“[50 Cent] used to start beefs effortlessly. Now when he taunts other rappers, they don’t bother replying, the equivalent of an unreturned phone call.”–The New York Times
I write my own taunts. Some guys get big, get an entourage, and they start delegating. For example, when Fluffanutta’s third album went double platinum, he got lazy and outsourced his taunts to a firm in India. Then his fourth album had that line about me: “He looks good from a distance, but take a look closa / His face resembles a lentil samosa.”
First of all, there are worse things than being compared to a delicious appetizer. But more importantly, the thing to understand is that being taunted is in itself a compliment, a measure of a rapper’s worth. When I look back on my career, some of my fondest memories have to do with beefs I got into. Consider what the beef provides: assurance of my own artistic relevance, a call to verbal dexterity, sheer competition. And you can learn things in a beef. For example, there was that time Lil’ Ebenezer, the Los Angeles rapper with literary ambitions, threatened to murder me and all my loved ones with the Oxford English Rhyming Dictionary. I went right out and bought it. Or the humiliating time in 2005 when the James Beard Foundation stepped into settle my three-year dispute with Big Huge Carl Wilkinson about how angel hair pasta got its name.
Last year one of my throwaway taunts resulted in a lot of hurt feelings. I was trying to start something with Java, the sensitive Southern rapper who famously abandoned his thriving St. Louis orthopedic practice for a life in hip-hop. So in my song “Medical Analogies” I included the line, “Now I don’t claim to be a licensed psychiatrist/But Fitty to Java as docta to podiatrist.” I eagerly awaited his reply, but his next album was the one all about different kinds of transportation. He didn’t even acknowledge the insult. And then a few weeks later I got a cassette tape in the mail from Java’s publicist, and it was just six hours of Java saying, “I have bunions” really slowly.
Still, I have this tendency to run off at the mouth. Earlier this year Page Six ran a story about how N-Valope owed The New York Public Library more than forty dollars in unpaid fines for children’s books. The thing is, I don’t even consider N-Valope a rival. He’s actually kind of a sweetheart. But on my most recent album I improvised a line about him, suggesting that the reason he was taking so long to return those books was that he never advanced beyond a third grade reading level. And then at the farmer’s market the other day I ran into him. I walked up to him while he was testing the ripeness of a Haas avocado and said, “You probably want to punch me in the face, and I don’t blame you.”
He just smiled and said, “Now, why would I want to do that?” Was he bluffing? And then guess who appeared? It was Fluffanutta, carrying a basketful of summer squash. Fluffanutta looked nervous.
“Yo, Fluffanutta,” N-Valope said. “Can you think of any reason why I’d want to punch 50 Cent here in the face?”
Fluffanutta paused thoughtfully. “Well, yes.”
I asked N-Valope if he’d heard the track. He said no, he’d heard that I’d gotten out of the music business and started a day-care center. He asked me to sing a bit for him. I said maybe some other time. A crucial aspect of the taunt is not being around when the other guy hears it, and as you know from his videos, N-Valope is not only ripped but also carries a green bow and arrow. But he insisted, so I sang a line for him: “While I was dousin’ puppies with hot sauce and kerosene/You was in the corner with Stan and Jan Berenstein.”
“You said that about me?” I nodded. He looked like he was going to be sick.
“Shame on you,” Fluffanutta said. “Adult illiteracy is a serious issue.”
Now N-Valope was in a full panic and his basket fell to the ground. I remarked that he had gathered a great variety of produce.
“I don’t get enough fiber,” he said defensively. “I’m constipated. Why don’t you write a song about it?” He stormed off in a fit of tears and Fluffanutta shook his head and made a clicking sound with his tongue.
The thing is, I had written a song about his fiber deficiency. Did even those taunts not reach him?
I have wasted my life.
Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times.