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Rap and the Middle East

Current strife similar to classic hip-hop war


Watching this month as Lebanon and Israel played one of the deadliest games of "tag" in the history of the world, I for some perverse reason thought about hip-hop beefs and the gulliest of all beefs: the immortal Biggie Smalls vs. Tupac battle of 1994. All the characters in these tragedies seem similar in each conflict right down to the whole geographical nature of the conflict. Maybe seeing how music has become marginalized into geographic conflict will bring better understanding on the conflicts that have global implications. Both resonate the adage, "War isn't about who's right; it's about who's left."

The Tupac vs. Biggie beef all started back in the 1990s when Puff Daddy and Suge Knight (think Prime Minister Olmert and Iranian president Ahmadenjiad) were in a battle for geographic control of the rap game, which was then spreading throughout the streets faster than crack. Suge was positioned on the West and Puffy on the East, with both trying to steal each other's artists to take over control of this growing art form. In the 1990s, everyone suddenly realized the commercial force that rap was and the millions of dollars waiting for whoever bottled and sold it the best. Suge Knight and Puff Daddy's hunger for money and power would be the influence to one of the most deadly "beefs" in rap history.

The war between Israel and Hezbollah has always been there, but all it takes is one small incident to touch off full scale war, and it is this precise formula that would change the rap game forever.

On Nov. 30, 1994, Tupac was on his way to the Bad Boy studios when he arrived for a meeting in the lobby and was immediately robbed and shot five times. Tupac recovered and was sentenced to jail on an unrelated charge; it was during this time in jail that he heard that the shooting had been set up by Bad Boy. This rumor set in motion a chain of events that not only cemented the hatred but defined rap in terms of constant battles for geographic superiority.

Tupac came up with the theory that Biggie had him set up because he was jealous of his success on the West Coast. Biggie didn't help dispel the rumor when he released the track "who shot ya." He insisted it wasn't aimed at Tupac, but the irony was palpable. This incited Tupac to create what stands today as the most diabolical, damaging and insulting mix tape ever made. Tupac went as far as to say he slept with Biggie's wife and to assert Puff Daddy was homosexual. Suge would take the opportunity to escalate this heat whenever possible.

Eventually, both Tupac and Biggie were dead and we who like rap music are left with a legacy of regionalism that sometimes spills into violence and constant insults. In the real world political sense, we have on a micro level what each of us sees on CNN every day: violence, carnage and rightism. Within each bomb, each burned flag, is someone who thinks he's right and the other person's wrong, and willing to keep it going until one person no longer exists. I don't think I can ever imagine a world where Israel and Hezbollah get along, and for my beloved hip-hop, I don't see 50 Cent and the Game having coffee, either.

Decker Ngongang, a native of Charlotte, is a financial professional and committed citizen.

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