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The Diss-Track Family Tree

Rick Ross and 50 Cent may be pushing the boundaries of multimedia rap beef, but they’re just riffing on the tried and true strategy of insulting members of a rival emcee’s family. Here, a primer on who to target, and select examples showing how to lyrically pulverize someone’s dear auntie.

Mother: The classic. If originality is less important than impact, immediately attack the woman from whose tainted womb your opponent sprung. Angles are endless: sexual humiliation, appearance, physical harm, the emotional damage that shanking her child will cause. (“Cut out your momma’s ovaries,” Kool G Rap, “3 to the Dome”; “Stake your house out/Know what your momma cook/Fuck her with a broom,” Sheek Louch, “D-Block”; “Here’s a jimmy joke about your momma that you might not like/Heard she was a ‘Frisco dyke,” Snoop Dogg, “Fuck Wit Dre Day”; “Ya’ mama’s got a peg leg with a kickstand,” the Pharcyde, “Ya Mama”; “Your moms call me Frankie Sanchez/On deck with penis out/Pine tar like Tony Pérez,” Kool Keith as Dr. Dooom, “I Run Rap.”)

Father: Considering the number of single-parent households, there’s a reasonable chance that insulting someone’s father will garner a response of “Yeah, I don’t like that dickhead, either.” But when in doubt, call him gay. (“Your daddy is a queer,” Central Coast Clique, “Gangsta Shit”; “Your daddy likes to cuddle and touch too much,” Ice-T, “Always Wanted to Be a Ho”; “Your father dress in drag/Stick out his chest and brag how he molest a fag,” Tony Touch, “The Foundation”; “Your pops is a politician,” Del tha Funkee Homosapien, “Followers.”)

Grandmother: Going after the family matriarch is unorthodox, but it illustrates a penchant for “mature” sex and a sociopathic zeal for cruelty against the helpless—of course, the latter is preferable. (“I bet you even got a baldheaded-ass granny,” Willie D, “Bald Headed Hoes”; “I’ll pimp your momma, your sister/And I’ll even take G.P./That’s ‘granny panties,’ ” D-Nice, “Pimp of the Year”; “Dick in the dirt/Shit in your drawers/I’ll make your grandmother get on the floor,” Jadakiss, “Show Discipline.”)

Great-Great-Grandmother: Pointless. (“I got my feet up on your momma Mabel’s/Mother’s mother’s mother’s three-generation table,” Abstract Rude, “Feet Upon the Table.”)

Son: As long as your hated foe has actually sired a male child, this one is sure to inspire fury and hilarious hand-wringing from onlookers. (“Run up in your cribbo and suffocate your son with a pillow,” Big Pun, “Who Is a Thug”; “You got rats and roaches and your kids have got the mumps,” J-Dee, “Ain’t Got No Class”; “My nigga Gutta fuckin’ kidnap kids/Fuck ’em in they ass, throw ’em over the bridge,” Notorious B.I.G., “What’s Beef?”)

Daughter: Just as effective as slurring a son, except with rad sexual abuse! (“If you got a daughter older than 15/I’m-a rape her,” DMX, “X Is Coming”; “Throw your daughter in the air/Hope that bitch break her leg/Be nice and help her up/And kick her dead in the head,” Ganksta NIP, “Psycho”; “Lickin’ on your daughter/Say, south of the border,” C.L. Smooth, “For Pete’s Sake.”)

Baby: It’s less personal than insulting a young child with a name and a personality, but threatening a pamper-swathed tot surely shows a respectable degree of depravity and remorselessness. (“Your baby’s crying—pop, pop, pop—I put some in the crib,” Beanie Sigel, “What a Thug About”; “Put six in the clip/Put it up that clit/And watch that baby’s brains drip out that fetus,” Brotha Lynch Hung, “Return of Da Baby Killa”; “Back-smack you so hard all your seeds will be born deformed,” Holocaust, “Silkworm.”)

