From Tupac and Biggie to Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj, established rivalries have played a major role in hip-hop's history. As local legend Bun B once said, "This is rap; we've had beef in rap since the beginning of rap."
But today's local scene may be dawning on an age of enlightenment, largely defined by a handful of young artists who collectively shy away from the culture of conflict that has largely defined the genre.
Anthony Obi, aka Fat Tony, Fat Tony, who has gained both local and national recognition as a defining face of Houston's neo-rap scene, says he feels a sense of community among his fellow artists, in spite of the occasional naysayer.
"Most of my peers are about my age and we're all trying our hardest to rise above and get our music heard," says Obi, who released new album Smart Ass Black Boy this past June. "There's always going to be a bit of negativity going around when a positive movement is happening -- that's what makes the positivity stand out and shine, while bringing balance to the whole thing."
You(genious): The Misfit of R&B is a 14-year veteran of the scene and professional "party crasher," who recently collaborated with more than 20 local musicians on a musical project entitled Cold: When Your Heart Becomes a Hole. He explains that joining forces with fellow musicians was his way of squashing the animosity.
"Look, haters [are] going to hate; they're always going to be there," he says. "If they hate, that means you're doing something right. How I deal with this situation is [to] ask if they want to collaborate."
David "Dirty Dog D" Landry, one-half of the MC squad Dirty & Nasty, describes the concept of hating among his fellow artists as "imaginary."
"People don't have that many haters," Landry says. "Much of it is in their head, because if you can make people believe that you have a large amount of 'hate,' then you must be popular."
Reflecting on the "small pockets" of camaraderie he sees within the hip-hop community, Landry speaks a message to the scene as a whole: "We need more unity!"
Up-and-comer Luis Garcia, known onstage as Analyst, suggests that adopting an attitude of mutual support and respect between artists was key.
"I think most of my fans are other musicians who really appreciate the art," Garcia says. "Some have bigger networks than others, though, and it's hard to get most to connect and come out to a show where they don't know the artist personally.
"I usually show respect to fellow artists, whether or not I agree with what they're saying," he adds. "If they're working hard to reach a goal, I respect that."
Eight-year veteran of the scene Robert Johnson, better known as Bishop V Black, echoes that sentiment.
"I think that there are more artists than your homeboy to support; some fans and artists don't get that," he says, adding that lack of originality can make the Houston music scene seem like "the same soup reheated."
"You have diverse artists but unfamiliar fans," he adds. "If you're not relaying the Houston-sound stereotype, good luck. Don't get me wrong; [rappers] have the strongest hustle ethics known, but it's like everyone selling water to the well."
Tominique "OG Nasty Nique" Roots, the other half of D&N, describes a sense of camaraderie within the local scene but also laments the lack of communal values.
"In order to have a community, you need many well-functioning parts moving together, and Houston doesn't have that," he says. "In Houston, we tend to cannibalize our own."
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iLL LiaD, another rising young-gun who plans to release his second album at the end of the month, prides himself an artistic bachelor, preferring to forgo the collaborative trend and pave his own path. Describing the Houston hip-hip scene as "segregated wackness," he acknowledges a kind of sophomoric politics that govern the community.
"It's like one popular guy seeing the other popular guy in the hallway while in school," he says. "You say, 'what's up,' but at the end of the day, you know you have to be ten times better than this little b****."
Frank Granados, known onstage as Frankie G Da Mex, is a ten-year veteran of the scene who agrees that, while characteristically divided, it is also marked by mutual support amongst artists. As far as the haters go, Granados says he can't complain about the spirit of competition.
"If you just got nothing good to say about me, but there's no reason behind it besides that I'm better then you -- you's a hater," he says. "But if you just 'know' you're better than me, even though I won't agree, well then it's just good ol' fun and competition."
Obi expresses that same appreciation for the competitive spirit.
"Rivalries are only good when they're funny, in my opinion," he offers. "If it's totally mean-spirited and foul, then it's a total bore. But a good 'beef' brings out a competitive nature -- which is essential in rap -- [through] great music and some good laughs."
Landry agrees that he wouldn't mind also seeing more healthy competition between local artists.
"There is a lot of hand-holding and booty-grabbing on the scene," he says. "'Rappers want to paint each others' toenails and give each other high-fives. There's not a lot of competition in rap anymore.
"What's funny about that is, when certain artists work together, the song or project or whatever is usually something wack, and it sounds forced and fabricated," Landry adds. "Hip-hop culture was based off of aggressive competition, not passive."
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