Azealia Banks’s beefs, and what they say about rap’s new generation

TI's patronising, sexist response to the Harlem rapper proves that hip hop's generation gap is finally widening.

On Chicago hip hop station WGCI’s Tony Sculfield & The Morning Riot show, rapper TI. addressed a beef between Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks in a manner that has raised a few eyebrows. When asked about the issue, on April 23rd TI said “I know they’re going through their thing, but the fact that she’s speaking upon me and mine and – I never – I ain’t even see it. That is what I consider. And, excuse my language, but that’s bitch shit. You know what I’m saying? I’m a man.” Directly addressing Banks and her more than disparaging recent tweets about him, he went onto say “You ain’t got no business addressing me. Get your man to address me. If you got a man, get him to address me, and he and I can speak on it. But you and me, keep dealing with that woman. Y’all handle that. Me and you, we ain’t got nowhere to go with that. I do what men do.”

Well, I suppose we should start from the beginning with this one. Azealia Banks has cultivated a rather one-sided beef with Iggy Azalea since February this year, when Azalea was nominated for the XXL Freshman List on the back of her ‘Ignorant Art’ mixtape. Banks was reportedly shocked by one of her tracks DRUGS, which features the line “When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave…. Master / shitting on the past, Gotta spit it like a pastor.” Banks was not best pleased with the lyric, XXL and Azalea, and took to Twitter to lambast all three by saying “Iggy Azalea on the XXL freshman list is all wrong. How can you endorse a white woman who calls herself a runaway slave master?! In any capacity *kanye shrug*”

Banks has since taken such issue with Azalea that her executive producer and mentor TI has stepped in to defend her. Azalea herself publicly apologised for the lyric and denied any racist sentiments in a letter to the website MissJia. She insisted that although it was intended as nothing more than word-play, it was nonetheless “a tacky and careless thing to say and if you are offended, I am sorry. Sometimes we get so caught up in our art and creating or trying to push boundaries, we don’t stop to think how others may be hurt by it. In this situation, I am guilty of doing that and I regret not thinking things through more.”

So, problem solved, right? Wrong. This unsightly feud just got a little ugly because TI has taken it upon himself to introduce two new angles that were previously absent – sex and respect. The fact that Banks and Azalea are having a war of words isn’t that surprising. Beef between female rappers has a lengthy and pretty standardised history. They have usually been based on sexuality though; who is sleeping with who to get where, and so on. Banks’s issue with Azalea is removed from this because it was centred around lyrical content and artistic credibility. She went after her as a rapper first and foremost, not a woman who raps. Sex played no visible role until TI intervened. The comments clearly reek of a sexism and misogyny that I’m not wholly shocked by, but what I am surprised by is TI’s failure to acknowledge how visibly rap is changing.

Through his comments TI makes himself look like a clumsy old rap dinosaur groaning under the weight of his bones. He represents a generation who see its older, commercially successful and mostly male figures as revered demi-gods who are almost untouchable in their prestige, and for a young female artist to try and burst this bubble is inexcusable. They have earned their place, so let them occupy it without any real hassle. This is a generation in which the long painful journey to the top is what gives them their credibility, and Banks is just an upstart with a few cute videos and a hyperactive Twitter account. From being dropped from labels and spending time in prison TI was seen to make a bankable comeback, but it’s proven to be rather short-lived. Considering his career to this day, it’s entirely arguable that not only his time behind bars was a serious hinderance to his commercial success, but also that his career never quite recovered in terms of output and quality (in a manner similar to that Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane). Nevertheless, he stands as something of a textbook example of this generation.

In working with Iggy Azalea he also commits to a standard rap motif of the pedagogical relationship between mentor and protégée, which works to ensure respect by association. Rap hustle isn’t just about making money. It’s about cultivating a collective long-term reverence in a rather conservative industry that despite its tradition of bravado and shock factor, is not as transgressive as it may first appear. There are unspoken rules on how such confrontations are played out, and if they are flaunted it causes friction. Take the diss track. It’s a mechanism for venting in a stylised manner that befits the genre and its heritage, but this is not how Banks dealt with her issues with Azalea and TI. She cut right through and straight to Twitter to launch pretty scathing personal attacks. She has ignored protocol, and really pissed off TI in doing so.

What TI has failed to notice in his anger though is that Banks is not part of his generation. TI knows she’s a young newcomer but he’s working under the assumption that she will play by these longstanding ‘rules’ of rap, and he’s shocked when she doesn’t. She doesn’t because she is representative of a new transgressive generation of rap that seeks to pop the bubble of untouchability and undisputed reverence of TI and his counterparts. Banks’s peers are people like Tyler The Creator, who said on his track Bastard that he’s bored of hearing “40 year old rappers talking about Gucci/When they have kids they haven’t seen in years/Impressing their peers with the same problem.” Or the A$AP mob from her native Harlem, who have voiced their position on the anti-gay aspect of rap culture. A$AP Rocky called out homophobia in rap as tired and unnecessary, and that the game “needs to stop being so close-minded because that will just cause the genre to fail…Who the fuck makes the rules for hip-hop? Who the fuck dictates who’s cool and who’s not? Fuck you.”

Rap has undergone a seismic stylistic shift in recent years and Banks really represents this. She works with producers like Machinedrum and Lone. She wore goth boots at Coachella and once covered an Interpol song – and she does all this while also being a great rapper. This new generation are exciting partly because they are talented and creative acts, but also because they take a notable step outside the rap machine. Sure, it’s questionable in what good taste she does so, especially so early in her career, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Who knows how the beef will unfold but it certainly lays out a generational divide that has characterised the rap game in recent years. I just hope Azealia Banks picks her battles, and words, wisely.

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