Whether or not hip-hop needs saving, Ray Benzino has taken it upon himself to thwart those he feels are jeopardizing the culture. Namely, he's bothered by what he calls "the machine," and has been taking swipes lately at what he feels is the machine's biggest cog — platinum poster child Eminem.
"I wanna be careful with the word 'beef,' because people could definitely take that and run with it with their own version of it," he said Tuesday about the war of words with rap's top record-seller (see "Benzino Ignites Beef By Calling Eminem '2003 Vanilla Ice' "). "I just call it a debate with my opinion on issues. Hip-hop came from the streets. It's gone mainstream, it's corporate, but it is part of culture. It breathes life into a lot of people. I just felt that on my first record where I went at Eminem, it wasn't so much about Em, it was about the machine. The way media outlets are taking what Eminem is doing and using it as a double standard for what other artists are doing.
"Eminem gets to do songs that we would never get to do," he added. "Eminem gets to talk about his issues and his pain ... killing his mother, beating his girl, drugs. We have to rock the party in order to get spins and burn on the radio. We have to entertain more than expose our true issues. When black and Latino people try to give our pain on there we couldn't get burn. The machine doesn't want our pain to be out there."
After Benzino threw barbs at Em and members of the Shady Records camp via a mixtape freestyle and a song called "Pull Your Skirt Up," Em and Obie Trice responded with their own street freestyles and songs such as "Nail in the Coffin" on a Shady Records mixtape titled Invasion.
Now Benzino has come back with a track called "Die Another Day," where, among other things, he calls D12 and Obie "house n---as," chastises other rappers who battle each other ("The so-called kings steady going at each other/ Doing songs with the devil while they fighting with their brother"), compares Em to racist figures ("You're the rap David Duke, you're the rap Hitler ... I'm the rap Malcolm [X], the rap Martin [Luther King]") and even has a few words for Em's daughter, warning that she may share the fate of Jon Benet Ramsey.
"Wordplay, it's all wordplay," Benzino, who is also the co-owner of The Source magazine, said about whether he really wants to get physically violent with Eminem. "I'm from the machine, I don't want to bring any harm to Marshall Mathers. At the same time, my message got across. I feel Eminem came at me personally. I think he feels that nobody should go at him.
"To me, he was just the hood ornament for the vehicle," Benzino continued. "By me going at the hood ornament, maybe I could put a small dent in the vehicle. I just wanted to raise consciousness. It's not like I'm hating on Eminem, its just a situation that had to be brought up."
Benzino even says he talked to Em's manager Paul Rosenberg about keeping the war of words verbal. A taped phone conversation between Benzino and a man he claims to be Rosenberg precedes Benzino's rhymes in "Die Another Day."
"We had a conversation about keeping it on record," Benzino said. "I gave him my views about why I did what I did. In my opinion he understood what I was saying. But like any manager, you're always trying to soften the blow. He was trying to be a buffer between me and Em."
Eminem and the Shady Records camp have refused to comment on the matter.
Meanwhile, Benzino has plenty more to say. He plans to release a mixtape filled with more disses and has recorded an official album called Redemption, which will drop in January.
-- Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway and Minya Oh