A HISTORY OF BEEF, PART 1 OF ?

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Let me first make it clear that my point here isn’t to air out dirty laundry or put folks on blast. At this point, most of what I’m talking about all took place about eight years ago; in music years, that might as well have been an eon back. Much of it seemed silly at the time.1 Nearly a decade later, it really just feels like some fun anecdotes to spill and I hope that’s how they’re taken.

I mentioned the other day that one of the highlights of going to this year’s Rock the Bells is that “Thes One brokered the peace between Murs and I” and I promised to explain the back story to that…and in order to do so, it’s completely necessary to explain the intersection of multiple beefs that all popped off in 2002/3 between myself and about 4 different hip-hop artists (which then, later, involved 2 more in subsequent years!). I won’t be getting into all of that right here (hence the Part 1 of ?) but let me start and we’ll see where this goes.

I’ve been dissed – by name – on at least three separate recordings: PUTS’s “The Outrage“, Jean Grae’s “U Don’t Know” freestyle,2 and Louis Logic’s “Fair Weather Fan. This has to be some kind of record and, to me, says a lot about how the stakes were perceived amongst independent hip-hop artists in the early 2000s. 3

PUTS came first. On my upcoming podcast with Thes One, he breaks down part of that history, but it dates back to this May 2000 piece in the LA Weekly. Personally, I think my critique of the group was really gentle (read the first two paragraphs on page 2) but Thes and Double K took offense. As Thes recounted for a mutual friend of ours, a few weeks back, they read the piece, looked up and ask, “who the fuck is Oliver Wang?” They also happened to be recording OST at the time so it was relatively easy to add me into their songwriting at the time.

I remember this moment distinctly…in the spring of 2002, I was somewhere around the Walnut Creek BART station when I got a call from fellow music writer, Mosi Reeves, asking, “did you know that PUTS dissed you on their new album?” A WTF moment, for real.

Strangely, even though I’ve been cool with Thes for years now, I never bothered to ask him what PUTS was mad about…I assumed it was something in URB but it wasn’t until last month that I even found out it was the LA Weekly piece that had set everything off. In any case, a few months after hearing “The Outrage,” on an advance of <I>OST</i>, I got this LP in the mail from the group:

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(If you can’t read what it says on the very bottom, they wrote, “Take —- the way you give it.”)4

At the very least, I knew these guys were some funny MFers and it was kind of weird/cool to get shouted out in a song, albeit not the way I would ideally have dreamed of.

Then came Jean Grae.

I’ve rehashed this story in different forums so just let me do the short version. I reviewed Attack of the Attacking Things in URB in 2002 and gave it a mixed review. Jean took offense to it and via her publicist, said something to the effect of “next time I see you, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

Now…I thought she was joking and being tongue-in-cheek, just like PUTS. So I wrote back, via email, and joked, “you’ll have to get in line; PUTS already dissed me in a song, how gangsta is that?”

Apparently, that was the wrong move on my part.

Jean thought I was challenging her (I wasn’t). Fast-forward to 2003 and I’m reading through the liner notes to Bootleg of the Bootleg and Jean writes, plain as day, “Personal bitch ass award winning shout to Oliver Wang. You don’t know what gangsta is.” Then I heard the “U Don’t Know” freestyle.

There’s more to this story I’m leaving out (namely a well-intentioned but misguided publicist giving Jean my home number and a rather awkward phone convo that ensued) but honestly, these details are secondary to where this story is meant to go.

This is where Murs enters in, sort of.

I first need to explain that Murs’s beef with me was never public. He never dissed me on record or aired his feelings publicly. Nor did I. And given that, I’m not going to go into any of the details.5 However, I can say that what made this particular situation strange was that, unlike PUTS and Jean, I had never reviewed any of Murs’s singles or albums so I was never 100% clear on what the tension was over. Keep that in mind while I move on for a moment:

Enter Camu Tau, sort of.

