The Secret Sauce In Trap Rap is Toxicity

Apple purchased rappers Gucci Mane and Jeezys’ deadly beef in exchange for millions of streams. Unfortunately, a resolution was never part of the deal

Never before have two platinum-certified music artists weaponized their catalogs to settle a personal beef. Especially not a feud consisting of verbal disrespect, threats and death.

Last Thursday, rappers Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy faced off — in person — for the season 2 premiere of the scorching tale-of-the-tape series Verzuz. Millions of Apple TV and Instagram faithful witnessed this once unforeseeable moment in hip-hop history virtually. Worth the price of admission alone (actually, it was free — you were simply requested to pay attention) was the sight of two sworn enemies occupying the same room. In a promo interview leading up to the event, Jeezy was asked by a reporter if it was possible that the showdown could transpire without “an incident.” The response was a flat, “We’ll see.”

Everything I love and fret about hip-hop is what made Young Jeezy versus Gucci Mane last week’s hottest ticket. There were no celebrity judges. No thirsty smiles or fellowship facade. Neither artist read any awkward poems. The drama wasn’t executive-produced — it was street-rooted. Tension preceded the battle’s marketing, but once the paperwork cleared it had no room to live. Instead, the air was filled with a far more attractive cloud: Danger.

This wasn’t about two Atlanta kings of the same subgenre of trap rap exercising their competitive spirits. This was about a 15-year beef between two felonious men whose relationship went from bad to worse when one killed the other’s friend. Nonetheless, Apple dropped a bag of cash on each rapper to relax their grudge for the ratings catnip of a peace treaty — that could go left — complete with rap performances.

“Yes, the men who invaded the home of Gucci’s friend were affiliates of Jeezy. Now here’s the inaccuracy: Jeezy never intended to have Gucci killed.”

The history is real, but the reporting has been inaccurate. Populace knowledge says that at the heart of the Jeezy and Gucci Mane beef is the former sending a couple of goons to kill the latter fifteen years ago. For those ignorant to this lengthy feud, here are some quick cliff notes: In 2005, as up-and-coming Atlanta rappers, Jeezy and Gucci collaborated on a fairly mediocre, but eventually hood-popular song entitled “So Icy.” There was miscommunication on which of the rappers were entitled to song ownership. Clearly, at this point in their lives, neither was healthy enough to have a business conversation void of ego. Gucci claims Jeezy sent two assailants to kill him. The men entered the home of a female associate of Gucci’s and began assaulting the author of future hits like “Freaky Girl” and “Wasted.” Gucci, born and raised in both Black and NRA America, happened to be in possession of a firearm. His retaliation left one of the intruders — Henry Lee Clark — dead by gunshot. Gucci immediately turned himself in for the murder charge and pleaded his innocence with a self-defense qualification. Eight months later, he was found not guilty.

Yes, the men who invaded the home of Gucci’s friend were affiliates of Jeezy. Henry Lee Clark rapped under the moniker Pookie Loc and was an artist on Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment label. Now here’s the inaccuracy: Jeezy never intended to have Gucci killed. The invasion was a kidnap attempt that went wrong; one that was doomed from concept. At the time, Jeezy was a street hustler turned artist fixated on the fact that his new marketing campaign was powered by his nonfiction. It read: Young Jeezy is more gangster (trapper) than rapper.

Ironically, the man once backed by the most powerful Black organized crime operation of this millennium prolonged the drama with passive aggression. Jeezy’s failure to address the incident upright, while continuing to throw subliminal jabs in verses allowed for the fanning of the feud’s flames. Those battle winds came courtesy of a vengeful Gucci Mane’s forward momentum. Over the next several years, mainly through mixtape songs, the rappers would trade a variety of insults ranging from “bitch” to “retarded.” Then Gucci added kerosene. In 2013, he released the song “Truth,” on which he not only addresses the incident while attacking Jeezy as a father and significant other to singer Keyshia Cole, but also antagonizes him with arguably the most coldblooded line ever spat in an on-record rap battle, “Go dig ya partner up” — a reference to him killing Clark.

“Gucci and Jeezy had to first be embraced by nationwide street toxicity before being accepted as music artists. It’s almost as if the trauma is the aspiration.”

Bypassing hip hop’s blackest eye (’Pac and Biggie), there have been countless rap beefs that flirted with violent endings. Nas and Jay escaped tragedy by a hair trigger. Common was once a marked man on Ice Cube’s West Coast. Then there were those who couldn’t avoid the violence. Some years ago, Raekwon delivered pre-podcast Joe Budden a quick message via an associate’s fist. 50 Cent was stabbed by affiliates of Murder Inc. leaders Irv Gotti and Ja Rule. Hip-hop has and will hopefully forever remain a reflection of the Black community. Black people often have to fight. Black people are traumatically conditioned to fight by default. In the sphere of rap music, it’s sadly par for the course. So we lose young comets like Pop Smoke and King Von before they reach stardom. We are robbed of the West Coast’s Stokley Carmichael reincarnate Nipsey Hussle.

My issue with corporate hip-hop is that it only felt a truce between Jeezy and Gucci Mane was worth a communal effort when it became lucrative. While a potential peace treaty was certainly baked into the consumer allure, Apple cared less about whether the rappers reconciled their differences. Moreover, while many rap fans were hopeful for a peaceful Verzuz and even praised the discarding of dated beef, there was a collective of carnivores that yearned for an altercation — a fist fight, entourage brawl or worse. In the illest areas of Black America, especially where toxic masculinity is a generational fixture, backing down from confrontation is considered taboo. This is because poor, frustrated people have little that is both tangible and valuable. Then those with the absolute least — the young — begin to appraise personal stock against how cavalier one is toward the lives and death of others; how effortlessly they would endanger or extinguish another person. The soundtrack to this dysfunction has great contributions from Jeezy and Gucci. It’s why both have clung so tightly to their street past and credibility since sharing a rookie season. They had to first be embraced by nationwide street toxicity before being accepted as music artists. It’s almost as if the trauma is the aspiration. Psychological oppression is a powerful drug.

For the past 15 years, although lesser over the last seven, Jeezy and Gucci were on the brink of doing the other grave harm. Yet, again, hip-hop remains a mirror for living while Black in the United States. To exist under that cloud of danger is a routine day for any person who resides in a manmade ghetto. They are disenfranchised and conditioned to reflect America’s devaluing of their lives and deaths. This is how and why poor men and women of color die so easily; so voluminous; so silent. (Please don’t leap into this post’s comments section capping about Black death in other countries) Yet, in America, if a Black person’s death can boost album sales or an endangered life can earn Apple millions of streams, the drama isn’t senseless. The lives aren’t completely worthless. Lest we forget that before any Black body is perceived as valuable by the United States, its toe must first wear a price tag.

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.

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