Hip-hop ri­val­ries aren’t new, but bat­tle­fields have changed CRITIC’S NOTE­BOOK

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LIFESTYLES - BY JON CARAMANICA

Short videos filled up Cardi B’s In­sta­gram feed last week in rapid suc­ces­sion, chok­ing the ge­om­e­try of her page like a set of bricks. There were 10 clips of Cardi film­ing her­self talk­ing into her phone, each more ag­grieved than the one be­fore it. The sub­ject: Nicki Mi­naj and the long-stew­ing ten­sions be­tween them.

They were in re­sponse to a dis­qui­si­tion by Nicki on Queen Ra­dio, her Beats 1 ra­dio show, ad­dress­ing the al­ter­ca­tion be­tween the two and their camps at a Harper’s Bazaar party dur­ing New York Fash­ion Week. Cardi, as is her wont, was direct, ad­dress­ing Nicki with both in­dig­na­tion and ex­as­per­a­tion: “Do you want to be the vic­tim or do you want to be the gang­ster?”

Cardi vs. Nicki went from in­ter­net ra­dio to In­sta­gram, and it had echoes of an­other re­cent quar­rel that un­folded in sim­i­lar fash­ion — Drake vs. Pusha T, a long-run­ning bat­tle, the most re­cent it­er­a­tion of which went from ca­ble tele­vi­sion to pod­cast.

In these two re­cent con­flicts, you see sim­i­lar fric­tion — be­tween a char­ac­ter ac­tor and a lit­er­al­ist, be­tween peo­ple who un­der­stand hip-hop as high the­ater and those whose celebrity is premised on some­thing far less var­nished.

In an ear­lier era, the ten­sions be­tween hip-hop’s most prom­i­nent fig­ures might have been con­fined to mu­sic, but in the so­cial me­dia era, the ter­rain of rap beef has ex­panded, as have the terms. And as these quar­rels have moved off record, they’ve landed in for­mats that fa­vor those whose suc­cess isn’t pred­i­cated on care­fully built char­ac­ter work. On­line, straight talk sells. For stars who have been care­fully curating their per­sonas for years, these are desta­bi­liz­ing times.

Both Drake and Nicki are per­form­ers. Be­fore Drake was Drake, he was an ac­tor, and he still car­ries him­self with the pol­ish and the am­bi­ent self-aware­ness that come with per­pet­u­ally be­ing ob­served. Nicki was a drama ma­jor at New York’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Mu­sic & Art and Per­form­ing Arts, and while act­ing has never been her ca­reer, she is by far the most ac­com­plished char­ac­ter per­former in hip-hop, a fab­u­list who uses voice and at­ti­tude as cre­ative weaponry.

Though they come from extremely dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions, Pusha and Cardi are plain-spo­ken lit­er­al­ists. Pusha made his name more than a decade ago as an ice-in-the-veins bard of drugdealer tales. His verses — largely un­changed over the years — have sharp cor­ners and are de­liv­ered with a you-weren’t-there sneer. Cardi emerged as an In­sta­gram per­son­al­ity first, an around-the-way truthteller who tri­umphed over long odds on the strength of her dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­ity. She quite lit­er­ally spoke her fame into ex­is­tence.

For decades, hip-hop strove to be un­der­stood as art, rather than merely au­to­bi­og­ra­phy to a beat (though it can cer­tainly be that, as well). And in the last decade es­pe­cially, the genre’s most ef­fec­tive stars have also been its most fan- tas­ti­cal, a strik­ing turn away from the lit­er­al­ism of the 1980s and 1990s.

Drake and Nicki, both pro­teges of Lil Wayne, have been extremely well-suited to this era. But as so­cial me­dia has un­done these ar­ti­fices, the type of artist who thrives in these ecosys­tems has changed, too.

Drake is a so­cial me­dia sa­vant, but he is also hiphop’s al­pha fig­ure and throne holder, and keenly aware of how he presents in all cir­cum­stances. He is a mas­ter of stud­ied trans­parency, cal­cu­la­tion masked as vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

Choos­ing Le­Bron James’ new HBO show “The Shop” to ex­tend his on­go­ing feud with Pusha and Kanye West was an apt fit — it is a highly styl­ized and pro­duced rep­re­sen­ta­tion of ca­sual ban­ter. It scans as off the cuff but feels epic.

Drake dis­cussed his fren­emy re­la­tion­ship with Kanye, both work­ing and per­sonal, grin­ning slickly when de­scrib­ing “help­ing” Kanye with song­writ­ing. He re­it­er­ated that he recorded a song full of dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Kanye and Pusha but de­cided not to re­lease it be­cause it was too sav­age: “This is not some­thing I ever want to be re­mem­bered for.” He also said that in­for­ma­tion about his son — which Pusha had re­vealed on “The Story of Adi­don” be­fore Drake had an­nounced that he was a fa­ther — came via Kanye.

This en­gen­dered a re­sponse from Pusha, who about a week later, went on the Joe Bud­den Pod­cast, which is avail­able on Spo­tify, for some air-clear­ing.

VIANNEY LE CAER / IN­VI­SION / AP

Nicki Mi­naj, cen­ter, per­forms with mem­bers of Lit­tle Mix dur­ing the Eu­ro­pean MTV Awards in Bil­bao, Spain, on Nov. 4.

MATT SAYLES / IN­VI­SION / AP

Cardi B ac­cepts the award for fa­vorite rap/hip-hop artist at the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards on Oct. 9 at the Mi­crosoft The­ater in Los An­ge­les.

RICHARD SHOTWELL / IN­VI­SION / AP

Drake per­forms at the Sta­ples Cen­ter on Oct. 12 in Los An­ge­les.

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