“The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.”

A 14th-century poet named John Lyly made this statement over 400 years ago.  Never in his wildest dreams would he have expected these sage words to eclipse generations and culture, to finds themselves in the bedrock of rap music. When it comes down to rhyming… battling… lyrical warfare… there is no such thing as fair play.

At least that is what many of the most elite battlers believe…     whether we talking commercial industry or underground battle rap movement. 

This sport (or verbal exchange of combat) not only deals with bars but often times personal shots. Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee, Roxanne Shanté and UTFO or LL Cool J (and anyone that even acted like they wanted to get it) are great starting points to see customized lyricism aimed at your opponent can do when it unfolds. And while we can trace over the 45 years of Hip-Hop and see the roots of this, this form of “get at ‘em” is still in full effect.

Just this year alone, Drake and Pusha-T went at it.

The two of them produced not just piercing personal tracks that stung and offended, but made sure everyone really knows that the beef was real. Better still, the songs actually were bangers that people want to hear and party to.  Pusha-T’s album, Daytona, lead off with a song called “Infrared” that blazed Drake for having a ghostwriter. Drake immediately responded with “Duppy Freestyle.” Sooner than anyone could memorize the hook and it could turn into a “Back To Back,” Pusha-T hit us with the shut down winning blow entitled, “The Story of Adidon.” What made “Adidon” so power-packed? The track exposed Drake as a father and kind of made him look like a sambo.

Drake addressed “The Story of Adidon” on Lebron James’ new series on HBO The Shop.  He said,

“People love to say, like rap purists and people who just love confrontation, they love to say, ‘Aye there’s no rules in this shit.’ But there are fucking rules in this shit,” he said. “And I’m gonna tell you something: It’s like, I knew something was gonna come up about my kid. They had to add the deadbeat thing to make it more appealing, which is fine. I understand that. Even that, I was like, OK. The mom and dad thing, whatever. You don’t even know my family. But I’mma tell you, wishing death on my friend that has MS… I study rap battles for a living. Now when you mention defenseless people who are sick in the hospital, that passed away, that really sent me to a place where I just believed then, and believe now, that there’s just a price that you have to pay for that. It’s over. You’re gonna get… someone’s gonna fucking punch you in the fucking face. The shit’s done, the event’s over. I wanted to do other things. I didn’t wanna further your reputation or your career by rapping back at you and having this exchange. And that was it for me.”

When asked by Lebron James about the battle and why he chose not to continue the war, Drake replied

“This is not even a place that I necessarily want to go. And to all the people who enjoy that, I tip my hat to you… Back against the wall. I either go all the way filthy or I fall back and I have this sort of chink in my armor for the rest of time to a rap purist. Which is fine, I can live with that. I would much rather live with that than the things that I was about to… the research I did, the things that I was gonna say, and the places that I was gonna go.”

That sounds good, Drizzy. As a rap god, you are on a level where you can choose to respond or not.  But can you say that there are rules about battling? Styles P says “Nah, B.”

Radio host Ebro read a statement that Styles wrote on Instagram, “Nothing is wrong with not engaging in actual warfare. It is actually the wisest thing to do. But never engage or expect rules. That’s with rap or the street.”

On Hot97’s Ebro hit show, Ebro In The Morning, SP broke down what he meant. “

You can’t expect rules in any type of warfare, not just rap… ain’t no rules. You have to go into it thinking that anything can happen. That’s why your best bet is to not engage.”

He further said, “We are beginning to forget a lot of rules in this culture because of stars.”

He is absolutely right. Hollywood’s influence (and perhaps even the ability to hide behind a social media platform) has put a battery in many a rapper’s backs. Saying whatever to get the W in one of those rules.

Momma used to say, “If you don’t like the heat, stay out the damn kitchen!”

Styles P and Dave East were on the show to promote their new album, Beloved.  All the parties in the room agreed that there is no-holds-barred when it comes to battling on wax –especially now when there are no censors on the prowl like back in the day— but Drake should have known better since he does watch battle rap.

Ebro reminded us that maybe Drake since he does follow battle rap, should have reflected on what really goes down when battling goes too far.  He said, “There is beef and then there is battle rap. Some people ain’t good in that space. Drake watches The UFC things [editor’s note: Ebro means URL] and there have been people shout to Math Hoffa (my boy), but he been up there a couple of times and he thought they crossed him too close. He took off on people.”

Dave East interjected, “But that’s that world. In the industry, you say you will do that. But if you see people…”

Math Hoffa, was not on the show but still weighed in, said

“Battle rap has no boundaries as far as content written against your opponent but when it comes to respect, I try to stay within the realms of my morality. I’m not gonna talk about someone’s dead homies or children. Some battlers cross these boundaries with no remorse… Depending on who you are in battle rap anything can be brought up, and you have to be prepared for it. One of my latest battles someone brought out and old fling. I had to be prepared to battle her too. Battle rap is exciting because it unpredictable and spontaneous at times but all in all its entertainment and should remain non-violent.”

Styles continued to spit knowledge.

“Pusha-T dropped an album. And then he [Drake] dropped the diss, the next day and mentioned his wife. He could have not done a record and straight up punched Drake in the face when he seen him because that’s a violation… and then you asking him to follow a guideline. That’s out of the question and something else he is asking is for him [Pusha T] to not follow tradition.”

Is it really tradition?

Absolutely, but it depends on which arena you are in to determine perimeters. Female battle rappers tend to be the most vulgar. In the tradition of Roxanne Shanté, these ladies go for the jugular. Queen of The Ring battler, 40B.A.R.R.S. concedes that she wishes everyone respected the way she battles and throws darts. “My only rule is keep the personal sh*t in a professional setting. You can say what you like in a battle, but outside of the ring is a different story.”

But Rare Breed Entertainment favorite, Qleen Paper buckles down and says, “Ain’t no rules in no type of beef or war. War is War. You win, how you win.”  URL champion Tay Roc also agreed, “Battle rap is no place for the weak hearted and rules go out the door when it comes down to defeating your opponent.”

But there are rules. League owner Eric Beasley (URL) understands how these boundaries have to be set up early on during negotiations, with the threat of financial reprimand as the ultimate insurer that no one violates. Beasley says, “Generally, artists let us know what is off limits for them. We do whatever we can to make sure that both parties have an opportunity to put everything on the table. We set conference calls up with our staff and both competitors to express their concerns and boundaries, and we move forward from there. However, if something offensive is said that was not discussed, then we just hope that the artists are professional enough to not take it from the battle rap stage to a physical confrontation.”

Physical confrontation does happen. Think about Math Hoffa, who years prior had a reputation of wilding on opponents that slick talked. Earlier this year another vet, Goodz Da Animal popped off on his opponent for what he asserts was a wisecrack about his daughter.  There really is a thin line that one walks on when battling. And fights in the battle world can not only cost money to the artists, but to the league owners and limit future opportunities for the emerging industry. It seems despite what the artists say, on a certain level, rules have to be set up.

Perhaps Drake is right. New Jersey’s Shotgun Suge is adamant, “There should never be rules about rap beef or battles. If it were rules, I would break them anyway.”