Beefs between rappers are nothing new. Remember that some of these bouts ended up in destroyed careers, or even worse. The Real Roxanne sort of vanished in the clash with Roxanne Shante, Ja Rule kind of disappeared after jousting with 50 Cent during their famous brawl, and Benzino never made it big after fighting with Eminem. But sometimes such scraps can benefit the artists involved, as media and fans love to dwell on this kind of story.
During the past few decades, we’ve seen disputes such as 50 Cent vs. Meek Mill, Drake vs. Jay-Z, Lil Wayne vs. Pusha T, Kanye West vs. 50 Cent and of course, Nicki Minaj vs. Lil' Kim. But probably the most famous diss track skirmish in recent history is Machine Gun Kelly vs. Eminem — talk about David taking on Goliath! So, what makes an artist survive such a clash? First, let’s look at their social media stats.
The fact is that artists rarely survive a beef with Eminem. Eminem’s fans are loyal and quick to tune in. His unannounced album “Music to Be Murdered By” that just dropped got around 51M Spotify streams on the first day, and is his fastest streaming album ever. Now that’s a fanbase!
There’s no denying it, Hip Hop is a battleground, and Eminem does have a great deal of firepower in his arsenal. In his long career, he has fought with artists such as Christina Aguilera, Ja Rule, Limp Bizkit, Mariah Carey, Cage, and Everlast. He became famous by battling in the clubs of Detroit, after all, so he’s an experienced veteran. His latest bout was with Mariah Carey’s ex-husband Nick Cannon in December 2019. Nick came after Eminem with his own diss after Em called out Mariah and him on Fat Joe’s track. A ballsy move, some would say. It got lots of media traction, and Google searches for Nick peaked the highest since his marriage with Mariah in 2008. No shade, we’re "Wild 'n Out" fans. 😉
But the brawl between MGK and Eminem is somewhat special. It’s been quite a while since we've heard really good, full-blown diss songs between two artists of such a caliber (with the exception of Pusha T's "The Story of Adidon" and Drake’s "Duppy Freestyle"), so it’s no wonder the feud held the public's interest.
The biggest question is, however, when is a musician good or big enough to take on such an opponent and profit out of it?
All was quiet on the Midwestern USA front on 7 May 2012, when 22-year-old Richard Colson Baker, better known as Machine Gun Kelly, posted the tweet that started the conflict that’s been going on for almost eight years now. He tweeted that Eminem’s daughter, then 16-year-old Hailie, is “hot as fuck”.
Banned from radio
MGK claimed in an interview for Hot 97 FM on October 2015 that Eminem had him banned from certain radio stations. “Let's call Sway, ask why I can't go on Shade 45 because of you,” he said later in his 2018 diss “Rap Devil”. There's a spike in Google searches of MGK’s name after the interview, so he did get a bit of attention at the time.
In March 2018, MGK collaborated with Tech N9ne on the song “No Reason”, and in one of his verses, he disses Eminem in reference to his song “Rap God”: “To remind y'all, you just rap, you're not God.”
This was MGK's first musical attack on Eminem, and quite a few of people resented him for sneaking a diss into someone else’s song, especially because Tech N9ne later said he didn’t know those verses were against Eminem. At this point, we can’t notice any real impact of the diss on MGK’s career. But this was just the calm before the storm.
Eminem strikes back
It was just a matter of time before Eminem responded publicly to MGK’s provocation, five months after the release of “No Reason”, when he released his new album “Kamikaze”. The release of the album triggered a massive spike in YouTube monthly views on Eminem’s channel, from about 140M in August to 288M in October, peaking in November at 383M. Throughout “Kamikaze”, Eminem disses “mumble rappers who currently dominate the industry”, but he tackles MGK directly with the track “Not Alike”, saying: “But next time you don’t gotta use Tech N9ne if you wanna come at me with a sub-machine gun.”
Now, to the good part: “Rap Devil” brings the shovel
Three days after the release of “Not Alike”, Machine Gun Kelly released his own diss song “Rap Devil” and slammed Eminem hard: “Took you six years and a surprise album just to come with a diss.”
MGK’s video “Rap Devil” was a hit. At the time of writing, the song has over 268M views on YouTube. It caused a huge spike in MGK’s channel views after the release, even though it wasn’t released on his official channel. The overall views on MGK’s YouTube channel jumped from 17M in August to 20M in September, and peaked at almost 42M in October. MGK also released the “Binge” EP on 21 September, and even though the songs “Loco” and “Lately” were popular on YouTube (with around 20M views so far), they didn't come close to “Rap Devil”.
Let’s not forget, MGK also has quite a lucrative career in movies and TV. But back then, a good deal of Hip Hop fans who had never even heard of him checked out the young rapper who dared to challenge Eminem. The song was good; the lyrics have everything a good diss needs. Yeah, MGK could have gone out of mind and out of sight, but the song was a really strong response, which some of Eminem’s other opponents had lacked.
Eminem aims back with “Killshot”
Eminem did have an answer, though. On 14 September 2018, he released another MGK diss track, “Killshot”, where he, among other things, rapped: "Stan, son, listen, man, dad isn’t mad, but how you gonna name yourself after a damn gun and have a man bun?”
After the release of the diss, MGK not only went to a Fall Out Boy concert wearing Eminem’s “Killshot” art on his shirt, but also provoked Eminem with a tweet.
Is the feud fake?
By the end of September, social media was abuzz with talk that the whole thing had been staged. Many emphasized that Eminem and MGK are both on the same record label (Interscope) and even share a producer. Eminem’s producer on the song “Not Alike” was Ronny J, while “Rap Devil” was produced by Ronald Spence Jr., which is the same person. Now, there’s no proof that the dispute is staged, but the numbers do reveal that they both benefited from the clash, especially with their diss songs.
The fight is in round 2020
In July 2019, MGK released his fourth studio album “Hotel Diablo”, featuring the track “FLOOR 13”, in which he again attacks Eminem: “I just spent too many minutes watchin’ little videos of shitty wannabe rappers dissing me/I just spent the winter livin’ after someone tried to send a kill shot, missin’ me.”
Of course, the release of MGK’s new album triggered a large number of YouTube views on his channel. Monthly engagement jumped from 18M in June and 31M in July to 37M in August. But this time, the diss song didn’t get as much attention – about 5M views so far – while his music video for “Glass House,” for instance, has gotten 12M views up to now. Maybe people are getting tired of the quarrel, or simply don’t care anymore. But one thing is a fact: MGK not only survived the clash, he also came out stronger.
On 17 January 2020, Eminem replied. The rapper again surprised the music world with an unannounced album, “Music to Be Murdered By”. And anyone who had been waiting for his answer to "FLOOR 13" wasn't disappointed. In the song “Yah Yah,” featuring Royce Da 5’9″, Black Thought, Q-Tip and Denaun Porter, Eminem shoots at MGK with these lines: “Me and this game, we got married already, bitch had to give me a baby, we named it Machine Gun Kelly.”
Eminem’s song "Darkness", from his last album, got over 1M views in under five hours after the release. But the album is also criticized because of the lyrics about the deadly attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
Both rappers got a whole heap of media attention from the beef, but MGK’s neck was more on the line here. One bad comeback, and his career could've gone down the drain. But neither of the two misfired, both taking advantage of the publicity in the end to promote their albums.
Apparently war can be good for business, yes, but it’s also very risky – survival of the fittest, we might say.
Cover photo: Machine Gun Kelly by David Dillon/Leeds
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