When people talk about the fundamentals of hip-hop, the same five elements are always invoked: Graffiti. Emceeing. Deejaying. Breakdancing. Knowledge. But any real fan knows that there’s an honorary sixth pillar of the artform that’s just as important: BEEF.
Proving oneself through a war of words is the lifeblood of rap. Without it—and all the hype and chatter that surrounds these showdown—the genre would lack the drama its fans so desperately crave.
For most of rap history, we’ve thought of “beef” between artists as something strictly metaphorical. But as a food site with certain obsessions, we wondered what would happen if we envisioned the most famous beef in rap history as actual beef. In other words: What actual piece of meat embodies the true spirit of each memorable feud?
To help us explore this carnivore’s dilemma, we consulted the hip-hop heads over at The Meat Hook—one of New York’s most respected butcher shops—to find out what Tupac vs. Biggie, or Drake vs. Meek Mill, and other infamous battles might look like as a raw slabs of…well…beef.
Boogie Down Productions vs. the Juice Crew
The feud: Consider this the original rap beef. Fought between two of hip-hop’s first influential crews, “The Bridge Wars” stem from a 1985 Juice Crew track called “The Bridge” in which Marley Marl ambiguously claims that hip-hop was born in the Queensbridge housing projects—not the BDP’s South Bronx. BDP responded back, which then prompted the Juice Crew track “Kill That Noise.” However, BDP had the final word in the spat with 1987’s “The Bridge Is Over,” which proved to be the genre’s first major diss record, and effectively gave BDP and The Bronx the W.
Meat cut: Headcheese
Why?: “‘The Bridge Wars,’ a beef that dates back to hip-hop’s origins, gets me crazy-nostalgic on my charcuterie game. Straight pâté en croûte with this nonsense—but we can use headcheese as a stand-in. It took a hearty mix of meat for the two crews’ feud to ricochet back and forth across almost a whole decade. But now having had [Boogie Down Productions rapper] KRS-One and Marley Marl release an album Hip-Hop Lives, this shit is wrapped up with a bow on it. Buried in so many classical cookbooks, much like this antiquated squabble, headcheese takes a whole bunch of shit, makes a homogenous mix out of it, and wraps that shit up all nice. As a Queens native, it’s QB all day, though.”—Adam Harvey, chef/owner HALO Hospitality, former The Meat Hook employee
Death Row Records vs. Eazy E
The feud: After Ice Cube’s exit, N.W.A. continued on until 1991 when their last album N*ggaz4Lyfe dropped. Group members like Dr. Dre became suspicious of Eazy E and manager Jerry Heller’s relationship (they felt they were getting swindled), and Dre eventually asked for his release from Eazy and Heller’s Ruthless Records. Dust-ups ensued, as Dre had eventual Death Row Records head Suge Knight forcefully ensure Dre’s departure. Even after he secured it, the L.A. producer took shots on record at his former partner (most notably in the song “F*ck With Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)”). Eazy responded with his seminal diss track “Real Muthaphuckkin’ G’s.” The pair unfortunately did not reconcile until right before Eazy’s death from AIDS in 1995.
Meat cut: The Meat Hook Sausage Program
Why?: “This I would parallel (because I’m biased) to the Meat Hook Sausage Program. The first time you were exposed to it, you probably thought, sh*t, this is offensive and funny, and I didn’t think that rap (or sausage) could be like that!“—Ben Turley, butcher/partner
DJ Quik vs. MC Eiht
The feud: While DJ Quik and MC Eiht’s beef was nowhere near as infamous as anything involving N.W.A., their fight was just as contentious. The two Los Angeles rapping legends quarreled over who was really the king of Compton during the early-1990s. The most interesting part of this beef was that it lasted for years (ending some time in the early-aughts), even after Quik dropped one of the most venomous diss tracks of all time with 1995’s “Dollaz + Sense.”
Meat cut: Tip steak
Why?: “Their beef is tough. They went at it for a while—like, 15 years or whatever. But they’re pretty similar in some ways. They’re both West Coast rappers, they had their heyday in the early ’90s, and they both have some unfulfilled potential. I like the beef leg for this beef; particularly, I like the tip steak. It’s often tough, but sometimes it’s a little tender. Plus, it’s got just a bit of sinew in the middle—just enough to separate the two muscles, but not enough so that you have to take one without the other. It’s an often overlooked cut, like the Quik vs. Eiht beef.”—Ben Turley
Tupac Shakur vs. The Notorious B.I.G.
