The Bridge Wars

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The Bridge Wars was a hip hop rivalry during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s, that arose from a dispute over the true birthplace of hip hop music and retaliation over the rejecting of a record for airplay.[1] The Bridge Wars originally involved The South Bronx's Boogie Down Productions, led by KRS-One, and Marley Marl's Juice Crew, hailing from Queensbridge. KRS-One and Marley Marl have since officially retired the feud, with the release of their collaborative 2007 album Hip-Hop Lives.

The war begins[edit]

The feud began with Queensbridge-based producer Marley Marl & MC Shan's track "The Bridge" in late 1985. The track recited the praises of their home borough and some of its earlier rap crews, and was taken to imply that Queensbridge was where hip hop began, even though it doesn't actually say that. The lyrics that apparently raised the issue were:

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,
The Bridge,
Queensbridge

Though MC Shan states Queensbridge is where his crew got started, and his birthplace, he has stated that he never meant the song to say that Queensbridge is the birthplace of Hip Hop at all, "everyone knows that hip hop was started in the Bronx." Statements can be found in the 2003 documentary Beef, which features the original battle footage.[1]

1986: response[edit]

In response, South Bronx based KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions released the track South Bronx, which was similar in terms of content to Shan and Marl's track except singing the praises of the South Bronx rather than Queensbridge, and made the argument for it being the real birthplace of hip hop. The song first premiered at a concert where MC Shan had just performed "The Bridge". The track directly attacks MC Shan with lyrics like:

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

Before "The Bridge" was released, MC Shan was signed to MCA Records, however he left the label after releasing an almost unheard single entitled "Feed the World". Another line by KRS directly attacking Shan was:

Show all the people in the place that you are wack,
Instead of trying take out LL, you need to take your homeboys off the crack

This referred to the fact that MC Shan had attacked LL Cool J on the A side of "The Bridge" with a song called "Beat Biter", whereby Shan claimed that LL Cool J had stolen beats from Marley Marl. LL Cool J never directly responded to this claim and the impending battle between Shan and BDP drew the attention away from it. Marley Marl later produced most of LL's Mama Said Knock You Out album. Slate magazine described it thus: "In 1986, it was a beef that launched the star of KRS-One, when his withering attacks on MC Shan effectively ended his rival's career."[2]

The official story at the time was that KRS-One was defending the reputation of the South Bronx in response to MC Shan and Marley Marl claiming that hip hop started out in Queensbridge. If the first few lines of "The Bridge" are omitted, a case can be made for this interpretation. However, KRS-One has since gone on record in an interview with MTV, saying that his real motivation was the fact that a demo tape he had made was rejected by Magic, and he was angry. He retaliated by dissing the Juice Crew, of which Magic was a member.[citation needed]

DJ Red Alert also gives a similar version of this story on the CD "Beats, Rhymes And battles Part I". In dialog on that CD (track 5), he states that Magic dissed a track by "24/7" which was a group including Scott La Rock and KRS-One. When they heard "The Bridge", they decided to diss back, and this is why "The South Bronx" was released.

1987: escalation[edit]

The Juice Crew soon responded with the track "Kill That Noise" on Shan's album Down by Law which took various shots at KRS-One and mocked his taking offense in the first place. He even denies saying hip hop started in Queens, and suggests BDP is just trying to jump on their bandwagon.

In a more recent interview on THE FOUNDATION (Jayquan), Shan defended and explained the misunderstood line:

JQ : Did you ever say in any song, interview or anywhere that Hip Hop started in Queens ?
Shan : I only said HOW it started in QUEENSBRIDGE, not (all) over the world. The new Source magazine says I still stand on the fact that Hip Hop started in Queens - writers get it twisted. The song the Bridge starts off saying M.C. Shan & Marley Marl in the house tonight - they wanna tell you a story about where THEY come from.[3]

But KRS continued to play upon the "response to the claim that hip hop started in Queens" premise with his next response, "The Bridge Is Over", featuring lyrics such as:

