My name is Chase March and today we will be looking at an historical battle in hip-hop. This battle began in 1985 and several shots were fired back and forth until a truce was called twenty years later. The shots were records and the truce was an entire album. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It’s pretty much embedded into hip-hop culture that you need to represent who you are and where you’re from. So when MC Shan did that back in 1985, it was not an unusual thing. He wanted everyone to know that he was from the borough of Queensbridge with his record “The Bridge.” Little did he know at the time, this record would start a feud within hip-hop and launch “The Bridge Wars.”
And it all started with this one song, MC Shan’s “The Bridge”
That was “The Bridge” by MC Shan. In that song, he was doing what we all do in hip-hop culture. He was saying where he was from and representing his neighbourhood. A neighbourhood with a rich history of hip-hop. Queensbridge would go on to produce notable acts such as Nas, Mobb Deep, and Capone-N-Noreaga, among others.
So, this song started off innocently enough,
“You love to hear the story, again and again,
Of how it all got started way back when,
The monument is right in your face,
Sit and listen for a while to the name of the place,
I don’t think MC Shan was trying to infer that hip-hop began in Queensbridge with those lyrics. But I can see how they could have been interpreted that way but some people.
Today, it’s a well-known and undisputed fact that hip-hop began in The Bronx. But in 1985, rap music was just becoming popular. Records were starting to get played outside of New York. And while most people knew hip-hop started in New York, they might not have known about the differences among the five boroughs.
The two members of Boogie Down Productions wanted to set the record straight. Krs-One and Scott LaRock released a record quite similar to “The Bridge.” They called it “South Bronx” and instead of just representing their neighbourhood, they took a few shots at MC Shan.
Listen to this track and we’ll be right back with Know Your History: The Bridge Wars. This is BDP’s “South Bronx.”
That was “South Bronx” by Boogie Down Productions and for a lot of people, it was their first exposure to Krs-One. Of course, he would go on to have a very successful career with BDP, and later as a solo artist.
That was a classic battle record in every sense of the word. It wasn’t simply an affirmation of where they were from. It wasn’t a love record to The Bronx and the birthplace of hip-hop, but it is often read that way.
These lyrics show how Krs-One came out swinging at MC Shan,
“Party people in the place to be, KRS-One attacks,
Ya got dropped off MCA cause the rhymes you wrote was wack,
So you think that hip-hop had its start out in Queensbridge,
If you popped that junk up in the Bronx you might not live.”
Hip-hop heads from the Bronx are proud of hailing from the official birthplace of hip-hop, and while Krs-One threatened violence, fortunately, the Bridge Wars stayed completely on record, where they should have.
In 1985, MC Shan was rolling with the Juice Crew. This crew was comprised of rappers, producers, and DJs, most of them hailing from Queensbridge. The collective was formed by legendary producer Marley Marl and included radio DJ Mr. Magic, and rappers; Roxanne Shanté, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Masta Ace, Craig G, and later, Tragedy the Intelligent Hoodlum, and Grand Daddy I.U.
There was a history between Krs-One, Scott LaRock, and Mr. Magic that might have fueled this answer record. DJ Red Alert tells the story on “Beats, Rhymes, and Battles Part 1” on a track simply titled “Conversation 2.”
Red Alert: “[BDP], one time, was called 24/7 on an independent label. And when that record was put out, Mr. Magic at that time, went back to WBLS. He dissed the record. As he dissed the record, Scott LaRock and a guy by the name of Kris, who was Krs-One. So, when they heard that record “The Bridge” that represent for Marley and for Magic, they said, ‘We gonna answer back for that.’
Bud: “So it was ulterior then.”
DJ Red Alert: “No question, son.”
You know what? It doesn’t matter what the motives were behind this answer record. “South Bronx” was a dope jam that called attention to the birthplace of hip-hop.
Of course, the Juice Crew needed to respond to this personal attack and did so with the track MC Shan’s track “Kill That Noise.”
That was “Kill That Noise” by MC Shan. It was from the album “Down By Law,” which was released in 1987. Although, it was called “Kill That Noise,” it really didn’t kill anything. The Bridge Wars were far from over.
In a spoken word break in that song, Marley Marl says, “Yo Shan! I didn’t hear you say hip hop started in the Bridge on your record?”
MC Shan responds truthfully, “I didn’t. They wanted to get on the bandwagon.”