The feud: The most famous rap beef of all, Tupac and Biggie’s feud pitted east versus west and set in motion an inevitably tragic conclusion. The two rappers started off friends, but that relationship soured when Shakur was shot and nearly killed outside a New York recording studio. Shakur and his Death Row Records labelmates claimed Biggie, Bad Boys Record founder Sean “Diddy” Combs, and their entourage orchestrated the attack. Animosity grew (‘Pac eventually released an infamous attack against B.I.G. entitled “Hit ‘Em Up”), and both rappers lost their lives to shootings that many peg to the hostility. Both murders remain unsolved.
Meat cut: Brisket
Why?: “There are two cuts to the brisket. The first cut is also known as the flat, which is lean and mean. The second cut, or the point, is rich, juicy, fatty, and full of flavor. You can guess which one I like more. Ultimately, they’re part of the same muscle, but one is just better than the other. I’m not saying that the West Coast has bland flavor, but…”—Brent Young
Jay Z vs. Nas
The feud: If Boogie Down Productions and The Juice Crew originated inner-borough beef, then Jay Z and Nas perfected it. The NYC legends were on opposite career trajectories when they butted heads in 2001: Jay Z was quickly becoming not only the biggest rapper in the city, but also the genre at large, while Nas was still reeling from several years of dropping mediocre albums. But when Hov infamously and publicly trashed Nas at hip-hop festival Summer Jam in 2001, both came ready to battle. Their feud birthed two classic records in Jay’s “Takeover” and Nas’ “Ether,” and provided the Rorschach Test through which NYC hip-hop fans judge themselves to this day: Who’s the best, Nas or Jay?
Meat cut: Hanger steak
Why?: “There is only one K.O.N.Y., and Canibus put it so nicely: ‘The greatest rapper of all time died on March 9.’ But fighting it out for rights to the throne after his passing, we saw these two go at it. Jay isn’t a businessman, but ‘Ether’ was in the business of dropping the mic and walking away with the whole damn building on fire. There’s only one spot at the top of the NYC rap game for these two, and there’s only one hanger steak per animal. It’s a unique muscle structure, and its proximity to the other organ meats makes it tender enough for God’s Son, but funky enough for a Mad Max Maybach riff on ‘Otis.'”—Adam Harvey
50 Cent vs. Ja Rule
The feud: Jamaica, Queens rapper 50 Cent pulled no punches when it came to firing shots at fellow rappers whom he saw interfering with his path to greatness. While he didn’t claim victory against all of his enemies, Fiddy had a penchant for creating hell for one particular target: fellow Queens rapper Ja Rule. Their animosity stems from Ja claiming that 50 orchestrated a robbery at Ja’s expense. Several other altercations followed before Ja Rule admitted in 2009 that he lost the battle on wax.
Meat cut: Beef shank
Why?: “Goodness gracious. This beef is nothing more and nothing less then a beef shank. This shit has been in the pressure cooker since the fucking ’90s and we’re still not done yet. It’s tough to follow—packed with sinew holding it together from year to year—and probably should have been checked after Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Shanks can be delicious when done right, but it’s a whole lot of effort, and I can’t stop thinking about the point on that brisket. Not that hip-hop is dead or anything.”—Adam Harvey
Drake vs. Meek Mill
The feud: Drake’s on top of the rap game right now, even though Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill tried to take him down this summer by claiming the Toronto MC uses ghostwriters to come up with his songs. The tactic completely backfired on Meek: Drake dropped a nebulous attack song called “Charged Up” before releasing a more pointed diss called “Back To Back.” While Meek eventually recorded a (weak) response called “Wanna Know,” the public had already decided: Drake was the victor.
Meat cut: Pork belly
Why?: “Pork Belly is a totally played-out menu option that was popular years ago, but still finds its way on to menus today. But here’s the thing: if it’s cooked well, it can be sublime (Drake), or if it has some weak presentation, it can be supremely disappointing (Meek). Ultimately, everyone knows pork belly is good. It makes bacon, it’s delicious, but big deal—get on with it. Like all good cuts, it’s really what you do with it.”—Brent Young
N.W.A. vs. Ice Cube
The feud: N.W.A. was perhaps the most notorious hip-hop group of the 1980s, popularizing a “gangster” rap sound that shaped the genre in the coming decades. However, one of the group’s star members, rapper and actor Ice Cube, went solo in 1989 after he felt he was getting screwed out of money by N.W.A.’s manager, Jerry Heller. Although he released a debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, that didn’t address the conflict, his second album, Death Certificate, did with a fiery vengeance. His former group-mates took plenty of shots at him on their final two albums before breaking up.
Meat cut: Chicken breast
Why?: “This might sound ridiculous, but I’d categorize this as a chicken breast. Here’s the rub: N.W.A. was a complete package, they were something solid—a cohesive, well-rounded meal. N.W.A. decided to cut off the best damn part of the breast (the wing/Ice Cube), leaving them with a bland-ass lunch option.”—Brent Young, butcher/partner