What's the matter with your MC, Marley Marl?
Don't you know that he's out of touch?
What's the matter with your DJ, MC Shan?
On the wheels of steel Marley sucks
You better change what's coming out your speaker
You're better off talking 'bout your wack Puma sneaker
Cause Bronx created hip-hop, Queens will only get dropped
Still tellin' lies to me

Most of KRS's fire was directed specifically at Marley Marl and MC Shan, although he occasionally exchanged insults with other Juice Crew members such as Mr. Magic and Roxanne Shante, who had earlier been at the center of the Roxanne Wars, which were a predecessor to this battle. Shante, mentioned in a very vulgar reference in "the Bridge Is Over", released a rap titled "Have A Nice Day", ghostwritten by Juice Crew colleague Big Daddy Kane (who was not otherwise personally involved in the battle), in which she took a shot at Boogie Down Productions with the line:

KRS One, you should go on vacation,
with a name sounding like a wack radio station.
and MC Scott La Rock, you should be ashamed,
when T La Rock said 'it's yours', he didn't mean his name

As she also demanded that BDP stood for Broken Down Punks.

Mr. Magic himself was the actual cause of the whole war in the first place, as KRS and Scott La Rock had earlier approached him with a 12" single they had recorded entitled "Success is the Word", (under the group name "12:41"). Magic dismissed it as "wack", and then, after forming BDP, they decided to take it out on Mr. Magic and Marley Marl's popular "Juice Crew", using the whole "Queens versus Bronx" issue as a pretense.

Shan continues recounting in the FOUNDATION interview:

Mr. Magic dissed BDP and said some stuff about their record on the radio, and he [KRS] made me the target. I wasn't gonna keep ridin' that Kris/Shan thing...people kept sayin "why aren't you answering back"? I'm like why?...I gave him a career already. [4]

After "Kill That Noise", Shan himself became more passive in the battle, as the above statement indicated. But meanwhile, Two other Queensbridge residents, Rockwell Noel & Poet, joined in the battle, resulting from the inferior responses from MC Shan and the Juice Crew offering the strongest attack against BDP. Their first single was entitled "Beat You Down", in which he reiterates that no one actually said that hip hop started in the Bridge, but then points out that the area was nevertheless very prominent in the early days of rap, and even had superior sound equipment, causing it to surpass the Bronx as the leader of hip hop.

BDP is trying to dis, we know that they're on it
Every time we make a record, they get disappointed
Nobody said hip hop started out in the Bridge;
but now you've dissed all of Queens, so we know how you live
You try to get paid talkin bout my town;
when I battle you punk, I'mo beat - you - DOWN
How could you say the Bridge is over? We've just begun;
you soft sucker MC, KRS-1
Can you believe it, party people? He raps like a rasta!
Boogie Down Productions are full of imposters;
They say things, that are not true
Now the Poet and Noel will break it down to you;
Bronx started hip hop, but couldn't maintain it;
now they're gettin jealous 'cause Queens has made it:
THAT's why those suckers are trying to dis;
'cause we're getting paid, and they're getting pissed!

The line "Rap like a rasta" was aimed at the way "The Bridge Is Over" was recorded, with a reggae flavor, in a Jamaican accent. The track had been one of the first blendings of rap with reggae.

Ending and aftermath[edit]

In 1987, attempting to calm down an unrelated domestic dispute involving BDP colleague D-Nice, BDP's DJ Scott La Rock was shot dead. Even after La Rock's death, the feud still continued.

MC Shan's song "Juice Crew Law" contained several anonymous shots at KRS. At the same time, other rappers joined in making songs dissing Queensbridge, such as Cool C's "Juice Crew Dis" which mocked "Juice Crew Law" and attacks both Shan and Shanté, and MitchSki's "Brooklyn Blew Up the Bridge, South Bronx Helped us out", which made fun of Shan's on-stage appearances. Another rapper named Butchy B stepped in for Queensbridge, with "Go Magic", which was a promotional for Mr. Magic's WBLS radio show that begins

I heard about you suckers with your Juice Crew Dis,
you went and made a record that the people go and miss"

and adds

all you suckers with the lipstick need to get a dress;
Looking like a faggot, jocking Mr. Magic,
acting like a parasite, leach or maggot...

