Sympathy for the Hova
A mark of accomplishment in any rapper’s scorecard is the beef, the exchanging of verbal gunfire in the form of dis tracks and verses. It works both ways. If you’re a neophyte working your way up the hip-hop hierarchy, there’s no better way to get exposure than aiming your cannons at a known star. And if you’re getting shot at (verbally speaking, of course), then it must mean you’re doing something right.
Jay-Z’s been doing many things right for at least a decade now – not only is he one of the wealthiest musical artists working today (in 2009 he was worth 150 million dollars), but he’s one of the best rappers to emerge in the wake of the East Coast-West Coast troubles. The man who calls himself Hova is a near-perfect fusion of commercial and critical appeal.
Lately, that fusion’s come under attack by what could only be described as the hysterical, conspiracy-theorist wing of the hip-hop world. According to them, Jay-Z became so successful because he’s a tool of the New World Order/Illuminati/Freemasons, a cog in their world-dominating machine, or at the very least sold his soul to the Devil and in return gained the ability to rap and make money. This theory was picked up by a relic from hip-hop’s past, a man who was scorned, humiliated, and tossed into obscurity, a man who in his day was about as big as Jay-Z: MC Hammer.
It all started a couple months ago when “So Appalled,” a posse cut off Kanye West’s upcoming album, was released; in his verse, Jay-Z declares “the Hammer went broke so you know I’m more focused/I lost thirty mill so I spent another thirty/’cause unlike Hammer thirty mill can’t hurt me.” Bit of a burn, but Jay-Z probably thought nothing would be made of it, just another throw-away pop cultural reference; after all, wasn’t the last time MC Hammer made headlines back when the first George Bush was president?
So it was a bit of a “Say what?” moment when the former Surreal Life cast member shot back on November 1 with a music video called “Better Run Run!” In the video, Hammer – an ordained minister – lays out the evidence that Jay-Z entered a pact with Old Mr. Scratch himself: That “diamond cutter” hand gesture he throws up sometimes? From Satan. That “Jesus can’t save you” line from “Empire State of Mind”? The Devil was right there next to Jay-Z as he wrote it. Elsewhere in the video, Reverend Hammer claims to “see it [demonic inspiration, one assumes] in his eyes,” burns some Rocawear garb while shouting “I don’t rock your wear,” and baptizes Jay-Z in a lake.
All in all, the music video is certainly no “Ether,” and the central question remains: Why now? Maybe he’s planning a comeback—he gathered a crew of back-up dancers and christened himself “King Hammer.” Obviously he had something to sell; the entire first minute of “Better Run Run!” has some atrocious product placement (it’s also “set” in the “conference room” of his “record label,” portraying Hammer as a super-busy record exec who barely has enough time to deal with a minor nuisance like Jay-Z). Perhaps that’s all a bit cynical. Maybe Hammer was genuinely hurt by Jay-Z’s words. Maybe he truly believes that Jay-Z sold his soul to the Devil and is trying to warn the world before things get serious Omega Code style.
What’s more likely is that this feud is the last chapter in the tragic cautionary tale of MC Hammer, a tale that serves as a warning to all present and future kings of hip-hop. Keep your balance on the pedestal and wear the crown strong or you’ll have the Devil to pay.