Hip Hop Beef in Zimbabwe

Music | By Black Bird, Musician | 01 November 2014

What is the main motivation of beef in Zimbabwe

I think a lot of what is happening in Zimbabwe beef is based on misunderstandings between people. But the real agents of beef are the gossip-mongers who go around spreading info from one studio to the next. Some of the guys in Zimbabwe hip hop love to gossip more than women in a hair salon. I am shocked at some of the things I have been told without even asking. Some of it is really personal stuff and you wonder what they say about you to other people. Recently I was told that someone who is spreading a rumour that I have a son ( but I actually I don’t). I have two daughters. It’s lies that do the rounds and then lead to beef.

However there is also an element of beef caused when people don’t want to pay respect and give props where it’s due. When someone runs their mouth off about people who helped lay a foundation for them, there’s bound to be offence taken. Some peeps in Zimbabwe hip hop have over-inflated egos and need a reality check every now and then. However giving someone a reality check usually gets interpreted as trying to start beef.

Does beef play a role in hip hop, is it a necessary stage of the development of the movement?

As long as you have people with different personalities, values and mentalities beef will happen. Even in dancehall and sungura there is beef, but people seem to think Zimbabwe hip hop is the only place where there is tension. Read the newspapers and you will see beef happens across the entertainment industry. If you go to any workplace in any industry you will find people have beef with some of their colleagues but because they are not in the public eye, no one will know. You will find that in such and such a bank this manager has beef with that manager for example, but the papers don’t write about it because no-one knows them, unlike musicians whose songs play on radio everyday.
I think beef is definitely necessary because it shows our individuality as hip hop artists. Imagine we all agreed with each other on everything and pretended to like each other. That would be so fake and it’s not progressive at all. Beef stimulates everyone to pull up their socks and stay on their A-game because you know your haters will take shots at you if you don’t.

What’s the difference between beef (Dissing someone on a song of which he replies with his own) and a one on one freestyle battle?

Battles are there purely for the entertainment value and to display lyrical skills and creativity. You can be in a battle with a total stranger, diss each other on stage, dazzle the crowd and shake hands afterwards. Beef on the other hand usually is between people who know each other and have a history. They probably have had various encounters with each other on different platforms and these all culminate in beef. It usually develops over time and when certain events happen that stimulate the people involved to retaliate through song.

In this ongoing debate about Hip Hop in Zimbabwe, what is unique about Zimbabwe Hip Hop that we can call our own, since rappers are being accused of just copying American lifestyles and narratives, just changing names, dates and language?

I think hip hop is a universal language. Trying to make hip hop for Zimbabwe alone isn’t the way the movement works. I am often told I sound like I am from overseas and my music doesn’t sound Zimbabwean. I don’t take offence at that though some people might think its an insult. I think my flow needs to stand with the best of the best, and hence I strive to sound international. My content is where you can differentiate me from a US rapper because my lyrics reflect my reality. I don’t use much vernacular so language isn’t the automatic giveaway, but if you listen to the rhymes you wont hear anything bout gang-bangers and drug dealing. But you will hear about hustlers selling forex and jazzman pushing weed. That’s where Zimbabwe hip hop is different.

There’s a new school of thought saying Zimbabwe hip hop is mbira and 808’s but I disagree. I have rapped on mbira a couple of times and it was great. But rapping on a gangster underground beat doesn’t make my hip hop any less Zimbabwean. It’s an entire culture that’s the same in New York, Japan and Somalia.

In American Hip Hop it can be argued that the whole beef issue was a commercial gimmick, with rappers making up and making a record together? What is your take on the commercialisation of beef?

In Zimbabwe people are starting to understand that beef keeps you in the limelight. Some are actually starting beef with artists when they are making big moves to try and feed off the publicity of the artist they are attacking. I don’t know if it will get to the level that it did in the States because most Zimbabwean hip hop artists don’t realise working together has a much better chance of success than working separately.

I think this year the amount of beef that happened is evidence that beef is here to stay, the only question is are Zimbabwean hip hop artists clued up enough to capitalise on it. Riding someone else’s publicity wave by dissing them or sabotaging them with bad publicity isn’t really going to make you money. It might get the artists who do the attacking one or two articles and radio interviews, but that’s not dollars in the pocket. Co-ordinated beef that brings money is something I am yet to see. Two crews in Zimbabwean hip hop have come close to doing that but I think they still at the ‘use beef for publicity’ phase.

Some really cool songs have come out from beef some of our favourites being 2nd Round Knock Out by Canibus and the verse that started it by LL Cool J on 4-3-2-1, and King of the Hill by West Side Connection. Which rap beef stands out for you?

Oh definitely beef has inspired some of my favourite rap songs of all time. Firstly when I was growing up, “Hit Em Up” by Tupac dissing Biggie was amazing and the video was the cherry on the cake. Then “Ether” by Nas, it’s one of those classic tracks that is so dope even the Jay Z fans liked it and even today it’s a banging tune. Finally Lil Kim buried Nicki Minaj on “Black Friday”. The Queen B pulled out her guns blazing for the disrespect Nicki Minaj has been constantly displaying toward Lil Kim, the person she so clearly imitates.

What would make you draw the line and say “No I got to dedicate a song/verse in response”?.

Well right now I am actually being pressurised by people to do a track for a certain individual who keeps tarnishing my name on Facebook, radio and even one newspaper picked up on the ‘beef’ story. I was and still am tempted I can’t lie, but the only thing motivating me not to is knowing my brand is way bigger and by actually giving them even ten seconds of my airtime on a track I will be immortalising them and making my fans think we are in the same league. I think doing a public attack of someone is like endorsing their existence and I won’t waste my bars or studio time on someone who keeps going out of their way to tarnish my name on public platforms and mess up my brand. But that said, I am a very emotional person and even though I have contained myself thus far, let’s see what happens in the future because I might not be able to control myself if I feel a certain line has been crossed. Until then, I won’t even waste a Facebook status on haters because that’s exactly what they want. A piece of the action and to ride my wave.