Brother: Excellent for inflaming familial vengeance imbroglios. If you don’t know the tale of how Joab killed Abner to avenge his hermano in Samuel 3:27, it makes a great belly tat. (“Kidnap your family/Make your brother eat your mother out,” Cam’ron, “357”; “I’m on some other shit . . . duct-tape your brother shit,” B.G. “Bounce with Me”; “Garbage bag around your brother’s head/Smother him out,” J Hood, “Don’t Mean Nuthin’. “)

Sister: Everyone’s sister has probably had sex—this just drives the terrible truth home. (“Now everybody in the world know that your sister is a nasty little girl,” Pimp C, “Something Good”; “I reminisce/I miss playing Twister with your sister,” Kool G. Rap, “Keep it Swingin’ “; “I heard your sister had sex with Colin Powell,” Humpty Hump, “The Odd Couple”; “Your sister just got married/I’ll shoot up her reception,” B.G., “Gun Slinger.”)

Aunt: Inventive, but it honestly sounds like you’re just throwing shit at the wall. (“I was drinking Asti Spumoni with your auntie,” Tha Alkaholiks, “Bottoms Up”; “I fuck you, your mama, your auntie, and your lady,” Kurupt, “New York, New York”; “We both saw your mama get beat down by your pops/And saw your auntie get freaked down by your pops,” Paradise, “Hoochies Need Love Too.”)

Uncle: Maybe you could hurt General Petraeus’s feelings? (“Tax-free/I ain’t giving shit to Uncle Sam,” Young Jeezy, “What They Want.”)

Cousin: No one cares. (“I’m bustin’ your sister and your pregnant-ass cousin,” Bloods & Crips, “Steady Dippin’.”)

Wife/Girlfriend: Another key target—while taking another man’s girl has been a part of every generic battle-rap since the dawn of time, these are especially valuable if your enemy is in a weird relationship with an r&b singer. (“That’s why I fucked yo’ bitch, you fat motherfucker,” Tupac, “Hit ‘Em Up”; “If you think I’m fucking your wife/You’re motherfucking right,” Eazy-E, “Niggaz 4 Life”; “I hope your girl get AIDS,” Cam’ron, “Hate Music”; “I let your girl suck my dick from the back/And let your moms give me cornrows on my crack,” Redman, “Noorotic”; “I get your bitch pregnant/You take the bitch to Lamaze,” R.A. the Rugged Man, “American Lowlife.”)

Baby Mama: This wickedly unfair stratagem renders your rival responsible for whatever ugly deeds his ex-girl (or just a former jump-off) has done since their breakup. Highly recommended. (“I came in your Bentley backseat/Skeeted in your jeep/Left condoms on your baby seat,” Jay-Z, “Super Ugly”; “I got my middle finger up your baby-mama anus, bitch,” Baby Beech, “Wiggy Wiggy.”)

Pet: Only a total monster could hurt someone’s ferret. (“Kill my dog, I’m-a slay your cat,” Flavor Flav, “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic.”)

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Feeding the Root

“I was trapped in a cage and let out by the Main Source,” says Nas in his first verse on wax, from 1991’s “Live At the BBQ”, a Large Professor production. After the release of the classic Main Source LP Breaking Atoms, Large Professor, aka Extra P, gifted MC, DJ, producer and originator, went on to man the boards for a legion of NYC heavyweights including Kool G Rap, Tragedy, and countless others. Known as the ‘Mad Scientist,’ he has been seen blacking out and cackling as his spirit manifests dope beats. On May 30 he will release the instrumental album, Beatz Volume One, snippets from which can be heard at redlinemusicdistribution.com.

Why did you name your publishing company Paul Sea Productions? It was first in tribute to my mentor Paul C [McKasty] who mentored me in production like sampling and things like that. And it was just to continue on, like when I think of the sea. That’s why I made it ‘s-e-a.’ I wanted to make it like there was more, like there’s more water to the sea, just more man, just gonna keep it flowing pretty much. And my real name is Paul, my middle name.

