Last fall was a soft one for hip-hop beefs. Once G-Unit, D-Block, and Murder Inc tired of warring, the battlefield was largely barren, with only a few stones being thrown by small potatoes (T.I. versus Lil’ Flip, Lil’ Wayne versus. B.G. and Juvenile). It was all quiet on both Eastern and Western fronts. Then, with little obvious provocation other than a new album on the way from his Diplomat imprint, Dipset kingpin Cam’ron bit the bullet and took aim at Def Jam president Jay-Z.
The Internet ate its own hands in excitement when Cam’s “You Got It” (a/k/a "You Gotta Love It") leaked on January 18. But by the next morning, the thrill and the urgency of first blood had taken a turn toward farce as it became apparent just how little effort Cam’ron had put into his dis track. The jokes were stale: Jay-Z looks like the Camel cartoon mascot, steals lines from Biggie, and he’s, um, ugly, ugly, ugly. Even Jay-Z, who retired from rap two years ago, didn’t seem much bothered.
Yet for all its clumsiness, “You Got It” has a potentially combustible back story. The nearly eight-minute track sees Cam taking shots not only at Jay-Z’s appearance but at girlfriend Beyoncé Knowles and his age and fashion sense. (“How is the king of New York rocking sandals with jeans, when he 42 years old?”) What’s behind Cam’ron’s anger has everything to do with rumors that Jay might be involved in a recent shooting that left holes in Cam’ron’s arms and his Lamborghini, and with the business decisions Jay has made as a Def Jam CEO. Jay used to sign Cam’ron’s checks back when the Diplomats/Dipset crew were on Roc-a-Fella. That relationship ended when Jay took the Roc-a-Fella name with him to the top of Def Jam and left Cam’s closest associate, Roc-a-Fella co-founder Damon Dash, with nothing. Cam and his friends, who had had their own share of disagreements with Jay, parted ways with Roc-a-Fella, and the nastiness behind “You Got It” has been brewing ever since.
For now, the conflict seems stuck in an eerie stalemate. Maybe hip-hop feuds just aren’t what they used to be. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Cam held forth at a silly press conference; Jay talked some shit to MTV. But all Jay said was that Cam’s song is “trash,” and he suggested that as hungry as he might be to fight back, he’s now above that sort of thing. And Cam’ron? “I’m not just gonna keep beating up on an old man,” he said last Wednesday in New York. “I’m gonna wait. If he retaliates, then I’m ready.”
If Internet chatter is any indication, the kids aren’t taking sides yet, because Cam and Jay share a fan base. Instead, there’s just a lot of guessing going on. Might Cam’ron’s other enemy, Ma$e, now teamed with 50 Cent, align himself with Roc-a-Fella and bring the rest of the G-Unit army with him? And what would that mean? Jay-Z’s allies at the Roc — Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, and Nas — could also get involved in Jay’s stead. As we all know, bad blood can escalate in the hip-hop world. Remember how quickly Eminem’s scuffle with Benzino blended into 50’s beef with Ja Rule, and how fast their little fight engulfed hip-hop?