It all started, I believe, with Warrant’s Ode to Tipper Gore. Attributing their lack of radio play to their unwillingness to back down from employing a good swear word when a good swear word was needed, Warrant decided to address the Indecency Czar herself with a track consisting entirely of sound bites of people swearing.* While this track mainly addressed government-sanctioned censorship, it marked the beginning (as I see it) of musical artists using tracks on their albums to explicitly sock it to those people with whom they beef.
This point was a tipping one for the establishment of a formula. It goes:
-Put out an album and become known.
-Experience criticism for the album by both critics and contemporaries. Make sure to spend way too much time reading and obsessing over the criticism because no one ever told you that your sanity/artistic credibility depended on you ignoring it.
-Put out another album and spend an inordinate amount of lyrical time defending yourself from, and making fun of, the folks who dared label you as “untalented”.
Gangster-rapper Eazy-E road the coat-tails of Warrant’s open source formula when he followed up his first two post-N.W.A. albums with It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa – a true dynamo of a riposte that clearly announced to both the rap community and little white kids like me that the shit Dr. Dre spewed in The Chronic would not go unanswered.** While more than half of the songs featured some bash on Dre and his cronies at Death Row Records, the most biting, um, bites occurred on Real Muthaphuckkin G’s. On it, E is heard to rap, “I hope your fans understand when you talk about sprayin’ (?) me. The same records that you’re making are paying me. Motherfuck Dre, Motherfuck Snoop, Motherfuck Death Row. Yo, and here comes my left blow…” He then goes on to simulate gun shots that presumably kilt Dre.***
I never understood why people weren’t dieing over this album. It was some harsh stuff. Granted, musicians have apparently died, in part, because of too much feuding. But that hasn’t quenched artists desires to openly address the haters. On the contrary, at this point in time the formula is probably even more standardized.
Newsweek notes that Lil’ Kim’s hastily-made album makes sure to drop some of the harshest dis lyrics the New York hard-core rap scene has seen in years. She takes stabs at the former-friends who had the gall to not commit perjury, at 50-Cent for “criticizing her extensive plastic surgery”, and even Star Jones (“her offense: probably just being annoying”).
It’s an unfortunate given – this whole “this album is really personal to me” copout that just compensates for a lack of originality and as a defense for insecurities. I’m sure the list of artists who sink to this would extend for pages – Eminem, T.I., every artist with “Lil'” in their name, Sean Paul, um, Hilary Duff (maybe not).
Thanks to Warrant, I wouldn’t be surprised if down-on-their-originality mongers The Killers expend a song or two on their next album bashing their very-bashable archrivals The Bravery. Although I would be surprised if Mariah Carey steps up to Sonic Youth on her next album.
*It should be noted that Cherry Pie only features one swear word outside of The Ode. On Train, Train, singer Jani Lane kicks off the song by announcing, “All on fucking board! Uh huh!”
**It should be noted that The Chronic also features a track called The Doctor’s Office that’s entirely made up of the grunts and groans Dr. Dre makes when he balls a bitch. Just thought I’d mention that.
***Another note, this one even further from the point of this post than that last note: At 14 years old, as I consumed It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa, I went on a surf trip to Baja with a Christian surfing association. The director, a cop and an every-one-in-the-world-who’s-not-on-this-trip-will-suffer-searing-scars-in-hell type of Christian, searched my backpack while I was out surfing, found my walkman with this tape inside. He listened to it in its entirety, and then organized an intervention in which he then forced me, in front of the entire group, to walk up to the edge of a cliff and throw the tape into the water below. I was bitter the entire time.