Doing My Day Job: Joey Bada$$ vs. Lil B

January 30th, 2013

(Photos from left: Derrick Reed/Picture Group, Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

By Gee King

While Frank Ocean and Chris Brown battle for  male R&B supremacy, a more bizarre beef is brewing just below the mainstream media’s radar. 17-year-old lyrical prodigy Joey Bada$$’s current riff with social media mastermind Lil B doesn’t include the chance of Twitter-crashing controversy or spoiled Grammy performances but, after exchanging half-hearted threats of annihilation via their ironically opposite rhyming styles this week, two of the most interesting stars of hip hop’s Internet generation seem to either be pulling the industry’s leg to boost Twitter followers or boldly testing the limits of the rap game’s evolved understanding of beef.

Based God’s 90-second “__” was a predictably semi-coherent display of the stream-of-conscious swag rap that made him a social media phenom three years ago. Though we know a tweet (“tell the Based God don’t quit his day job”) from Joey is why he targeted the young Flatbush spitta, the result was just random and absurd enough to remind us why we continue to enable his comedically bad bars and flamboyant behavior. Those hoping Joey would take the high road and focus his energies on becoming the lyrical messiah fans and media expect him to grow into instead saw him flex his survival tactics by engaging in B’s Internet games. When the young Bada$$ jumped into the flame with “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” a dense lyrical assault, he assured his new rival that he could spar all day, every day, if necessary.

Though neither MC has disappointed so far, they have also failed to give fans a reason to pay attention to a feud without clear stakes or purpose. Aside from a few chuckles, what will hip hop gain from watching Cali’s pretty boy take on Brooklyn’s wunderkind? It won’t be fully clear until we get to hear a second round of disses. But what’s already apparent is that we’re witnessing the evolution of beef in a culture that’s still nursing wounds left by the mortal clashes that defined the previous generation.

The fact that B, Joey and their varied peers all took something of value from the culture’s wounded past is definitely promising. The question is what kind of future they will create with the insight. Some, like Drake, avoid conflict at all costs, honest enough with themselves to know that they have nothing to gain from dealing in negativity. Others, like Azealia Banks, seek out petty beefs that have no consequences beyond a raised profile and slightly edgier image. But does a middle ground exist where polar characters like Joey and B can meet to get out a little aggression and sharpen skills for the public’s amusement?

For now, it’s hard to see the harm. But situations like this do run the risk of turning a sacred part of our culture into an undercooked, WWE-level joke. Until the pieces fall into place, we’ll all have to get used to a world where rappers are cool with play fighting online while their R&B counterparts handle their issues in the parking lot.

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