The lipstick reference was aimed at the rival station WRKS-FM ("Kiss-FM"), which used a pair of lips as its logo. He followed up with "Beat Down KRS", in which he among other things, mocks the "didadidadiday" chant of "The Bridge is Over". KRS took minutes to respond. He answered in 1987 on his featured appearance on "Moshitup" with Just-Ice, from the album "Kool & Deadly" . There, he states

They run they run they run they run they run their lyrics through
But when they finish rhymin you have not heard nuttin new
So this one dedicated to the one that run their rhyme-a
Time after time after time after time
I know what you will say before you jump up on the stage
But make sure you don't say "Di-di-di-dah-di-di-di-day"
Or I'll have to look for you and beat you all up
So when you see me in the street just keep your mouth shut

In 1988 DJ Rockwell Noel and the Poet followed up with Taking U Out, which was even stronger than "Beat You Down", and harshly attacked both KRS's then-wife, Ms. Melodie, and rival radio station WRKS's DJ Red Alert, who was on BDP's side of the battle. KRS responded with "Still Number 1, the Numero Uno Mix", where he calls Poet "soft" and uncreative, and accuses him of "sounding like Kane".

Ka-Re-eSe Uno es fresco (Spanish for: KRS is fresh.)
Poet is soft ya know
Do not speak when grown people are speaking
Don't interrupt the class when I'm teaching
Turn your text-books now to BDP
And see
"Criminal Minded" and "By All Means Necessary"
I'm sort of like a bounty hunter,
I search for the best and crush the mother________.

He concludes the song with the lyrics:

Your first mistake was to answer back
to the undefeated master of beating suckers silly
No, I'm not from Philly
My name isn't Magic, Poet, or Billy
It's KRS, especially if it doesn't take you too long
to find out where I shift
And shifted back
To simply say you're wack
Weak, soft and really never posed a threat
In fact, I haven't heard a decent lyric from you yet
I'll bet creativity is something hard to get
As someone does your music and lyrics you slept
So step
Because obviously you haven't heard about my rep
I am undefeated, allow me to go more in depth
Boy you know - I'm still number one ("one" echos)

Although conspicuously absent from this counterattack was any rebuttal to Poet's attack on his wife.

Rockwell Noel & the Poet never seemed to respond to this. Some have suggested that their 1989 single "Massacre" may have been a 'between the lines' response [5], with Poet making anoynymous references like "sucker MC's try to test me...".

In 1988, BDP and KRS-One fuels their feud with the juice crew again with "My Philosophy".

you walk down the street and get jumped
You got to have style, and learn to be original
and everybody's gonna wanna diss you
like me, we stood up for the South Bronx
and every sucka mc had a response
You think we care? I know that they are on the tip
my posse from the Bronx is thick
and we're real live, we walk correctly
a lot of suckas would like to forget me
but they can't, cause like a champ
I have got a record of knocking out the frauds in a second
on the mic, I believe that you should get loose
I haven't come to tell you I have juice

On Shan's album Play it Again, Shan, the track "Time For Us To Defend Ourselves" contains a response to "My Philosophy".

Knowledge ain't nothin but a book on your shelf
With justice in mind think deep to yourself

In 1990, Boogie Down Productions released the concept album Edutainment. It has been praised by critics for its insightfulness and hailed as BDP's most experimental album. KRS-One took on such topics as politics, racism, self-identity, slavery, black on black violence, police brutality & corruption and even the meat industry. But, even though KRS-One covered a range of subjects, he couldn't resist a Juice Crew dis. On the second track "Blackman In Effect" he states:

This is the language of the people ready to hear the truth
I've got no juice, 'cause I'm not getting juiced
To have juice means you kiss and lick a lot of booty
To have respect means you simply know or knew me
Heard what I had to say and felt as though you'd say that too
I'm not down with a juice-crew
But anyway I say today the message I create is great
I don't preach hate, I simply get the record straight

Legacy[edit]

