Yasiin Bey Clarifies His Rap Challenge & Questions Hip-Hop’s Battling Tradition (Audio)
Yesterday (August 7), the Internet was rattled with a video of Yasiin Bey (f/k/a Mos Def) challenging “anybody and everybody” against a team of himself, The Roots’ Black Thought, and King Los. One day later (August 8), an upset Bey released a nearly 10-minute audio clarification. In the message, Yasiin stresses that the conversation was private, never intended for public consumption. Owning his words, the Black Star co-founder also goes on to question the role of competition and battling in Hip-Hop, despite its role in history.
A frustrated Yasiin bemoaned the video’s posting, saying “It’s no winnin’, even with the winnin’.” The video, which remains online, is believed to have prompted a response from a litany of MC egos, most notably Lupe Fiasco. Yasiin says the video and the media’s support sent the wrong message. “That shit is…[I do not want to spend my days] writin’ battle raps! I’d rather be filin’ paperwork at the post office than that shit—that shit does not sound like fun.” An actor, singer, poet, and businessman, Yasiin Bey added, “That is not how I’m tryin’ to spend my day. Like Dre said, ‘Fuck Rap / You can have it back.‘,” quoting D-R-E’s 1999 “Forgot About Dre” lyric. Specifically regarding the video, Yasiin declared, “It’s a private opinion made public without my knowledge, or permission, or consent. So that’s just a violation. I stand behind the statement. At the same time, I’m not trying to arrange some exhibition of that reality.” Perhaps defending his artistic spirit, the Brooklyn, New Yorker added, “I do a lot more than rap, by the way! So I’m not stressin’, as a creative person, in that way.”
Yasiin specifically pointed to Meek Mill’s recent calling out of Drake, and subsequent diss records—surrounded by fanfare from media and listeners. “We are the only culture that this atmosphere has been constructed around.” Explaining his recorded bravado, he says “This is barbershop, around-the-way, with-the-crew talk that’s earnest.” Within the nearly 10 minute audio, Yasiin quoted Dr. Dre, Grand Puba, Dave Chappelle, and Sprite’s slogan.
The gold-certified Black On Both Sides creator waved off competitive rapping. “Listen, man: there’s so many other things in my life, personally, that are much important and are more of a priority to achieve and maintain than some sort of supremacy in Rap land–which nowadays is lookin’ more and more like some P.T. Barnum circus tent [show].” He added, “I’m not here to compete with anybody. It’s not a bloodsport for me; it’s never been that.” Now a G.O.O.D. Music artist, he asked, “What I got to prove?”
However, if MCs like Grandmaster Melle Mel, KRS-One, MC Shan, LL Cool J, Nas, Jay Z and others have carried on a tradition dating back to the 1970s (and before), Yasiin Bey suggests that the Hip-Hop culture need not maintain. “Yeah, there is part of [the competitive spirit] in the culture. But I don’t think we need to be holdin’ onto that just because it’s part of the tradition.” The Bamboozled star likened battle-culture to a “Mandingo tournament of Rap.” The term refers to organized slave fighting orchestrated by white colonials, as depicted recently in Django Unchained.
In closing, Yasiin, who last released The Ecstatic in 2009 (as Mos Def) summarized, “To be clear, I never said that I was better than any other rapper. I don’t think that there’s any rapper better than me. I feel like that’s a widespread consensus.”
Regardless of who heard it, do you think Yasiin Bey should be prepared to receive response verses? Do you agree with Mos Def’s views of battling in Hip-Hop, despite its rich history before commercialization?