“Fire Squad” is one of J. Cole’s most powerful statements, his bold take on white privilege in hip-hop caused a small uproar: "Justin Timberlake, Eminem and then Macklemore...Look around, my nigga, white people have snatched the sound." The ripples could’ve been much bigger waves, however, if he didn’t end the unabashed attack with “Just kidding.” There was seemingly no beef born in the aftermath, just a bunch of think pieces and tweets.
“Niggas dissed Marshall after they copy his whole reference / like we won’t send an actual firing squad to their studio that will Basquiat their whole session."
Royce is the kind of emcee that cares about every lyric and line, his attention to detail is what makes him one of rap’s top-tier lyricists. Could one of hip-hop's most complex and thoughtful writers include the term "firing squad" in bars about those who dissed Eminem and not realize it could easily be taken as a shot at Cole? And his relationship with Eminem is close to brotherly, there’s no doubt he would respond to any rapper for his Bad Meets Evil partner.
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However, back in 2014, even Royce felt the public blew "Firing Squad" out of proportion and didn’t consider it a diss song. Before “Dead Presidents Heads” was fully released, when it was just a snippet played on Sway, he sent out a tweet stating that he loves J. Cole. Obviously he respects Cole and isn’t preparing to enter into the next big hip-hop beef with him, but it doesn’t quite explain his intentions with that line.
Maybe it wasn’t aimed at Cole at all. Tyler the Creator recently made comments toward Em’s music, although Royce seemed relatively nonchalant about Tyler spouting his opinion in this interview, there was no hint of anger or malice. And let's not forget Earl Sweatshirt's now infamous, "If you still follow Eminem, you drink way too much Mountain Dew” comment. If anyone copied Em's "whole reference," it could be Tyler. The intended target of those bars could have been Cole, Tyler, Earl, all three or none of the above.
"It's very easy for artists to throw stones and hide their hands. It just is what it is. It's unfortunate." - Royce on Tyler the Creator
Shots get fired in rap, the target isn’t always clear, but in this case don’t expect any shots to be fired off the record. There's certainly no violence ahead and with the information we have now, you'd have to work on a cattle ranch to call this beef. Rappers throwing jabs at each other, responding, competing to be the most powerful, fans picking apart every word for hints. Forget beef, this is the spirit of competition that Kendrick mentioned on "Control," a song that hit so hard exactly because it named names.
This is just emcees doing what they're supposed to. This is the culture. This is hip-hop.