Beef In The UK Rap Scene
At the beginning of 2015 the rapper, Chip, released a diss of Manchester Grime rapper, Bugzy Malone. Chip is best known as a successful “pop-rapper”, and had recently attempted to move back into grime. On “Pepper Riddim” he calls out Bugzy at the outset, in the first instance as a reply to Bugzy’s set on 1Xtra Fire in the Booth, in which he dissed Chip.
Chip makes an attempt to lay claim to his status as a grime artist, whilst questioning Bugsy’s knowledge and alignments with other rappers – namely Devilman, Saskilla, and Narstie.
Chip notes he’s taken 4 rappers down in just over thirty seconds and then moves back to Bugzy. He minds Bugzy that he gets paid to walk around Manchester, noting his fame. He then says that he may have done pop, but he made more money from that than Bugzy did drug dealing, before delivering the “casket line” – that Bugzy’s “girl” still loves dancing to his harder songs. He then moves to question Bugzy’s claim to being a gangster. This theme envelops the diss – beginning with “turn into the Devil” – a claim Bugzy makes about himself when he loses his temper. For Chip it has a double-meaning. On one hand he’s not scared (“shook”, a reference to Mobb Deep’s infamous “Shook Ones Pt 2”), and on the other it serves as a link to a barbed reference to Devilman, who’s said to have influenced Bugzy.
Bugzy hits back with “Relegation Riddim”, a direct and forceful retaliation. Buszy enforces his claim to be the Headmaster of the School of Grime (a reference to Chip’s earlier tune). Bugzy calls Chip out in three counts: that he’s a commercial artist who lacks skills appropriate to being an MC, that he may be successfully commercially, but Bugzy holds the streets – and thereby he poses a direct threat to Chip’s safety, and that his time has passed.
Of the other rappers Chip calls out, Devilman hits back with “Chipmonk Reply”, in which he also calls out Skepta, with whom Chip had compared him unfavourably. Skepta replies with “Dirty” in which he accuses Devilman of being a snitch, against which Devilman retaliates directly with “Skepta Diss”, wherein he suggests Skepta is too far away from the scene (due to him being a commercial success – a reference to which is made in Skepta’s own song “I’m up here sitting in a plane”) to know that the “informing allegation” has been sorted.
Whereas Devilman is simply compared with Skepta, Chip says Saskilla is “up Tinie Tempah’s arse”. Chip thinks that Tinie had dissed him in his own Fire in the Booth. Tinie denies this. Nevertheless, Chip’s claim that Saskilla is living in the anal shadow of Tinie leads Sas, like Bugzy, to make threats from the street as well as from the music scene.
Chip directly attacks Narstie (“none of my tings want Big Ol’ Narstie…”) for comments on the origins of grime and makes it very personal. Narstie talks rather than raps back, belittling Chip, which Bugzy refers to (“got buried of Tinie, buried off Narstie”). But almost as reinforcement, Sas speaks out for Narstie (“he should shit in your mouth”) in his tirade against Chip.
One of the unintended consequences of Chip’s initial recording is that it was done with Jammer (the first person Bugzy calls out “okay Jammer”) in the studio. This led both Bugzy and Devilman to criticise Jammer. Jammer then speaks out in 1Xtra to say that he’d arrived at the studio to deliver the jackets whilst Chip was recording, making his presence incidental. The incident could prove significant as Jammer is seen to be siding with Chip. Bugzy references Jammer’s concern about his own situation by telling us that he’d received a call from Jammer to ask if this battle was just music or if it would hit the streets.
The produced video tries to capture this situation as honestly as possible, without adding to what the rappers say. It began with me one night cutting up Chip’s song, as it was the first intervention, and because he takes on so many other rappers, it is best placed to be interwoven with other raps. Then each of the other songs is cut so that each claim can be met with counter-claim.
This approach is essentially how I do activist documentaries, and feature docs – to be led only by what is said by the protagonists, with no further explanation, and trying as hard as possible to ensure that the chronology is kept.
All edits are made with these principles in mind – it has to be cut only from the songs and images from the battles, and it has to be as close as possible to the “narrative” of the tunes. Where this has not been possible – sometimes because of the music, sometimes because of what’s said, then I have rearranged, but I’ve kept this to a minimum. Sometimes segments are longer than I’d have liked, such as Skepta’s. The reason for its length, though, is because he begins with a reference to Chip and then ends with the most significant reference to Devilman – that he “snitched on some serious cases”, which I then cut with Devilman’s reply.
Whilst there is a temptation to use effects, to add or change the music and imagery, this has been avoided as much as possible to ensure the film is as true to the actual events as possible. So, for example, the Skepta video I’ve used is rather plain and inactive, but this is what Skepta put out (or at least is what has been put out for Skepta), so it must be used.
The use of mocked up newspapers and magazines was driven largely by the Skepta video – there’s simply not enough movement to make it interesting, and given the length of it, something had to be done. A decision was made to flip pages midway in part so as to break it up a little.
The other reason to use such means was so they could carry the lyrics for those interested in what’s being said. Filling empty spaces is always a challenge – trying to do something that’s not a cliché, that’s not drawn from other sources, and that’s not patronising or unfunny.
Thus, most of the graphics are taken from the videos, and the quotes are all taken from the songs or from statements made by the artists involved, about the beef. The only material anywhere that is drawn from outside is the references to young black people killed by the state – here, Joy Gardner, Stephen Lawrence and Mark Duggan. I hope these latter statements don’t come across as patronising. They are in no way intended as a critique of the subject matter of the beef, simply a reminder that at the end of the day, all these rappers face the same beef from the political and economic system through which they are marginalised.
By Lee Saltier @DrLeeSalter