In 2004, I got a call, on my home number, from someone claiming to be Camu Tau, who was angry with me because of what I had written about him and SA Smash in URB. My first thought was, “oh crap, here we go again,” followed quickly by, “wait, I never reviewed that album. Ever.” I tried to explain this inconvenient fact with the person on the other line and the conversation quickly dribbled away. I called up Camu’s publicist (who I was friendly with) and asked, “WTF?” And then, not long after, got a call from Camu Tau. The real Camu, not the faux Tau. And within seconds, we both ascertained that he had never called me but rather, some prankster (who hadn’t done his homework) had decided to pretend to be Camu, no doubt aware of my history of run-ins with mad rappers.

(When Camu passed away, a few years ago, I felt especially bad, A) because he was so young and B) he seemed like a genuinely nice guy when I spoke to him that afternoon.)

Now enter Mr. Len. (Yeah, you see why this is all so surreal, right?)

Len and I were at the same hip-hop conference in Ohio with one another a few years back and the first thing he says to me is: “Hey, I’m Mr. Len. Why do my best friends all hate you?”6 He was friends with Murs and Jean and wasn’t asking me in any kind of belligerent way but seemed genuinely curious. So I sat down with him and broke down much of this entire history (at least, what I knew of it, from my side) and Len nodded thoughtfully and took it all in. I have no idea what opinion he may have (re)formed regarding me from that conversation but he was nothing but cordial with me the whole time.

Now let’s get back to PUTS, or more specifically, Thes.

In 2006/7, I was at a record swap in Culver City and I was hanging out after with a few folks, including this one guy who I had never met (and obviously, didn’t recognize) who seemed exceptionally knowledgeable about the history of record plants and private presses in L.A. At the end of the conversation, we introduced ourselves and then I realized: “oh shit, this is Thes.” And as it turned out, he was a really nice, smart dude and we struck up a friendship that has now included everything from family outings to academic conferences to hip-hop music festivals.7

Now let’s get back to Murs.

Remember how I said I wasn’t clear on what the original source of beef was between him and I? Well, as it turned out – and I didn’t realize this until this past weekend – Murs and Thes have been friends since they both went to high school together and Murs and Jean were close too. From how it was explained to me, Murs’s initial issue with me was mostly an extension of those other artists’ beef with me, i.e. “if PUTS and Jean think you’re a punk, you must be a punk.”

However, at Rock the Bells, when Murs discovered Thes and I were friends now, he initiated the “peace treaty” process by telling Thes something along the lines of, “if you’re cool with him now, I’m cool with him now. Let’s squash this.” One handshake and one shout out from the “Paid Dues” stage later, it was all good, all over.

And there you have it. A footnote upon the footnote of independent hip-hop in the ’00s.8

  1. Though I still took it seriously enough, given my inability to properly read people’s behaviors.
  2. This came out twice – it was a bonus track on Bootleg of the Bootleg and was also on the Hurricane Jean mixtape.
  3. Keep in mind, my main outlets back then were URB and my own, pre-blog era hip-hop singles site. Perhaps it was my naivete (or Asian modesty) but I just never considered either outlet to hold enough weight for people to catch feelings over but in hindsight, I realize there just wasn’t much else out there. Magazines like The Source and XXL had long moved past the point where they were devoting much attention to independent releases (though Chairman Mao did have his long-running “Independents Day” column in XXL) but the internet hadn’t sufficiently reached the point where a web site could fill in the middle ground. As a result, I suppose, opinions expressed on my site or through URB may have gotten amplified in the presence of that absence. Or maybe people were just really sensitive. Or both.
  4. Straight up, one of my all-time favorite rap album covers for obvious reasons. Also, back in ’03/’04, I had every intention to record a mixtape called “The Most Hated” and use part of their Sharpie-enhancements for my own artwork. Pity that never came to fruition.
  5. I’ll say this much though: we had a brief dialogue in 2003 that ended up having unintended consequences that I still feel bad about since I had never had wished him, nor his career, ill. In fact, what’s bothered me is that, for the last eight years, I was never able to fully enjoy his music without feeling a tinge of awkwardness around the whole affair (which makes what happened at Rock the Bells all the better).
  6. Best opening line, ever.
  7. One of these days, I still need to actually meet Double K in person.
  8. Maybe I’ll fill in the blanks around Jean Grae and Louis Logic one day but neither of those stories are remotely as entertaining as this one.

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