The internet has become increasing important to the music industry over the past decade, but it the music of hip-hop which has perhaps undergone the most significant influence of the mass media phenomenon, with one of the culture's music's oldest elements seriously weakened and under threat from being destroyed.
Since its conception, battle rap has been a deeply integrated aspect of hip-hop's music. Beginning primarily in the form of freestyles and gradually evolving onto record, battle raps have made and broke many rappers over the years and stuck in many minds as providing some of the most exciting, entertaining memories of the genre. This is rapidly changing.
During the golden era of hip-hop, when artists had disagreements and wished to battle each other verbally on record, the scene got to hear now classic songs such as 'The Bridge is Over' by Boogie Down Productions. The disagreement between KRS One, Marly Marl and MC Shan was only briefly documented, with just a few related tracks released.
Nowadays, the rate and quantity in which rappers exchange insults is dramatically faster than yester-year due to the ease at which they can quickly get their tracks heard by huge audiences, and as a result, the entertainment value is drastically poor.
Almost instantly upon a battle record being leaked online, message forum communities post tons of pages about the track. Soon radio shows catch wind and word reaches the targeted artist who very quickly leaks his response. The cycle continues and it isn't long before there's enough songs to fill mix CD's which quickly get bootlegged.
In the earlier years of hip-hop music, disses were mainly heard on released records, which cost money to put out, so if a rapper went to such efforts to have people hear his opinion of one of his contemporaries, he was going to be sure as hell that he had used all the venom he could.
Nowadays, more often than not, exchanges of disses between artists are merely trivial. Feuds don't stop after two quality tracks, but ten or more tedious, tiring and non-entertaining tracks which have been rushed and received nowhere near the amount of attention from the artist required, for them to have any standing in hiphop history.
Whereas the outcome of old battles such as 'The Bridge is Over' saw KRS One go on to release popular music to this day whilst MC Shan and Marley Marl have never recovered, the effect of modern day beef has relatively no lasting impact. Eminem and Everlast's careers underwent no damage because they beefed. The bad blood between Fat Joe and 50 Cent hasn't deterred either from carrying on achieving club hits and awards. Lil Kim may be in jail and Foxy Brown might be going deaf, but their sales suffered no great loss because of their verbal cat fighting. Since battling each other, Canibus remains unable to release a good album and LL Cool J continues to sell out.
More often than not, it is now standard practice for up and coming rappers in the commercial field to throw about insults towards as many other artists as they can. Where as this process was on a far smaller scale and carried out to impress and display skill, it's now more of a PR tool than ever before.
All is not lost however. The live format of battling goes on, with an increasing number of freestyle battle events having took place around the globe in the past few years, where competition prizes as lucrative as top end cars and cheques of fifty thousand dollars were awarded. Occasionally high quality beef records happen, such as the Jay Z V Nas beef of 2001. And whilst waiting for similar rarities, there's the fierce but impersonalised battle verses of Immortal Technique as well as all the legendary battles to revisit.
In the context of an increasingly violent and aggressive international climate, it is perhaps for the best that the content of battles is far less vicious and powerful these days. Near confrontation between Fat Joe and 50 Cent at a recent awards show, the result of traded insults which wern't of the strength to make blood simmer let alone boil, is a clear example of how the 1996 situation of Tupac Shakur V Biggy Smalls could soon be repeated. It ultimatly means less people get hurt. But it's certainly a shame not to hear verbal attacks of witty tongued punch lines any longer. You could of course tap into a website's text battles section to hear the latest cuss trades amongst wannabe rappers.