Do you expect MCs to use your instrumental record on mix tapes? Yeah, I’m expecting that, if they get wind of it. I think they will. And then also it was just to put something out there for New York hip-hop BEATS. New York is losing its identity. Crunk is down south. They can say, “Yo, that’s ours. We invented that.” New York is not standing up for what it invented. It’s like, yo what’s up with that boom-bap, that funky loop with the guitar? Or Harlem or the Bronx, what’s up with that? So that’s really why I wanted to put it out there. I like that potent dose. I like to give people the most like, “This is crazy!” Sometimes it’s too much for the average person. So I just say, “Well, let me fall back on the lyrics this time.”

Do you see a trend of hip-hop instrumental albums? It’s hot because it just allows you to think on a beat. It serves different purposes ’cause now you can clean up. I call it “Clean-Up Music” because you can do something else and subliminally hear it all throughout. I never did an [instrumental record] so I definitely wanted to give it a try.

That song, “Out All Night” is begging for a story rhyme. It’s really slow, it’s just got that standing-in-front-of-the-record-store feeling to me. You don’t have that anymore. That’s a New York thing right there. The dude standing outside of the record store, listening to the one speaker playing the music. A lot of those feelings I just want to secretly put out there. They’re not gonna even know like, “Yo, why do I like this so much?” This is coming from the root, the Zulu. I just want to give the land back the vibe of what it was and what it still is.

Do you ever think about how amazing it is that a bunch of 16-year-olds invented all this? Yeah yeah yeah, it’s crazy. I feel like God did that. A lot of people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to have piano lessons. The turntables came into play and some people excel like, yo I’m gonna flip this and starting getting algorhythms to it. So it’s definitely crazy but I smile ’cause that’s how God works, everybody could get in on it.

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Music

Mess Hall



Charity doesn’t last. The crowd was already booing by the time Kool G Rap took the B.B. King’s stage on the night after Christmas. Four underwhelming openers (even the noble Cannibal Ox couldn’t spark a flame) had come and gone two hours prior, and G Rap faced an unruly midnight mob high off the DJ’s mix of late-’80s classics. As author of a few of those, he figured to charm them easily. Sporting a retro mink jacket with matching cap was a good start; vanishing after five songs—no “Talk Like Sex,” no “Streets Of New York”—was a bad finish.

Ghostface Killah was left to serve cleanup duty. The previous week he’d lounged in a bathrobe at the Wu-Tang reunion show. This time the attire was more rugged—fur-lined parka and Yankees ski cap atilt—and the subject matter was too. After a medley of familiar hits (“Incarcerated Scarfaces,” “Ice Cream,” “C.R.E.A.M.”), Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” blasted over the speakers as Ghost grinded an imaginary partner and screamed, “We them ’70s babies. . . . When they was fucking, they was fucking off of shit like this, so when we fuck, we fuck off of shit like this.”

Then, rather than reclaiming order, Ghost went outsider art on the crowd—”Fuck this jewelry, fuck this gear, all we want you to do is just feel our souls”—wailing about roaches in the fridge, anonymous pink medicine, and wiping his face with a sock as a kid for want of clean towels. Those details are the essence of Ghost’s lyrical gift, but they’d have been more endearing had he not kicked the same spiel the prior week. Only on “Never Be the Same Again,” on which Ghost and partner Raekwon sang the Carl Thomas loverman hook, and the exuberant “Ghost Shower” did Ghost’s charm gleam.

After demanding three seconds of silence for the victims of 9-11 (“Whoever had beef with us, them niggas ain’t playing”), Rae wondered aloud, “Where the funny nigga at?” Ghost’s chum Tracy Morgan (of Saturday Night Live) sauntered up to the stage, bewildered. Earlier in the night, he’d gamely shielded a few females from a testosterone scuffle in the V.I.P section. Now he just seemed lifted. Boasting “some Richard Pryor shit,” Morgan turned freak: “You motherfuckers don’t know nothing about a cock ring,” proffering what appeared to be a limp, pink specimen from his pocket and wagging it at the people. Morgan’s routine fizzling, Ghost implored his friend for a respite: “Make me laugh, yo. Do me that solid.” But like every other human on that stage—29 at final count—Morgan wasn’t up to the task, and the night’s tragedy continued unabated. L’enfer, c’est les autres. —Jon Caramanica


Holy Strollers

The four well-coiffed blonds on St. Marks Place were nonplussed. A 10,000-strong crowd cheering a stream of mammoth inflatable dolls is one thing, but 400 people toting boom boxes down a side street is another. Out they came onto their stoops, the diners put down their knives and their forks, the staff of Other Music piled out and declared, “It’s fantastic.” “What is this?” the coiffed ones asked a straggler. She shrugged, both knowing and quizzical. “It’s Unsilent Night.”