Truth is, the answer record had already been established with The Roxanne Wars just a year prior to The Bridge Wars starting. We covered that in the last episode of Know Your History. If you missed it, go to chasemarch.com to download it for free.
Battles had been common in hip-hop well before the answer record took hold in 1984. The Bridge Wars started with a single record released in 1985 and two years later the war raged on. In fact, it would carry on for decades. And to this day, some people still take sides.
Music is timeless and tracks like this next one continue to blast out of car speakers, iPods headphones, and college mix shows such as this one. This is “The Bridge is Over” by Boogie Down Productions. I’m Chase March for DOPEfm and we’ll be right back with our extensive coverage of one of hip-hop’s biggest battles, The Bridge Wars.
We’re back here on Know Your History. We’ve been exploring The Bridge Wars in this episode and we just heard BDP’s “The Bridge is Over.”
In the lyrics to that song, Krs-One acknowledges the contributions the other boroughs of New York have made to hip-hop culture. He says,
“Manhattan keeps on making it.
Brooklyn keeps on taking it.
Bronx keeps creating it,
And Queens keeps on faking it.”
At this time in hip-hop history, Staten Island hadn’t really made a mark on the music and that is the only reason the fifth borough of New York is absent from that verse. It’s interesting to see how he gives credit to the other areas of New York but tears down an entire borough.
This wasn’t about Queensbridge. It wasn’t simply a neighbourhood battle or a bit of a turf war. It was bout beef between two crews, Boogie Down Productions and the Juice Crew.
There were several other records made including Roxanne Shanté’s “Have A Nice Day,” Craig G’s “Duck Alert,” Rockwell Noel & The Poet, “Beat You Down” and “Taking U Out,” BDP’s “Still No. 1, MC Mitchski’s “Brooklyn Blew Up The Bridge,” and MC Shan’s “Juice Crew Law”
The final squashing of these beef didn’t happen for decades. Remember that it started with one record back in 1985 and it grew from there with a number of answer records.
Lines continued to be thrown back and forth on record all the way up to 2001 when MC Shan appeared on the compilation album QB’s Finest with these lines,
“Hip hop was set out in the dark
The Bridge was never over, we left our mark.”
History shows us that BDP came out on top. All three of their responses were huge records and they went on to have a great career that continued with Krs-One’s solo work. No member of the Juice Crew has had the level of success that Krs-One has had.
At least Krs-One didn’t just rub it in. He finally got together with Marley Marl to record a project in 2007. Their album “Hip-Hop Lives” said a lot before anyone even heard it. But there is a record on there that kind of explains the whole situation. This is “Rising to the Top” and listen to the story Krs-One recounts.
That track put an end to The Bridge Wars. It’s called “Rising to the Top” and it’s from Krs-One and Marley Marl’s album “Hip-Hop Lives.”
Krs-One explains the beef like this in those lyrics,
“Answer records were big then;
after Shante did it, everyone was trying to spit them
So we spit on…
To tell you the truth, it was the only way a MC could get on
We answered MC Shan’s “Queensbridge”;
A dope jam about where he was from and where he lived;
But in the Bronx there was these kids
KRS, Scott La Rock tryin’ to live…”
Krs-One admits that he owes his success in part to MC Shan and Marley Marl.
It’s hard to say whether there would have been room for the Juice Crew and BDP to both be successful artists. Perhaps they would have both strived. Who knows?
Does healthy competition even exist in hip-hop. We have winners and we have losers. Quite often the losers fade away into obscurity, remaining famous for the one record and that’s about it. Those MCs who find themselves on the losing side of popular opinion, those who don’t come correct with their response so that it resonates with the hip-hop audience, become a footnote in history.
When it comes to the battle of words and putting them down on a record, I think it is like a sport. We can keep score and appreciate the art behind both sides. I hate when rap battles spill over into real life and become violent. This should never happen. We should all strive to show our best sportsmanship. Keep the battles on records and focus on the art behind all of it.
So that’s my take on The Bridge Wars. Remember you can go to chasemarch.com to read the transcript and download the twenty other episodes in the archives. And don’t forget to go to dopefm.ca for great mixsets, free podcasts and downloads as well. You can also tune us in live each and every Saturday night on 93.3 on your fm dial in Hamilton, Ontario or worldwide at cfmu.mcmaster.ca.
Thanks for listening! This has been Chase March and you better know your history!