Jay-Z vs. Nas. Canibus vs LL Cool J. NWA vs Ice Cube. The great rap beefs make hip-hop fans feel lucky to be alive to witness them. Not only do they pack divisive drama on a scale that ranges from cinematic to biblical, but sometimes they push each contender toward unheard heights of creativity. Just this past year, for instance, Drake got a Grammy nomination out of a Meek Mill diss track, marking perhaps the most unequivocal win in beef history. While that feud was typical of modern rap battles, which tend to play out over Twitter and Soundcloud rather than the radio airwaves of Roxanne War-time, the hottest rap beef in years is taking place on completely new technological turf: a podcast.
Devoted podfans show love for their favorites in different ways. Some patronize the sponsors. Others send in homemade gifts. And the really hardcore, possibly shortsighted ones get tattoos. But on Jensen Karp and Matthew Robinson's hip-hop leaning pop culture podcast, Get Up On This, true heads send in songs. Shawn Collins, The Batman of Rap made a set of tracks early on that the hosts enjoyed so much, they made them part of the show's official repertoire. A series of regular contributors followed, and collectively became known within the show's mythology as the Four Horsemen. Over the years, their work has been a nice value-add—on any given episode, you might hear one of several extremely decent underground rappers spit bars about the podcast itself. But then, two weeks ago, all hell broke loose in the best possible way. The Four Horsemen are now in all-out war with each other, and everybody's going to the mattresses.
It's beef season.
"In all honestly, it's mind-blowing," Jensen Karp tells me. "We've always been impressed with the quality of songs we've gotten from fans over the past few years, but the bar has been raised so high with these beef songs, that we genuinely believe we're showcasing the best diss tracks in years."
The podcaster and comedy writer knows what he's talking about too. In a former life, Jensen got a million-dollar record deal as the rapper, Hot Karl, an experience which he recounts in a forthcoming memoir. Although out of the game now, he still keeps an ear tuned toward the current world of battle rapping, and reports on his podcast whenever there are new developments like the recent Compliments Battle. (You have to see it to believe it.) But Jensen doesn't have to look very far for rap battles at the moment because the most interesting one around is happening in his backyard.
In a recent song submission, rapper William Giovanni, a/k/a WillGee, made a passing reference to surpassing Shawn Collins to become the definitive rapper of the show—The Get-Up God, if you will. Collins had informally retired from sending in songs, and there was a chance calling him out might have gone unnoticed, or at least unanswered. That proved to not be the case, though, and Giovanni's minor slight ultimately awakened a sleeping giant.
For the April 4 episode of Get Up On This, Shawn Collins, The Batman of Rap clapped back hard. He sent in a full song with hooks, punch lines, drops—the whole package—all over one of his trademark guitar-driven beats.
"Will, take this L, and just say that you're sorry/ Goodfellas-style: 'I know I fucked up, Paulie.'"
Dense with movie references and a rewind-that Tidal diss, it's pretty much a banger. Coincidentally (we think), the Batman of Rap dropped his song just in time for Jensen and Matty to play it on the show the week after Batman v Superman's release.
"We normally have polite friends and fans—what is happening?" Jensen wonders out loud after the song is over.
"This is the first inter-special beef," Matty confirms.
"You remember when you used to play dodgeball in PE and they threw all the balls out?" Jensen asks. "That's what happened today. All the balls are now out."
The prophecy was fulfilled the following week, when William Giovanni fired back. Leading with a radio hit-caliber hook that manages to encompass both Batman and wrestling—"If you wanna be Bruce for real, I'll introduce you to the Bullet Club"—the Giovanni response was even more of a monster than its predecessor. It's mean, it's catchy, and it rebuts every one of Collins's points against him. It elevated the level the game was being played on and suddenly gave listeners a reason to want to fast forward to next week's episode before it was next week yet. The song also turned both Jensen and Matty into a couple of hypebeasts, something along the lines of Mean Gene Okerlund crossed with Funkmaster Flex.
"This could be its own podcast at this point," Jensen says on the show after playing the song.
"This is the podcast, as far as I'm concerned," Matty responds. "I don't give a fuck about the podcast. I'm not here for the podcast anymore. I'm here for beef season. I'm hongry."
The saga continued this past Monday, April 18, with the release of the latest episode of Get Up On This. Not only did Shawn Collins, The Batman of Rap rise like his namesake Dark Knight, with some deeply researched sharp darts for WillGee, Shoes Robinson also tossed his own song into the fray. Giovanni might answer Collins next week and he might not. Cleve might go after Shoes, and maybe Wob-Z will get involved. The only thing that's for sure is that these are some of the best original diss tracks in years, and this is far from over.
"Each week, when Matty or I get a new song from these guys, we just text back and forth like we're in high school again talking about Canibus and LL Cool J, or out of college with Nas and Jay Z," Jensen tells me. "People are rooting for their favorites and I cannot wait to see how this whole thing plays out."
What team are you on? Catch up on Get Up On This and let us know in the comments.