It happened again, and it will likely keep happening for as long as rap debates stay alive. (Which, lord willing, will be forever and ever, amen.) I overheard a hotly contested debate about rappers who got murdered on their own shit, and it was mildly infuriating. I wrote about this before on our old site, RefinedHype, and much like people who stubbornly refuse to stop calling albums "mixtapes," this feels like a war I'm destined to lose. But one I'm going to keep fighting.
At this point "he got murdered" has become as empty and hollow of a pronouncement as the albums that are called classics by Twitter minutes after they're released. Ever since Nas body-slammed Jay Z with the "murdered you on your own shit" line that idea's been in the cultural ether, but Nas' declaration has become knee-jerk, reflexive. If we want that term to actually mean something, we need to stop using it every time a rapper has a really good guest verse.
"Murder" is the annihilation of a person. One moment they're breathing and alive, then they're murdered, now they're dead. That's murder. In the context of a song that means when you think back to that song, you can't even remember a single line the headlining rapper said, you might even confuse it as the guest's song. That's murder, and by that definition there have been very few hip-hop murders, let alone enough to populate the 149 Times Rappers Got Murdered on Their Own Shit lists that populate the interwebz.
Case in point, let's take it back to the beginning; Eminem on Jay Z' "Renagade."
There's absolutely no doubt about it, Eminem destroyed his verse. It's one of his best ever, and for Em that's really saying something. But let's not act like Jay Z just dropped four forgettable bars and bounced; that would come years later. Jay Z' verse is rock solid, and his "Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?" has lived on in the culture, actually more so than any single line from Em's verse (mostly because Em's verse is too complex to easily quote).
Eminem had the better verse, I'll give you that he straight up beat Jay on his own shit, maybe even beat him up. But murder? Homicide? Come on now.
At least "Renegade" is more borderline, and it makes sense people associate it with a murder because of Nas' line. But unjustly charging rappers with homicide has spiraled out of control like a completely corrupt police department.
Do you know how many people think Andre 3000 "murdered" everyone on "Int'l Player's Anthem"? A lot of people, who are all completely and absolutely wrong. Having a great verse on a great song with other great verses - and if you don't think that Bun, Pimp and Big Boi didn't also have great verses you're dead to me - is the exact opposite of a murder, that's called an excellent collaboration.
The same logic applies to Busta Rhymes on "Scenario," which is an excellent closing verse on a song filled with excellent verses, and to bring it full circle back to Nas, while the common consensus seems to be that Nas somehow murdered both Ghostface and Raekwon on "Verbal Intercourse," we are once again confusing "best verse" with murder. Nas ripped that song, but you never, not for a second, forget that it's a Raekwon joint. The Chef's not having his life ended that easily.
Most recently, and most controversially, is the idea that Jay Rock somehow murdered Kendrick on "Money Trees," which is a fight I've been fighting for just about four years now.
Murdered? Really now, you think that Jay Rock...murdered...Kendrick on that? It's an outstanding verse, but how many times did people say "ya bish" that year because of Kendrick on "Money Trees"? I could completely out of context tweet "Halle Berry or hallelujah" and every rap fan would instantly know what song I was quoting. Is there even the slightest glimmer of a doubt that "Money Trees" is a Kendrick song? I'm willing to bet that every single person claiming a Jay Rock homicide could also recite Kendrick's hook, and verses, word for word; by definition that's not a murder.
That doesn't mean that murder never happens. Jay Z gave Memphis Bleek a gift by technically handing "Dear Summer" over for Bleek's album, but there's not a person on this marble we call an Earth who thinks of that as a Memphis Bleek song. And of course we have to bring up "Control," the clearest example of hip-hop homicide I've ever seen, in large part because of the internet's historically unprecedented ability to eviscerate.
In a bubble Kendrick's verse wasn't that incredible, if we're talking pure technical difficultly it's not even in his top ten verses, but just like "Renegade," that verse wasn't released in a bubble. It was released into the savage jungle that is hip-hop culture, and that culture ripped apart Big Sean like a cow lowered into a velicoraptor pen. I remember at the peak of "Control" fever, I turned on the radio and the DJ had completely removed Sean's verse, started the song at Kendrick's verse AND THEN KEPT ONLY REPLAYING KENDRICK'S VERSE. Sean got figuratively and literally erased from his own song, now that's murder.
Yes, as a writer I care about what words mean, but this is about more than mere semantics. Like a classic album, murdering someone on their own shit is an extraordinarily difficult feat, one of the highest peaks an emcee can reach, and handing out that title to everyone who dropped a dope guest verse cheapens it for those who have truly accomplished it. So let the debates, and the murders, continue, let's just make sure we're all debating the same thing.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
Photo Credit: DrewReports