into their new position and then turn a blind eye – turn their backs on those that helped them. I don’t think that’s right.”

Sharing similar sentiments is Leo Muhammad. The veteran British funnyman of The Real McCoy fame feels that a sense of respect has been lost with some of today’s young black British comedians.

FORGOTTEN ALLIANCE: Vybz Kartel turned his back on Bounty Killer and launcehd a lyrical attack on his one-time mentor

“I remember when one [black British] comedian was at the height of his popularity and he did an interview in which he was asked about his influences,” Muhammad recalls. “He started naming all of these Americans and I thought, ‘Really?’ When this guy was up and coming, we [the older comics] gave him his break on The Real McCoy and gave him a lot of guidance. So I was very surprised to see how quickly that guidance was forgotten.”

Considering the state of the black British comedy scene, Muhammad, whose comedy style is branded ‘edutainemnet’ (education and entertainment), feels that some of today’s younger acts are damaging the scene with crude material.

“Quite often when I perform at comedy shows, I find myself waiting to go on behind other younger comedians, and to be honest, a lot of the time, I tend to be appalled by a lot of what I hear,” says Muhammad. “What seems to pass for comedy these days is often vulgar and I find myself cringing, knowing that I have to go out and perform afterwards.

“I’m honestly shocked by some of the material of some of the younger comedians. There was a time when you wouldn’t perform certain types of material in front of older audiences, but now, it seems like that thinking has gone out the window.”

Looking to the sporting world, it seems that respecting pioneers is perhaps of greater importance. In football, young black players in particular tend to have a greater appreciation for those who paved the way.
“Generally I find that today’s black players have a lot of time and respect for pioneers of the game, from Laurie Cunningham to Luther Blissett and Garth Crooks,” says Voice of Sport editor Rodney Hinds.

“The reason for this is that many of today’s players recognise that the high salaries and the opportunities they get now, are thanks to the hard work of the pioneers before them.”

Of course, there is much to be learned from both the older and younger generations, and it would be wrong to adapt that old fashioned mentality that young people have nothing to offer.

But with society often urging us to respect our elders, it seems that it should go without saying that young talents should pay their dues to those who opened doors for them. So why do some think it’s ok to publicly insult those who came before them?

MIXED OPINIONS: (L-R) DJ Semtex, Voice columnist Jasmine Dotiwala and UK comedian Leo Muhammad share their views

Take US rapstress Nicki Minaj. Was it not plain disrespectful of the Super Bass hitmaker to take lyrical shots at Lil Kim, who, as arguably one of the most influential female rappers of the modern era, paved the way for female lyricists like Minaj, who followed in her footsteps?

Voice columnist and hip-hop aficionado Jasmine Dotiwala says that young bucks often challenge their elders to make themselves known.

“When a new act is determined to make news, he/she goes up against the rest and usually the best,”
Dotiwala says. “Hence everyone trying to take a pop at Jay-Z; hence a new young Canibus coming at LL Cool J; and hence Nicki Minaj coming at [Lil] Kim.

“Sometimes, it can be lazy and unnecessary when new acts focus on creating beef. I'm all for bringing it if you need to rant, but as a starting point, it’s predictable.

“Similarly, when an older, established act starts on a new one because they're bitter at the youngster’s success, it’s also sad and predictable… Shout out Soulja Boy and Ice-T!”

Indeed, it did seem unnecessary when, back in 2008, veteran rapper Ice-T hit out at pop-rapper Soulja Boy, claiming that the then 17-year-old Crank That rapper “single-handedly killed hip-hop,” before telling the youngster to “eat a d**k.”

Soulja Boy hit back with an internet video, in which he repeatedly called Ice-T an “old ass n****r”, before insisting that he’d “worked hard” for his success, and telling Ice-T that, as his elder, he should be saying, “congratulations young brother, get your money.”

Though Ice-T’s rant came across to many like a rambling from a bitter old rapper who refused to embrace change, there were those who sided with the then 50-year-old, believing not only that Soulja Boy’s music was an embarrassment to hip-hop, but also that his retaliation showed a lack of respect for rap pioneers.

One long-serving artist who believes in the importance of paying homage to veterans is Jamaican reggae star Freddie McGregor. In an interview with here! last year, the I Was Born A Winner hitmaker said that too many youngsters have been allowed to become overnight sensations, without knowing their history.

“What happens here [in Jamaica] is that as soon as a yout’ shows any musical potential, people start to put the yout’ on a pedestal and tell him that he’s the next Bob Marley,” McGregor said. “So that yout’ doesn’t get the chance to develop and understand the business he’s in. That doesn’t allow for longevity. And if some of these young kids are superstars, surely [veteran reggae singer] John Holt should be a Sir by now, no?”

Of course, established acts and young bucks will probably always clash. And sometimes, it makes for great entertainment. But as the saying goes, ‘if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going.’

So in amongst the lyrical battles and comedy clashes, here’s hoping folks don’t do away entirely with some good old-fashioned (queue Aretha) R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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