Unsilent Night names a composition and the event at which it happens; no one “performs” Unsilent Night. The piece’s four parts are recorded on cassette tapes, and you either bring your own boombox or borrow one from Phil Kline, the composer and organizer. Kline has done multiple-boombox pieces solo, but on a recent Sunday (as annually since 1992) in Washington Square Park, he handed out the tapes, gave the signal, and we the people pressed play. Then we were off, holding our tape players high in a wordless protest march against . . . shopping?

Caroling originated as a way for rowdies to get drinks on the houses after the pubs shut. Unsilent night indeed. For Christmas music is what those boomboxes are blaring: mechanical carols, sort of. Kline has recorded bells a-tolling, organs a-swelling, glockenspiels a-tinkling, synthesizers a-oscillating, and Gregorians a-chanting. Like the Brooklyn nativity scenes where Frosty nudges in between the three kings bearing gifts, Kline’s pastiche of sacred and profane references is not so much Christmas as Hyperchristmas. The manic pileup of bells, underlaid by Glassian metallophone runs, is Kline’s own “Joy to the World.” But when the last voice on the last boombox died away at Tompkins Square, the night seemed silent and holy indeed.

On a new Cantaloupe recording, Unsilent Night has the solemn mystery of Arvo Pärt, one of the so-called “holy minimalists.” The influence of Brian Eno runs strong about the Bang on a Can group of composers lately, and Kline’s ambient take on Christmas music also reflects a New Age angle. But on the hoof, the piece has a very different upshot. Crossing against traffic to the honking of horns, dodging a phalanx of cops on Broadway, jostling around fire hydrants, Unsilent Night struggles for spirituality and purity against the distractions and neglect of the world: This carol is less sleigh ride than passion play.

For boomboxes run out of sync; they distort; they resonate at different frequencies. The vocal parts warble queasily and the glockenspiels submerge. Where you stand in relation to others goes a long way toward determining what you hear—a neat metaphor for religious belief. My friend Katie called the sound “vague,” and that vagueness is the result of truly accepting chance operations in public performance (John Cage certainly didn’t want performers stopping for cigarettes). In terms of concept with a big C, Unsilent Night owes a debt to Alvin Lucier’s distorting tape loops. But in pulling off a Christmas music that’s both postmodernist and unironic, Kline shows himself a little bit Rudolph after all. —David Krasnow

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Call and Response

Rap artists—the self-described “conscious MCs” as well as the “keep-it-real gangstas”—are coming under attack from forces inside New York City’s black activist community for shunning civil disobedience protests in response to rampant police brutality. Rappers like hip hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jay Z, DMX, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, KRS One, Snoop Doggy Dog, Lauryn Hill, and Rah Digga are being closely watched by groups such as CHHANGE (Conscious Hip Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment), which is led by former Nation of Islam minister Conrad Muhammad.

None of the rappers was among the 1166 celebrities, politicians, and other people arrested during 15 days of protests last year over the police slaying of Amadou Diallo. Four white undercover cops looking for a rapist gunned down the unarmed street vendor outside his Bronx apartment in a barrage of 41 bullets. Among those arrested during the demonstrations outside police headquarters were civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, former mayor David Dinkins, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, and actors Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Susan Sarandon.

While Muhammad is pursuing “the big-money niggas” and “modern-day minstrel men” he believes are hiding behind their “hectic schedules” and “pit-bull agents,” other activists are conducting roll calls to ferret out those rappers more inclined to “woofin’ and shadowboxing” than to throwing down in a street fight for justice.

