Register Wednesday | June 26 | 2019

I Like My Beef Beefy

When it comes to hip hop, the best things come in big packages.

Yes, hip-hop has always had its fair share of rivalries, or, to use the appropriate hip-hop parlance, beefs. Some authentic, others not. Most famously, of course, there is the East Coast versus West Coast beef, which reached its apotheosis in the shooting deaths— only six months apart— of Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Less violent, and therefore less well known, is KRS-One’s early battle raps, which ostensibly ended the career of MC Shan. Well, I’d like to lighten the mood by adding a decidedly less life-threatening and certainly less self-serious cut of meat to the intestinal annals of hip-hop beefology. You’re not going to find this beef on the cover of The Source nor will it be the main subject for debate at the next BET town-hall meeting about the fate of hip-hop— as far as I know, the Rev. Al Sharpton has not issued any “official” statements on the matter. 

For the most part, this is a battle that has raged between my big, headphoned ears. And I’ve chewed it over for a long time— chewing being the operative word, as you’ll soon understand. It’s a battle inspired by the very stage names rappers adopt for themselves. Lil’ Wayne versus Biggie Smalls. Lil’ Jon versus Fat Joe. That’s right, what I’m talking about is a glandular fracas between Lil and Big rappers. And, of course, as with all battles, one has to choose sides. I’ve come to realize that when it comes to hip-hop, bigger is, in fact, better. 

These days, everyone’s desperate to get slim. There’s Valerie Bertanelli coming out of the swimming pool, wearing a bikini for the first time in decades, declaring the Copernican revolution that is the Jenny Craig weight loss program. There’s NBC’s The Biggest Loser, a reality show in which contestants battle on a weekly basis to lose their donuty poundage. But there’s something attractive, adorable, even admirable, and yet perilous about the big boys and gals of hip-hop. They try harder, as the saying goes. And that’s what sets the bigguns apart. Sure, maybe the Big MCs don’t have the sprezzatura polish of other esteemed rappers (they’re probably a little sweatier than most); but there’s something special about their asthmatic flow, which often seems on the verge of collapsing.

Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ Jon, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Romeo, Lil’ Bowow, Lil’ Mo. And Lil’ is synonymous with young, so, we could add Young Jeezy, Young MC, Young Buck, and YoungBloodZ. Forget about them. Biggie Smalls, Fat Joe, Raekwon the Chef and Missy Elliott: big is where it’s at. So, here are some phat albums from some fat artists— or is it fat albums from phat artists?— for you to pop on the next time you’re downing a slice of pizza or chomping on some wings.

[1] Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die – often cited as one of the best hip-hop albums ever, and rightfully so. Rather than “showin’ out” like West Coast gangsta rappers, Biggie turned his perspective inward, dramatizing his psycho-social breakdown. This shift in perspective coincided with the development of a new prosody, far more modulated than that of earlier gangsta rappers. But his XXL size body is also palpable in his flows, which seem marked by a breathlessness, desperate spittle on the corners of the lips, and, ultimately, “ready to die” exhaustion. 

[2] Fat Joe / Terror Squad, True Story – okay, so there’s only one reason to listen to this album, the massively infectious hit single “Lean Back.” A couple of things to point out. In the chorus, Fat Joe schools you: “My niggaz don’t dance, we just pull up our pants / And, do the Rockaway, now lean back, lean back, lean back, lean back.” As illustrated in the video, the “lean back” move is easy as, um, pie: jerk back a shoulder, then bring it back forward. Repeat as necessary. It’s a move that’s not likely to call your masculinity into question; and it’s not likely to cause you to make a mad dash for an inhaler. Moreover, as a rhythmless white dude with a growing beer belly, I’m especially attracted to the effective and affective simplicity of the move. As a rule, I keep court-ordered distance from the dance floor; but, on occasion, called to by the big-synth sound that opens the song, I’ve been known to “lean back.” 

[2] Raekwon the Chef, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx – Raekwon’s on this list for two reasons: his nickname, the Chef, suggests the man likes to cook; and Raekwon’s significant belly indicates that the man likes to eat. The former plus the latter equals a rotund Raekwon. “Nothing exceeds like excess,” says Scarface’s Elvira (played by Michelle Pheiffer); that flick, and its ethos, seem to be central to Raekwon’s appetite and aesthetic. And he flavors his “coke epic” album with neologistic spices (he’s the “slang-poet”), rendering the stories edible but not necessarily edifying. My favourite track on the album is also called “Ice Cream”— that seems fitting. 

[4] Missy Elliott, The Cookbook – On “Lose Control,” Missy raps: “I got a cute face, chubby waist / Thick legs, in shape / Rump shakin’ both ways / Make you do a double-take.” She’s big but healthy. Okay, I can dig that. It’s a good message. In the video for “Lose Control,” a dancing Missy Elliott, like von Kleist’s puppet, has “the advantage of countergravity.” She knows “nothing of the inertia of matter, which of all properties is the most obstructive to the dance… [She] requires the ground only to touch on, and by that momentary obstruction to reanimate the spring of [her] limbs.” Her weight does not determine her actions. Instead, she uses her mass to her advantage. It’s sort of a mind over matter thing, and I can’t get enough of it. Double-take, indeed.