When LL Cool J's "The Ripper Is Back" debuted Monday night on New York's Hot 97 (WQHT-FM), it was a monumental hip-hop moment.
Not only was it the legendary rapper's first public response to next-big-thing Canibus' dis single, "2nd Round K.O.," but it also was the first time that hip-hop has seen a high-profile rhyme battle since the deaths of arch-rivals Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace and Tupac Shakur.
The seeds for the battle between the rap legend and the up-and-coming star were first planted during the recording of the song "4,3,2,1," from LL Cool J's latest, Phenomenon. According to Tom Moscato, webmaster for The Greatest Hip-Hop Beefs Homepage (http://members.tripod.com/~DonTeflon/BizBeef.html), a website that tracks hip- hop rivalries, the song features guest appearances by Canibus, DMX, Redman and Method Man and originally contained a line by Canibus that LL took as an insult. Referring to LL's microphone tattoo, Canibus rapped about "ripping an arm out a socket, taking a mic off it and letting a real MC rock it."
"Apparently, LL edited out that line and rewrote his rap as a dis toward Canibus," Moscato explained from his Washington, D.C., home. The rap goes: "When young sons fantasize of borrowing flows/ Tell little shorty with the big mouth the bank is closed/ The symbol on my arm is off limits to challengers/ You hold the rusty swords I swing the Excalibur." That lyric and the fact that Canibus was left out of the "4,3,2,1" video led to Canibus' "2nd Round K.O."
The first single form his forthcoming solo debut, "2nd Round K.O." features Canibus tearing into LL Cool J's reputation between shouts of encouragement from boxing legend Mike Tyson. In the song, Canibus outlines LL's past battles with Ice-T, Kool Moe Dee and Jay-Z , saying that "99 percent of [his] fans wear high heels," while threatening to battle LL "live in front of the cameras on your own sitcom/ I'll let you kick a verse, fuck it, I'll let you kick them all/ I'll even wait for the studio audience to applaud/ Now watch me rip the tatt from your arm/ Kick you in the groin, stick you for your Vanguard award."
That apparent verbal assault led to "The Ripper Is Back," a song that 17-year- old LL Cool J fan and New York City resident Marcus Osborne called "a real scorcher and an argument closer."
Long rumored on Net fan site bulletin boards as featuring such guests as Master P and KRS-One, the song turns out to be just LL, with the rap legend attacking Canibus with all the energy that he threw at Kool Moe Dee on 1990's genre-defining "Mama Said Knock You Out."
In "The Ripper Is Back," LL calls Canibus tour mate and rap star in his own right Wyclef Jean "the Bob Marley imposter." He also tells Canibus "Don't hate me cause I'm paid; hate me because I'm everything you want to be -- handsome, young, plus legendary," and then says of "2nd Round K.O." guest Mike Tyson, "heard that convicted rapist on the record too/ Fresh out of jail, nigga, teeth still black and blue/ Tell me 'bout the things Ear Biter taught you/ How to bust a nut or two?"
For many hip-hop fans, this battle is a welcome return to the days when MCs tried to best each other at weekly parties in the South Bronx. "I think [battle rhymes are] just part of the nature of hip-hop itself," wrote rap fan Steve "DJ Flash" Juon in an e-mail. "African storytellers used to tell boastful tales to impress others and gain prestige and the next man would try to one-up him to steal some prestige and spotlight."
As a devoted fan of hip-hop battles, Moscato said that this war of words is one of the finest to come along in a while and that he hopes the parties involved will keep it off the streets and on the mic. "I think Biggie/Tupac was the example of what a beef shouldn't be," Moscato said, "with Tupac going overboard and Biggie never responding, that was more personal than professional, like many of the good beefs today. I think this is the hottest beef right now because each party is willing to respond on the mic," he continued, "but only time will tell how it stacks up to the greats."
Listeners who want to decide for themselves should keep their ears peeled to the radio or pick up DMX's It's Hot and Hell is Hot on May 19. That CD will come with a free CD entitled Survival of the Illest Vol. 1, a sampler that will include the LL track plus songs by Onyx, DMX and Def Squad.
Canibus' "2nd Round K.O." is currently available in stores and will be included on his solo debut, currently slated for a June release.