Stephen Pennell attempts to explain diss tracks to the older generation.
A few years ago, before he became Birmingham’s best battle rapper, a young MC called Tydal emailed me and asked if I would give his ‘send’ a listen.
“Yeah… erm, send it to me,” I said, and being old and out of touch, quickly looked up the word in the urban dictionary:
In the Birmingham grime world, ‘sending’ for someone is when you create a diss track against someone. After receiving this they should reply with one back.”
By the time I’d read that, Tydal’s email had landed, and I pressed play on a string of rhyming insults aimed at one of his rap rivals. The cutting humour, vocal dexterity and rhythmic schemes were impressive, and the Brummie accent made me love it all the more.
I was intrigued enough to dig a little deeper into an internet rabbit hole where I found Birmingham rapper Devilman’s sends – or ‘diss tracks’ – to Skepta and Chip, which until quite recently were the best ones I’d heard. Devilman and Skepta were old rivals from legendary clashes on battle rap platform Lord Of The Mics, and there was no love lost as the Brummie fired off a barrage of bars (lyrics) at his London rival that were so hard they could have gone debt collecting.
Other sends that have gone down in rap history are Stormzy’s multiple exchanges with Wiley, and P Money and Dot Rotten’s acerbic altercations. I promise I’m trying to be objective when I say that Small Heath’s Jaykae absolutely bodied Dot Rotten in a DEFINITELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK reply to a send from the Lambeth rapper.
Meanwhile, a couple of young female friends, Hackney’s Paigey Cakey and Lady Leshurr, from the east end of Birmingham, were working hard to forge a future in the rap game, dropping tag-team freestyles on various net-based grime channels and getting their eloquent voices heard on pirate radio. But after a massive fall-out, Paigey deleted much of Leshurr’s music and social media in a treacherous attempt to ruin her former friend’s painstakingly-built brand.
It was a huge blow to her career, but Leshurr came back stronger than ever with her Queen’s Speech series, which clocked up about a hundred million views on YouTube, bought her mom a house and established her as one of the biggest names in the game. From her new-found position of strength, Lesh referred to Paigey’s betrayal in her melancholic track On The Road.
“My best friend tried to stab me,
My best friend hacked me,
Figures – she was from Hackney”.
Sensing a chance of some much-needed free publicity, Paigey was all over this like one of her cheap tracksuits, telling anybody who’d listen that she was the ‘friend’ referred to in the song, and that in fact they were much closer than that, if you know what I mean. She even wrote a song about it and couldn’t resist posting a snippet on Instagram, trying to make the most of her 15 seconds of fame. Big mistake. With obscene haste, Leshurr responded, having written the bars, shot the video and released this incendiary track within a whirlwind 24 hours:
The combat trousers are no coincidence – she was ready for war. She called her opponent a liar in bar one, and things didn’t get any better for poor Paigey from then on. In three incredibly insulting minutes, Leshurr threatened violence – “I’ll Billie Jean that gal, moonwalk on her”; compared their contrasting finances – “I’m worth half a mill, you’re change in the couch”; slated her music – “I heard your new tune I just paused it, eject it and fling it weh” (threw it away); touched on their sexual history – “I was never into you but I made you bend over”; gave careers advice – “get a 9 to 5 it’s not working”; and even brought up Paigey’s struggles with alopecia – “head’s like a football, boot it”.
There are hints there at what puts Leshurr in a class of her own at this – the fact that she can throw ungodly amounts of shade without uttering a single swear word, somehow inflicting equal amounts of pain and shame on her former friend with a rap in which the most offensive word used is ‘idiot’. And yet she is so ruthlessly efficient that as far as I know, Paigey didn’t even release her original send and, somewhat ironically after such a desperate bid for fame, has since faded into obscurity. RIP indeed.
Now this next bit may sound strange, but the events are sadly reminiscent of those surrounding the world middleweight title fight between the late Alan Minter and Marvellous Marvin Hagler back in 1980. In the name of traditional pre-fight hype, Minter indulged in some incredibly offensive trash talk which only served to inspire his opponent, who beat him up so badly that the referee called a halt in the third round. Alan Minter and Paigey Cakey – a pair of tragic figures with not much more in common than stupidly mouthing off about vastly-superior opponents who gained sweet revenge by ending their careers.
Like some boxers, some rappers never learn, and now another second-rate chancer, Ivorian Doll, has danced on thin ice by trying it on with Lesh. Ivorian sometimes abbreviates her name to IVD, and you can see exactly what the Brummie superstar thinks of that in the title of her reply. The Queen of the diss track is ready to go to war once more – as you can see from the combat trousers – armed with more punchlines than a comedy festival. Probably the best one – maybe even her best ever, concerns the timing of the release: “I coulda dropped this in October but I didn’t wanna kill her in Black History Month”, somehow showing her integrity but cussing her victim out at the same time. Instead she purposely released it to ruin IVD’s birthday… as well as her career.
(PS: If it’s all a bit fast for you, you can get the lyrics by clicking the description bar of the video. And turn up your hearing aid).