“You have people like Jay-Z and Master P and others who are very outspoken on a number of other issues but hear nothing from them on police brutality,” charges Muhammad. “Puff Daddy is literally the toast of New York high society, but when he has the ear of these people, does he raise the issue pertinent to his people?” The “Movement,” some say, is “mad upset” with the “Hip Hop Nation.” (An article in the August issue of Vibe magazine, “Bring the Noise,” cranks up the boom box on “Hip Hop’s quiet riot.”)

“I didn’t realize alla this was going on because . . . my schedule being what it is, I don’t even have the time or the luxury to watch TV or tune in,” says New Jersey-based rapper Rah Digga about the anti-police-brutality protests sweeping the nation. “But I do know this [police brutality] is a crisis. . . . I just haven’t physically been able to be a part of [the demonstrations],” adds the entertainer, who projects a “Harriet Thugman” image when she wants to be taken seriously. “I’m there in spirit. I’m there in essence. My role in this industry right now is delivering music and delivering words, and that is just as powerful as my physical body being placed in any sort of physical danger.”

Rah’s response to the “crisis” is typical of scores of rap artists who can’t find the time to participate in civil disobedience protests around an issue they constantly rant against. Some ghetto griots—Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Kool G Rap, Sporty Thievz, Common—are trying to repair the breach with the activists by issuing Hip Hop for Respect, a CD of songs critical of abusive cops. In May, they dedicated the CD to Amadou Diallo, presenting it to his parents, Kadiatou and Saikou, during a ceremony at Sharpton’s House of Justice in Harlem. Wyclef Jean of the Fugees also has written a song called “Diallo.” Errant rappers will get the chance to join the Movement by participating in an August 26 march in Washington, D.C., to call for economic justice and an end to racial profiling and police brutality.

But just how the activists intend to corral the rappers has caused some Movement infighting. When one teen organizer of last year’s civil disobedience protests at One Police Plaza contended during a strategy meeting in Harlem recently that the notion of rappers getting arrested and going to jail to protest police misconduct would be the ultimate political statement, a colleague shouted him down.

“They don’t have to get arrested!” he pointed out. “They can come forward and show support—and not from behind police barricades.”

Another organizer noted that rappers like Puffy and Jay-Z—under indictment in separate high-profile incidents—avoid getting involved in civil disobedience protests because of their criminal history.

“Bullshit!” snapped another activist. “A criminal record is a badge of honor for them. You are not considered a legitimate rap artist until you trade war stories about your incarceration for hanging around with drug dealers and other armed criminals who entice you to participate in crime. It’s part of the rap persona. You give a high five or the middle finger before your hands are wrenched behind your back by some cracker cop and you’re led off to jail. It’s almost like a Mafia rite of passage; you feel like you took a hit for your Gs. When you come out, you’re a made man. It’s the gangsta life, son.”

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Other activists are demanding that the rappers be punished for betraying the modern civil rights movement. One ideologue suggests painting caricatures of targeted rappers next to their larger-than-life photographs that adorn billboards in black neighborhoods. But not everyone wants to participate in what some fear would give rise to hip hop McCarthyism.

“Our focus, a lot of the time, is on the more commercial artists, and we expect those artists to come out and make stands,” says Hakim, a member of the two-man rap group Channel Live. “But the nature of their position doesn’t allow them to make that stand.” Hakim bristles at the suggestion that it should be left to “conscious artists” to politicize other rappers, even if it means openly repudiating them. “I’m not necessarily gonna try to make you do something you’re not gonna do,” he scoffs. “That’s not my fight. My fight is in the struggle; it’s not with my brother.”

Tuffy, Hakim’s partner, says that even as society changes, in part because of them, rappers should not be chasing ambulances. “It’s time-consuming for rappers to be at certain places,” he emphasizes. “You don’t have to be at every march.”

Hakim suggests that civil rights leaders and fans of hip hop should quit trying to sensitize the garrulous rappers; he maintains that they must not be viewed as saviors of the black community.

“We have a messianic complex,” he declares. “We want somebody to come down and save us. Rappers and athletes get the greatest amount of attention, so we expect those people to be the most responsible. [But] anybody who studies any type of struggle knows that the struggle comes from the grass roots; it doesn’t come from the bourgeois class. So you can’t place that burden on their shoulders; they’re not gonna take it. It is not necessarily their responsibility to take it. . . . It’s unfair. . . . People will jump on the bandwagon and do what they have to do—if not, the struggle will roll over them. It’s simple.”

