Redman Believes Canibus Was Not Dissing LL Cool J On 4, 3, 2, 1 (Video)
In 2016, LL Cool J and Canibus have come full circle. In late 1997, Uncle L put the young lyricist on the second single to his Phenomenon album. “4, 3, 2, 1” followed 1995’s “I Shot Ya” as another possé cut of the reigning Rap star showcasing MCs he believed in. In this case, he called upon label-mates DMX, Method Man, and Redman, as well as the Lost Boyz and Refugee Camp All-Stars affiliate ‘Bis. In the video version, which included Canibus, Master P also appeared.
On that song, one of Hip-Hop’s longest standing beefs would emerge, when Canibus’ guest verse reportedly upset LL, who interpreted some lyrics as aimed at him. LL re-recorded his verse to the Erick Sermon-produced track, and made no secrets about jabbing the same artist he had paid to appear on the Def Jam Records video single. That act would launch a battle that lasted for over 15 years, with Canibus devoting entire album titles (see: 2003’s Rip The Jacker) to James Todd Smith.
Redman, who appeared on “4, 3, 2, 1” recently told Vlad TV that he does not believe Canibus was ever disrespecting “Mr. Smith” in the first place.
“I don’t know why,” said Red’ regarding the beef’s genesis on the song. “Canibus was dope, man. He was a young cat—very humble. He would listen to everybody; he wasn’t one of those cats that was cocky—even though we knew he was a fuckin’ beast! He was very humble. And he was hangin’ around with the Def Squad a lot too.” Red’ plainly states, “I knew when he did that verse it wasn’t aimed at LL [Cool J]. But LL is a beast, and he’s a cocky mothafucka. He’s another one that’s not gonna let you ride and say no slick shit without [him] getting back at [you]. So it just went on.”
According to Redman, those lyrics in question (posted below) were out of nothing but admiration. The young Universal Records artist mentioned snatching the microphone, as tattooed, from LL’s arm. “Canibus [lyrics were saying] ‘I respect you, L. I respect you so much. I cannot believe that you allowed me to be on this record, LL, with three-four of the greats…I can’t believe that I’m part of this circle. That you…LL, let me get that mic off your arm and show you what I can do’ kinda thing. [It was not meant as a sign of disrespect]. Nah, that’s not Canibus. That’s not Canibus at all. That would have just been too cocky—talking about this man who’s helping you out, and getting on his record and talking about him. [If that were the case], I would not have even allowed that.” Redman stated that Def Squad, who was mentoring ‘Bis at the time, would not have tolerated that offense. “When we heard it, we didn’t take offense. We just heard LL went back in, did a verse, and was airing shit out.”
As legend has it (and referred to in a recorded phone call below), Canibus was asked to rewrite and rerecord his verse, which he allegedly did the same night. LL Cool J would change his verse as well, taking aim at the guest MC. In the conversation, LL and Canibus discuss the misunderstanding. Canibus second recorded verse would still make mention of microphones, which he alludes to in the call. LL alleges that The Trackmasters production team of Violator Management’s Chris Lighty (who was managing Cool J at the time) caused the confusion. They discuss the video—which at the time, did not include Canibus, as well as Master P’s addition. LL says he plans to invite Canibus to the stage to perform the song when in New York. “I’m not trying to take advantage of you, and I’m not trying to destroy your reputation,” LL says after 6:00 into the call. The two openly discuss the beef, and both benefiting from it.
Following the beef’s beginnings, Canibus would release his 1998 self-titled debut, a #2 overall charting album. After his two-album deal with Universal, the once prominent New York lyricist became much more obscure, in part likely due to his fixations on his foes—which also included Eminem and Wyclef Jean. LL Cool J, who had been releasing albums for 12 years in ’97, has remained a household name. Since the beginning of that battle, LL released a #1 album, starred in multiple TV series, and hosted the Grammy Awards.
Throughout his career, Redman collaborated multiple times with longtime label-mate Cool J. He also worked with Canibus on Sticky Fingaz’ “State vs. Kirk Jones.”
In late 2004, LL Cool J brought Canibus to the stage for one of his concerts, signifying the end of the beef that began on “4, 3, 2, 1.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Redman discusses his relationship with Jay Z, both as artistic contemporaries and in the artist-executive dynamic while at Def Jam. Red’ also compares the leadership shifts at the storied New York label to the George W. Bush Presidency, and leadership of the 2000s America.
The lyrics to “4, 3, 2, 1,” after Canibus’ verse was changed and LL changed his as well:
#BonusBeat: A recorded phone conversation from the late 1990s between LL Cool J and Canibus over this dispute:
The legend lives on.