Considering that 50 Cent and Cam'ron are two of my least favorite rappers around, I am way more into their current beef than I probably should be. Long story short, over the past two weeks an on-air argument on Hot 97 about Koch Records -- home to Cam, Jim Jones, and the other Diplomats -- has bloomed into a full-on war, complete with diss tracks, responses, more radio drama, gun-flashing, and some surprisingly, er, diplomatic comments by the generally beef-loving Jones. (A fairly complete roundup of radio rips, songs, and video are available over at Real Talk NY.)
Rap beefs bring to the forefront all of the weird little intangible things that make rappers compelling, like their self-obsession, fragile egos, and addiction to drama. The best ones combine these elements with the kind of leveling-up of skills that serious competition provokes, and although neither 50 nor Cam are among the most technically proficient MCs in the game, the diss tracks in this beef -- unlike recent conflicts like Jay-Z vs. Jim Jones, Lil Wayne vs. Gillie da Kid, or the Game vs. a paranoidly extensive list of enemies both actual and imaginary -- actually do a good job reminding you why people seriously like them.
On "Funeral Music" 50's all cold-ass, marble-mouthed thug, name-dropping gun models and fake-crying over Cam'ron getting clapped. Between an eerie beat that incorporates a flatlining EKG and one of the best hooks he's ever sung, it's the first track he's released since "Ski Mask Way" that I've actually liked. Over the past year or so Cam'ron's shifted his lyrical focus from a single-minded obsession with the making and selling of crack cocaine to calling out every embarrassingly un-street thing any rapper gets caught doing, like Jay-Z wearing sandals and shorts. He's turned into the snarky VH-1 talking head show of hip-hop, a job he's taken to with an asshole-ish enthusiasm, which is hilarious. Hip-hop needs less crack tales and more jokes. The genius part of his track "Curtis" is just calling out 50's real first name over and over. At first, it's just kinda funny, then it turns sort of annoying, and then -- like every good joke-by-repetition -- you find it popping into your head without warning and cracking you up. I spent a good chunk of my weekend playing Rock Star Table Tennis, and every time I scored an especially brutal slam I yelled, "Curtis!"