“Now hold on, before I get to the real hip-hop shit of the day, because I see the real hip-hop heads sprinkled in here, I see ’em. I know there’s some chicks here waiting to sing ‘Starships’ later, I’m not talking to y’all right now, fuck that bullshit. I’m here to talk about real hip-hop shit. People here to see A$AP Rocky today. People here to see ScHoolboy Q on this stage. That’s that shit I represent.”
That’s what Hot 97 on-air personality Peter Rosenberg said on the smaller stage at Summer Jam yesterday afternoon that caused Nicki Minaj to cancel her performance. Or, caused Lil Wayne to tell Nicki Minaj to cancel her performance. It takes a mix of bravery and self-loathing to work for Hot 97 and get self-righteous about “real hip-hop.” And it takes a mix of badass-ness and clueless self-absorption to cancel a performance because a DJ said some not-so-nice things about you. This beef represents the two most noxious mindsets in hip-hop right now: The haphazard rap purist with a rolling sense of authenticity, and the entitled superstar beyond reproach because of a culture of co-signs and back-patting.
Here’s the thing about Rosenberg’s straw man (straw song?) “Starships.” It doesn’t even get much play on Hot 97. I actually can’t recall ever hearing the EDM rap hit on the station. It certainly isn’t in their Top 30. Not to mention, Peter Rosenberg does his own kind of mainstream vs. underground balancing act. He is one of the hosts of Hot 97’s morning drive show The Cipha Sounds & Rosenberg Show and he also hosts MTV’s brand new, very shticky Hip-Hop Squares. At the same time, he’s the moderator on Noisemakers, a brilliant long-form interview series (kind of like Inside the Actors Studio for rappers and rap nerds), and on Sunday nights, on the same station where he does urban morning-zoo radio, he hosts Real Late With Rosenberg, an uncompromising, no-frills underground rap mix show.
Like Minaj precariously balancing EDM and street rap, Rosenberg’s personality is big and confident enough to occupy two, often-sparring worlds. Somewhere, some underground hip-hop head who remembers back when Rosenberg was a college radio DJ doing silly rap-parody videos like “Throw Some Cheese On It” is now all mad that he does the morning show on a big dumb rap station and a game show for an evil corporate entity. Fuck that Cipha Sounds & Rosenberg bullshit, we want that real Real Late With Rosenberg radio!
Later in the evening during Summer Jam, Funkmaster Flex, also of Hot 97, while spinning Rihanna and Chris Brown’s “Cake,” let loose one of his legendary Flex rants, presumably aimed at Nicki: “I ain’t fuckin’ with commercial rappers anymore, if you lost the fuckin’ streets, that’s your fault… I’m dedicated to tearing you down.” Yes, Funkmaster Flex screamed about commercial music while “Cake,” probably the most craven and opportunistic duet ever, played from his Serato. Judging by the video, the crowd did not care what Flex had to say. The looks on their faces seemed to ask, “Why is some crazy man yelling over my favorite jam?”
This is rap’s “real vs. commercial” culture war in 2012. A loudmouthed morning man and a DJ who plays radio singles before all the other stations, yet still pretends that he “breaks records,” fighting it out with a female pop and rap dynamo, maybe even artist of a generation, who couldn’t care less about being “real.” Meanwhile, the fans don’t care one way or another about this beef, yet it’s their Sunday evening that turned into a disappointment.