Friday, August 14, 2009

Music - When Rappers Collide - Joe Budden vs. Raekwon, in Cyberspace and Elsewhere

It was curious, the sling encasing Joe Budden’s right arm on Wednesday night at the Canal Room — curious and uncommented upon. For a rapper so given to transmitting even the mundane details of his life to fans, the omission was notable.

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Less than a week earlier Mr. Budden had posted a video online in which he held a compress to his right temple. “My eye’s swollen,” he noted, and he complained about pain in his shoulder. The reason? He had just been attacked by Raekwon and his entourage, he said, the latest in a string of incidents in what had been until that point a war of words with various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.

On Wednesday night both Mr. Budden and Raekwon performed in New York — Raekwon in a Staten Island park and Mr. Budden with his group, Slaughterhouse, at the Canal Room — and for the most part kept the tensions at arm’s length. But the battle between them, and the larger one from which it stems, has revealed a clash not only of egos but also of generations and technologies.

In May Vibe magazine presented a fan-voted online bracket to determine “The Best Rapper Ever,” the sort of content intended to stir debate. Mr. Budden, speaking in a video posted online, made some disparaging comments about Method Man, who was ranked above him, leading to a flurry of recriminations in radio interviews and YouTube videos. Eventually the two men appeared to reconcile.

Nevertheless, members of the notoriously scattered Wu-Tang Clan, icons of 1990s hip-hop, have rallied. Inspectah Deck released a song in retaliation, and now Raekwon seems to have taken up the battle.

The supposed attack took place backstage at the Los Angeles date of the Rock the Bells tour, at which both Raekwon and Slaughterhouse were performing. According to Mr. Budden and Mickey Factz, another rapper in the room at the time, the incident was being filmed by a member of Raekwon’s camp, presumably so that Mr. Budden’s primary tool, the Internet, could later be used against him.

If so, it was a mark of modern savvy on the part of Raekwon, a product of the 1990s, an era in which hip-hop beefs were just as likely to play out behind closed doors as on records. And even though Raekwon has been steadily releasing music since his breakthrough 1995 album, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx ... ” (Loud), he remains a classicist. In going online with his gripes about the Vibe list, Mr. Budden was working from an updated playbook, one that most likely caught Raekwon and Method Man, used to the unchallenged public respect of their successors, off guard.

More than almost any other rapper, Mr. Budden has taken to the Internet with ease; he is an active video blogger and Twitter user. In his postings he is alternately comic, irascible, self-deprecating and sharp-tongued. In short, a quintessential Internet celebrity.

Mr. Budden’s online presence has also helped sustain his career since he parted ways with his former label, Def Jam, following one album. Slaughterhouse, his new group, is a quartet of hip-hop formalists — Mr. Budden, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, Royce da 5’9” — of the sort prized by bloggers. Its strong self-titled debut album, on E1, almost feels as if it had been willed into existence by Internet chatter.

At the Canal Room, in a showcase presented by the radio station Hot 97 (WQHT-FM), Slaughterhouse performed a handful of songs from that album, which was released Tuesday. It was a spirited show, with each rapper standing in awe of the others and then trying to out-rap them. When Mr. Budden demurred from performing “Pump It Up,” his biggest hit, Mr. Ortiz stepped in and did it for him. (Mr. Budden later joined in.)

Just before that Mr. Budden had said, in mock exasperation: “I got a bad arm. My shoulder’s bad.” It was the only reference, albeit an oblique one, that he made to the Raekwon incident during this show; he wisely let the flames die down, at least for one night. (After the show, his manager, Crystal Isaacs, insisted that the sling was needed after Mr. Budden dislocated his shoulder earlier on Wednesday, not in the attack.)

Perhaps, though, Raekwon has learned a few tricks by studying his adversary. He too has an album to promote: “Only Built for Cuban Linx ... Pt. II” (IceH2O/EMI), due next month. And for an artist of the old guard of the street-team era, he’s done an impressive job of transitioning his marketing strategy online.

He still raises real-world concern, though, as evinced Wednesday evening when he performed at Mahoney Playground, in the New Brighton section of Staten Island. The show was part of the CityParks Concerts series, organized in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. But with a few dozen police officers securing the premises (including some on the roof of the nearby housing project), this show barely had the feel of a concert.

It was a setup clearly anticipating something far more sinister than the few hundred peaceable fans who turned out to see Raekwon, a local kid turned folk hero. With hundreds of barricades arranged in draconian warrens, the closest fans were left some 20 feet from the stage. “Is it a way for the people to come a little bit closer?” Raekwon asked after his first couple of songs. “I need them a little bit closer, y’all.”

Realizing that the fans couldn’t come to him, at the opening notes of “Daytona 500” he climbed down from the stage and made his way to them, a swarm of police officers and park security in his wake. (Notably, there was a far smaller police presence at the Slaughterhouse concert.)

A few minutes later, having made his point, he returned to the stage, then offered something of an olive branch. “We love Joe,” he said, either in jest or out of deference to the moment. “Tell Joe we love him.”

And by the end of his brief set he had turned reflective. “This is a big privilege for Staten Island. This is something we got to take advantage of,” he said of the park show, which was free to the public. “Enough is enough. All the negativity got to turn to positivity.” Then he thanked the local precinct, the 120th, adding: “Please let us have this. We’ll keep it under control.”

More Articles in Arts » A version of this article appeared in print on August 14, 2009, on page C3 of the New York edition.

I generally turn a deaf ear towards rap beefs these days. It's not because I am taking a stand against violence or negativity. It's just that they all seem so disingenuous. Breaking out only when there is an album to promote. But this thing with Raekwon and Joe Budden has gotten my attention. It seems deeper, more personal and more of a true sea change between the old and the new. Here the Times does a nice job sizing up the conflict, the stakes and the implications.

Posted via web from lswittenberg's posterous

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