From January until April, while Rah Digga says she was engrossed in a grueling cross-country tour promoting her debut hip hop album, Dirty Harriet, the four white undercover cops who killed Amadou Diallo were acquitted; another undercover cop put a bullet in the back of the head of suspected drug dealer Malcolm Ferguson, who was unarmed; and Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed security guard, was shot to death by a plainclothes officer after he rebuffed an attempt by the cop to entrap him in a buy-and-bust operation. Several other highly publicized cases of alleged police brutality unnerved even the most pro-NYPD African Americans. Yet, Rah Digga stayed in her own world.

“I’ve been so out of the loop, right now I don’t even know what’s going on in my own child’s life,” she says during a phone interview. As her infant daughter, Shativa, bounds into the room, it seems as if Rah could not have staged a better scene to illustrate her point about balancing motherhood and a career.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Shativa beckons.

“Wait a minute, baby, Mommy’s talking,” Rah answers sternly under the strain of a hacking cough. The baby persists.

“Shativa, stop it!” Rah demands. “Mommy is working on the phone.” Finally, the child bares her gripe: The TV had been turned off. “Okay, I’m gonna turn it back on when I get off the phone,” Rah offers. “You have to be polite while I’m talking, though. Okay?”

Rah insists that she is not dismissive of the outcry against police brutality. She says she knows firsthand the tactics of ruthless cops, dredging up a 1997 encounter in Irvington, New Jersey. She recalls sitting in a parked Buick Regal with three friends, listening to a demo tape of, as she puts it, “a young up-and-coming Dirty Harriet” and smoking a blunt.

“Quite honestly, we was drinkin’,” she admits. “We was smokin’ weed.” Suddenly a patrol car pulled up. “I guess they smelt that marijuana was present, so like, ‘Okay, here goes a nice quick easy arrest.’ ” The cops, who were white, ordered them out of the vehicle, and one officer and “the rest of his male constituents proceeded to frisk me and my homegirls.

“He patted me down,” Rah adds. “He patted my chest. He patted all the areas where he thought a female would be stashing.” The rapper says she “kindly and respectfully” protested the fondling. “Excuse me, I know my rights, and you don’t have the right to frisk me,” she said.

“Shut the fuck up! I can do what I want!” the cop allegedly responded. After a futile search, the cops released Rah and her friends. The experience left her embittered. “Why should we [always] have to ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and respect cops when they pull us over, and they obviously don’t give us respect?”

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However, none of the songs on her album directly touch on police brutality or the 1997 incident. “I might have a comment or two saying, ‘Fuck the police!’ ” she says. “I do remember in a freestyle somewhere [talking] about cops pulling me over. You know, ready to cause a ruckus. And then we part with them asking me for my autograph, kinda like making a mockery out of the situation.”

Since Rah’s confrontation with police, her only political agitation centered around an appearance last summer at an anti-Ku Klux Klan rally in downtown Manhattan after she heard Busta Rhymes’s radio plea for all rappers to show up at the event. “I just rolled through with a carload of some of my girlfriends,” she recalls. Rah felt she had to compensate for not being present on the frontline of the civil disobedience protests. She was relieved when she was asked to participate in the making of Hip Hop for Respect. “I like to have a hand in as much as I can, but I physically can’t take the time to get arrested or anything like that,” Rah reiterates. “But I definitely, you know, participated in the music. . . . I think putting together a song like that is just as effective.”

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that not all blacks were united around the struggle for civil rights during the ’60s, he lashed out. “Negroes are human, not superhuman,” King said in The Sword that Heals. “Like all people, they have differing personalities, diverse financial interests, and varied aspirations. There are Negroes who will never fight for freedom. There are Negroes who will seek profit for themselves alone from the struggle. There are even some Negroes who will cooperate with their oppressors. These facts should distress no one. Every minority and every people has its share of opportunists, profiteers, free-loaders and escapists.”

Additional reporting: Amanda Ward