During the nineties, the beef was not forgotten by fans or the participants, but rather fondly remembered as a classic hip hop rivalry. It has since been referenced in hip hop lyrics by the likes of Cormega, Das EFX, Nas, Cunninlynguists, Big Punisher, Supernatural, Chino XL, Mars ILL, and 2Pac. MC Shan and KRS-One themselves acknowledged the rivalry's important place in hip hop history when they appeared together in a commercial for the Sprite soft drink in the mid-nineties, in which they exchanged battle rhymes inside a boxing ring. However, the respective fortunes of the pair in the nineties were very different; MC Shan, widely seen by hip hop listeners as the loser of the conflict (should there have been one), never really recovered his reputation and later effectively retired, while KRS forged out a successful solo career and remained an important figure in hip hop.

Meanwhile, Poet had gone on, eventually rechristening himself as "Blaq Poet", later went on to be a part of the groups PHD (Poet + DJ Hot Day), and Screwball; and some of the records released over the years, took numerous pot shots at KRS.

In particular, Screwball's "The Bio" and "You Love To Hear The Stories" (a followup to the original "The Bridge", and which featured MC Shan) recounted the story of him entering the battle, and being basically ignored, and that it thankfully never escalated into physical violence; and the latter pointed to the Nas album Illmatic (1994) as proof that "the Bridge is still live". Key lines from both:

Back when I first laced the wax with rhymes
It was eighty sa'en, I was a crazy sa'en
Niggas tried to diss the Bridge I came bustin'
Even quoted Doug E Fresh sayin we was nothin'
You don't believe that, you know I called his bluffin'
Made 'em go buy a click and put 'em on patrol
You know P-O-E-T stayed in war mode
My gats stayed unlocked ready to unload
Loungin' waitin for the drama to unfold
But luckily we never had to go there

Y'all niggas love to hear the stories again and again
Of how it all got started way back then
See it was Marly, MC Shan, the Juice Crew
Queensbridge, hip-hop land, those niggas blew (up)
Nobody said it started there
But some playa hater tried to end a party there
Niggas didn't care they burned it, put it in the air

In 2001, on the compilation QB's Finest (a showcase of Queensbridge hip hop artists), MC Shan took one last parting shot at KRS-One with the comment:

Hip hop was set out in the dark
The Bridge was never Over, we left our mark

KRS-One and Marley Marl have since officially retired the feud, with the release of their collaborative 2007 album, Hip-Hop Lives. The album features two tracks further exemplifying the end of the feud: "The Victory" (produced by DJ Premier) which sees KRS on the same track as Blaq Poet, and "Rising" (as in "Rising To the Top"), in which KRS recounts the whole story from his perspective (a struggling former group home resident trying to enter the business in a period when "answer records" were popular, sparked off by Shante's "Roxanne's Revenge"). You can see this (and the changed attitude towards the former rivals) in the line:

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...

He concludes the track acknowledging his indebtedness to Shan and Marley. He also speaks well of them on other tracks in the album, such as "House of Hits". KRS had also contributed a verse to the Symphony 2000 remake of the Marley Marl classic in 1999.

Nas revisited "The Bridge" on his 2012 album Life is Good by sampling it for the hook in his track, "Back When," which focuses on the past of hip-hop.

Relevant records[edit]

The following is a chronological list of the records that can be considered to be part of The Bridge Wars:

MC Shan - "The Bridge"

Boogie Down Productions - "South Bronx"

MC Shan - "Kill That Noise"

Boogie Down Productions - "The Bridge Is Over"

Craig G - "Duck Alert"

Roxanne Shanté - "Have A Nice Day"

Rockwell Noel & The Poet - "Beat You Down" and "Taking U Out"

Boogie Down Productions - "Still No. 1 (Numero Uno mix)"

MC Mitchski - "Brooklyn Blew Up The Bridge" (Defending BDP)

MC Shan - "Juice Crew Law"

Cool C - "Juice Crew Diss"

MC Butchy B - "Go Magic" and "Beat Down KRS"

Boogie Down Productions - "Black Man In Effect"

Queensbridge Records - "Bridge Wars"

References[edit]