“But come to find out, these niggas don’t even write they shit/Hear some new style bubblin’ up, then they bite this shit” said the 31 year old MC rapping with a Joey Bada$$ flow over a Joey Bad$$ beat from his 2012 mix tape 1999. Skipping past his lacking self-awareness and general hypocrisy, Jermaine Cole brings up an interesting topic: biting in the internet age.
Originality is the hidden 6th pillar of Hip-Hop. It’s been valued since the dawn of the genre. To no surprise, riding someone else’s coattails has historically generated extreme disdain. In rap, there’s a word for this action: biting. Biting (aside from being the most surprisingly absent word from Big L’s classic Ebonics) is generally defined as the act of robbing, stealing, or appropriating a style that you had no hand in creating. Like love and hate, it’s a thin line between biting and homage. Are you just taking from artist x, or are you building on what he/she started? Is that line stolen, or a shout out? Many a MC have found themselves at the wrong end of claims of “rap plagiarism”. From the destruction of reputations to the ruining of careers, this accusation had the potential to be deadly.
Thinking in the abstract isn’t always as helpful as seeing a functioning example. Jay Z is the perfect candidate for such examination, as he has found himself on both sides of the biting coin during his rap career. Here’s a tale you’ve probably never heard. Scene: It’s the early 2000s and a series of new “Hov” freestyles have debuted on various radio stations and mixtapes. The bars are fire and you wonder if they are going to be included on his next album. Well come to find out, they wouldn’t because this was no Shawn Carter, but instead up and coming rapper Angelous. Angelous’ career didn’t fare too well following that revelation. Indeed, the fact that this is the first time you the reader have heard of Angelous should give you some insight on his subsequent success (Or lack thereof).
Around this same time, Jay had begun feuding with former Rocafella artist Cam’ron. In his diss track entitled Biter Not a Writer Cam sets out to expose Jigga for stealing a lengthy number of lines from rappers Slick Rick and The Notorious BIG. This accusation has followed and plagued Jay, who to many is the greatest rapper of all time, since. Biting was to rap, as steroids were to baseball: damaging, even to legends.
Since the early 2000’s, the power behind such an accusation has lessened significantly. In a culture based on originality, something has changed. Kanye West inviting all recent hitmakers and style innovators to studio sessions in Hawaii to develop songs with their catalogue as the framework became the standard of excellence. Suddenly, the grand, all encompassing project had become more than welcomed; it had become celebrated. This ripple effect can be seen through the recent album developments of Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book and Travis Scott’s Rodeo, which employed similar tactics to Mr. West’s.
The nail in the coffin signifying the death “biting” came with Desiigner. Signed to G.O.O.D Music, Desiigner made a name for himself as the Future sound-alike featured on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Even after the revelation that he was in fact not Future, his career trajectory always pointed upward. With the importance of originality trending more and more downward, the success of Desiigner should be no surprise. While artists of the past like Angelous, Guerrilla Black, hell even Shyne have had shortened careers due to their voice and delivery being identical to already proven rappers, Desiigner thrives while eating off of Future’s sound. Truly a tale of two eras. Fans have decided that biting doesn’t have any merit as criticism. And so it doesn’t.
Tracing back to the original bars, Jermaine Cole’s thoughts on modern biting once again demonstrate just how truly out of touch he is. While his musical landscape changed, Jermaine remained self absorbed to the point that he failed to see the world spinning around him. He still thinks that fans care about originality, or biting. He’s wrong. Artists like Desiigner are the future. And that should scare you.
My good friend Will Hansberry wrote this great article! Follow him on Twitter: @Dabsberry and add him on SnapChat: @willhanz98.
Look out for a new Album Review coming out later this week on Migos’ upcoming and anticipated album Culture. Benjy signing out!