"Who’s Nick Cannon?!"
So asked Dave Chappelle back in 2003, a time when rappers could wear turbans, Eminem was the biggest name in the game, and the word “twitter” referred to no more than the pleasing chatter of birdsong. Forever and a day later that name is on our lips once again, as the actor, comedian and, erm, rapper’s latest track “Used to look up to you” aims yet another round of disses at Eminem.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Nick Cannon was in the 2002 marching band flick Drumline. Not seen it? He was also in Goal II: Living the Dream, playing fictional footy player TJ Harper (that’s footy as in soccer btw — Cannon’s character plays for Arsenal. Yes, really.) If you missed that too, he’s also hosted comedy series Wild N’ Out since 2005, was married to and divorced from Mariah Carey, and released such albums as White People Party Music and The Miseducation of The Negro You Love to Hate. The latter features “Used to look up to you,” Cannon’s latest stunt in a masterclass of how not to beef in the modern era.
His first mistake was beefing Eminem. In case you’re unfamiliar, Eminem is the one rapper you should never beef with. As The Game once said, he a problem. He shreds MCs. He’s made a film about shredding MCs. He’s shredded himself (“Not Afraid”) and he’s even shredded his own mother (“Cleanin’ Out My Closet”). In Cannon’s defense, Eminem did start it: back in 2009 he joked about cutting up Cannon’s then wife Mariah — like the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer — on his track “Bagpipes from Baghdad.” (Eminem has always claimed that he and Mariah had a fling, something she denies.)
But then, after numerous Now Deleted Tweets and blog posts, Cannon released “I’m a Slick Rick,” often considered one of the worst diss tracks of all time. Apart from murdering both Slick Rick’s flow and the “Teach Me How to Dougie” instrumental, Cannon squeaks out bars like “I don’t know if I should hit him cos he’s feminine, Slick/ Excuse me Eminem, why you lying on your dick?”
Em never considered it worthy of a comeback, but over the subsequent decade, Cannon carried on with all the confidence of that girl on Family Feud who thought Popeye ate chicken. He offered to fight Eminem in the boxing ring. He invited Eminem to battle on Wild N’ Out. Taking a quick break from Eminem, he announced he was a better rapper than Drake, Lil Wayne, and André 3000 (who, incidentally, was the last rapper to pull off a turban, something Cannon has been trying to do for some time). But he was soon back on track, claiming Eminem had privately apologized to him for his original diss.
Throughout this period Em was largely quiet on the issue, until December of last year, when he rapped on Fat Joe and Dr. Dre’s “Lord Above”: “that other dude's whipped, that pussy got him neutered,” referencing Cannon and Mariah once again. Cannon took to his radio show Nick Cannon Mornings to declare the diss “not worthy of a response,” before responding with “The Invitation,” a track that makes “I’m a Slick Rick” seem decent.
Though it’s almost painful to write about, “The Invitation” lowlights include: an ill-judged attempt to diss Eminem for raising two adopted daughters; Cannon predicting “this might get a Grammy” while also referring to Eminem as “Elvis Pussly”; and the line “Eminem the perfect name, 'cause this nigga a nut” (from guest rapper Hitman Holla). Fellow guest Suge Knight takes the soggy biscuit though, for opening the track by pretending not to know Eminem’s name while on the phone from prison. For any kids out there, Suge Knight was once the boss of an important hip-hop record label. He’s now serving a 28-year sentence for manslaughter and rapidly fading from relevance.
Needless to say Em hasn’t dignified “The Invitation” with a response (apart from laughing along on Twitter with the rest of us). But he hasn’t needed to: Cannon has come back at himself, first with “Pray For Him,” then “Canceled: Invitation,” and finally “Used to look up to you.” None of them are worth a moment’s analysis, but 50 Cent considered them so bad that he contacted Eminem to personally reassure him a response was unnecessary.
It seems a uniquely 21st century phenomenon that a rapper can release four diss tracks without reply and still be unanimously given an L — unanimous for all except him, anyway. But of course, as grime fans have already discovered this year, the real winners in most modern rap beefs are the fans. Thanks to social media, the verbal conflict of two men is a thousand people’s entertainment. So here’s to Twitter, for making rap beefs great again. Eminem vs Wiley anyone?