Rap began hitting big in the 1980s and about that time, the idea of disses and beefs and biting were born as well. So, what are we talking about? Because if you don’t know Rap and Hip-Hop you might not recognize the terminology.
Hip Hop rivalries are known as “beefs”. A true beef happens when one artist disses (disrespects) another artist through their music. “Biting” is a term used to describe when another artist copies what someone else has done, usually to try and one-up or diss their style.
There was a time when the idea was to always strive for a unique sound and flow. Now, there are “styles” of Rap out there that a lot of artists emulate. They’re no longer trying to sound unique. Several masters of Rap, including Snoop Dogg discuss this in a video from 2015 that I included in my article concerning Rap and covers.
In a world of cover songs around every other corner, it’s kind of difficult to imagine biting being a thing. But it really was and sometimes Hip-Hop and Rap artists will still bring it up. It’s just not as often, now. Actually, a lot of beef happened because of biting.
So biting just doesn’t come up as much. Beef? Beef still happens. Let’s dive in!
Opinions on Homage Vs. Biting
So long as a song pays homage to the original instead of just copying it, that’s not really biting. Hooks from a song never were a big deal to a lot of rappers. What’s preferred is that the artist using the hooks gives credit where credit is due. Otherwise, the artist that used hooks from someone else would be called out for dissing.
The original rapper should get credit – it’s about getting paid for their intellectual property, just like in any creative endeavor. So paying homage costs money in the form of royalties paid to the original artist. There have been a lot of artists and artists’ estates that have collected on that, too.
Snoop Dogg explains the difference between paying tribute and biting in the interview I mentioned earlier as such:
“When I came out as a rapper, everyone had their own style. If you sounded like someone else, that word was called biting. You biting my style, you biting my shit. If you paying tribute, like I did with ‘La Di Da Di’ with Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh—I paid n***as who I grew up loving. I’m gonna redo your song, get you paid all over again, and let everybody know it’s your shit, and put a twist on it for the new kids who don’t even know it exist. That’s a different way of showing love as opposed to everyone rapping the same style.”Snoop Dogg
Covers Are Catching on as Homages and Not Biting
There have been several covers that have popped up recently that I love. Some are not recent, I admit. One of my favorites was a remix cover of Tupac Shakur’s “Hit Em Up” as done by Dax, who definitely used it as a homage to the late great rapper.
There has been some controversy over covering Rap songs in other genres, in a way that the songs were not intended to be used by people of a different culture. Not everybody agrees on whether this should be considered disrespectful, especially considering the original artist is being credited.
Some performers who have had their Hip Hop or Rap covered by say, people who place it in a country genre have either thought the move was ingenious and enjoyed those sweet royalties or they felt it was disrespectful and taking from the meaning of the original to do so.
No matter which opinion you hold, covering a rap song where credit is given to the original artist is still not considered biting.
Flipping Lines and Taking Lyrics from Other Rappers Is Often Considered Biting
Flipping lines and straight out taking lines from another rapper used to always be called out as biting. The terminology came from early ciphering and battle rapping. You didn’t ever flip someone else’s lyrics in the middle of a battle.
The rapper should always give credit in the same song usually close to the lyrics used. And if it’s a recording, the credit could be in the song, in the sample credits, or in both. In today’s world, it’s especially important to cite your sources, considering the next generation may not even know who originally rapped those words and why.
There is a fine line between biting and showing love to those that came before and paved the way for younger rappers and Hip-Hop artists. Sometimes, especially if there is no personal relationship and the newer artist is just borrowing from the lyrics, it’s difficult to know for sure if they’re just biting for an easy profit. If there is a relationship or fans know the newer artist is a big fan of the original artist, it’s easier to imagine the use or flip of lyrics in a new piece as homage.
Doing this can fall flat and hurt an artist more than help if it’s not done properly.
So, Where’s the Beef?
Yeah, I definitely aged myself with that reference. Okay, you cannot go a full December into January without experiencing a list of the year’s biggest “beefs”. So, they are still out there. However, they’ve come to mean a lot more than just rapper vs. rapper. The idea has transcended the world of Hip Hop and is used in pop culture all over the place.
There is a ton of history about how the first rap beef was born. And it was started by a teenage girl who used to rap on the street corners of New York City. If you ever want to look up more of that story, just look up the “Roxanne Wars”. It’s true. Here’s the short version:
In 1984, an aspiring rapper named Lolita Shante Gooden would rap on street corners in Queens, battling whoever came up to challenge her. She was discovered by part-time Hip-Hop producer Marly Marl and he recorded her rapping over an instrumental of UTFO’s song Roxanne, Roxanne – a song about a girl rejecting the band’s advances. The new song was called Roxanne’s Revenge and told the girl’s side of the story.
UTFO wasn’t pleased when this “diss” song began taking off. They ordered a cease and desist. So Marl rerecorded the song with the same artist, who now called herself Roxanne Shante. It wound up selling over 250 thousand copies just in New York City! And so, UTFO had to strike back, right? The beef was born!
This went on for years back and forth. The legacy has been that when rappers or Hip-Hop artists of any kind have issues with another artist, they make a song. The beef can go back and forth from there. Nicki Minaj was a master at being in beef with one artist or another for most of her career thus far.
Drake has been in more than a few. The most tragic beef took place between Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac. They began as friends, but in the end, had passed several diss tracks against one another before they both wound up murdered in the same year.
Let’s face it, beefs will probably never go away so long as people have arguments, especially musicians in Pop, Rap, and Hip-Hop genres! And the terms beef and biting are now firmly part of pop culture and will probably be here for a good long while, too.
SOURCES: My own knowledge and past research as well as: