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Where's the Beef? Right here in H-town

T.I. and Lil' Flip rumble in Cloverland, bringing one of the great rap feuds of recent years to a head

Well, Houston, at last we've arrived as a hip-hop city: We've finally played host to physical combat between two rappers with national reputations. On March 24, Atlanta's T.I. and Houston's own Lil' Flip rumbled Grease-style, and fittingly enough for a rap "beef," the brawl was at Cloverburger, a joint in Flip's south-side Cloverland neighborhood. T.I. and Flip had been calling each other out for about a year on radio stations and in raps. At this point it's pretty much impossible to tell how it started, but we do know that the two are battling for the title of the King of the South. Which is pretty, well, ludicrous, when you've got guys like Luda, Scarface and OutKast out there.

Anyway, in this particular feud, the lines of acceptable rap-beef behavior have been crossed several times, and physical violence was inevitable. T.I. has paraded around with pictures of Flip in his old Y2K-era leprechaun suit and has released mix tapes on which Flip is accused of mistreating his mother and not really being from his hood. More recently, Flip and Z-Ro released "Fuck Dat Nigga," on which Flip threatens to shoot T.I.'s son, and it was these charming verses that T.I. says led directly to his invasion of Cloverland, where he shot a Flip-dissing DVD, which is soon to be available at car shows and out da trunk near you.

The vid has yet to surface, so right now it's all but impossible to tell who won the Battle of Cloverburger. Either Flip walked up to T.I. and laid him flat out, or Flip hid behind a car while one of his homies sucker-punched T.I. All agree, though, that T.I.'s posse kicked some ass before the brawl was brought to a halt by an unaffiliated onlooker who fired his pistol in the air. And all unbiased observers also agree that T.I.'s brazen adventure scored him major points in the all-important hip-hop cred game, even if he did get his ass kicked. He came to Houston, went on the Box and dared Flip to meet him in his own hood, and then showed up there with his boys. Flip will probably have to do something similar in Atlanta, or else T.I. can just sit back and reprise Flip's biggest hit by declaring "Game Over." (Though some say the whole feud started when Flip called out T.I. from the stage at an Atlanta club, so maybe they'll just end these stupid and increasingly dangerous shenanigans.)

So now that H-town is a player in the hip-hop beef game, we've decided to put together a roundup of local and national hip-hop beefs. It's a hard job -- beefs are as much a part of the rap game now as bling, Cristal and sports throwbacks, and you're nobody these days until you either beef or get beefed against, and it seems like every label, radio station and artist today regards a beef as much a part of launching a new album as sending out press kits and payola, but we'll try to at least give you an overview of some of the best.

Eminem vs. Benzino and Michael Jackson:

In addition to rapping, Benzino is the co-publisher of The Source magazine, and he has always hated Em. In 2003, when an old tape surfaced of a teenage Eminem venting racist about his black ex-girlfriend, Benzino ran the story with relish, leveling a charge of racism and accusing Em of being a tool in the hands of the white corporate devils who run the rap game from ivory high-rise towers. Em responded in a freestyle that denied those charges and elaborately insulted Benzino and chums. Late last year, when Em released the anti-Jacko video "Just Lose It," the Gloved One turned to Benzino and The Source for aid and comfort, and the mag complied by urging a mostly bemused hip-hop community to stand by MJ.

(Advantage: Eminem. He forced The Source to go where no one wants to be, and that's in bed with Michael Jackson.)

Nas vs. R. Kelly:

A new one, fresh outta the box...Last month, Nas, who famously feuded with Jay-Z a few years back, turned his guns on Hova's current foe, R. Kelly. Pretty much apropos of nothing, he told an Irish audience that Kelly was a "child rapist."

(Advantage: Nas. After all, there isa video of Kelly having sex with and peeing on an underage girl. And what's up with that, anyway? Why hasn't there been a trial?)

Tupac vs. Biggie:

No need to rehash this one too much, but it's easy to forget that they were once friends. (Advantage: People who hate hip-hop. They could point to Biggie's and 'Pac's violent deaths six months apart and say smug things like "See? All rappers are criminals.")

Bill O'Reilly vs. Ludacris:

If hip-hop is the "CNN of black America," then Fox News is hip-hop for the Reddest of the Red States, and O'Reilly is the top MC in that crew. Anyway, Loofah Boy called out Luda's morals when the Atlanta rapper was about to sign an endorsement deal with Pepsi, and kicked up enough sand to bring about an end to that plan. Luda responded first by cutting the O'Reilly-bashing "Hoes in My Room" on Chicken & Beer, and then by cheekily admonishing O'Reilly to "kiss the plaintiff and the wifey" on last year's Red Light District. (Advantage: Ludacris, for working hard at being amusing instead of unintentionally being hilarious.)

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