Plagiarism is frowned upon in any art form, from painting to the written word. In hip-hop culture, a society known for inventing slang terms, plagiarizing is commonly known as ‘biting'; and there’s not much worse than an unoriginal ‘biter’, especially when it comes to emceeing.
Throughout the history of the art of rapping, emcees have been compared to each other, for better or for worse. Some are compared in competitive ways because they are both great at what they do, but some are compared because they just sound so damn similar to each other. There have been quite a few instances of this over the 30-plus-year lifespan of hip-hop, so let’s take a look at some of the accused biters to determine if they’re guilty or innocent…
Defendant: Dana Dane
Accused of biting: Slick Rick
In the late 80’s, arguably the best storyteller in hip-hop, a one-eyed rapper with an English accent named Slick Rick, came along and made a huge impact on the game. With such an original style came inevitable copycats; most notably Dana Dane, another rapper who specialized in storytelling and rapped with an English accent, which was quite confusing since, unlike Ricky D, Dane was born in Brooklyn, not the UK. Despite dropping his debut album a year before Rick dropped his, the Slick one had still been around before, dropping hit singles with beatboxing legend Doug E. Fresh, and his influence is all over Dane’s catalog. Only one of these emcees has gone down as a legend (hint: it’s not the guy with both eyes).
Defendant: Action Bronson
Accused of biting: Ghostface Killah
This is probably the most known case of alleged biting in recent years. Albanian Queens native Action Bronson has taken the rap game by storm over the past couple years, creating a buzz even bigger than his physical frame with his charismatic personality and hilarious, but still skillful rhyming. However, from the gate, many hip-hop heads have accused Bronson of biting Wu-Tang Clan legend Ghostface Killah, as their high pitched voices are undeniably similar. Also, Bronson has a tendency to write about off kilter, bizarre topics, much like Ghostface is known to do.
The allegations eventually turned into beef, as Bronson, tired of the comparisons, insinuated that Ghost has fallen off in an interview, and Ghost responded with a hysterical homemade video threatening him. While Bronson never should have said what he said, one must admit he can’t help his natural vocal tone; it’s not as if he fakes his “rap voice” like Dana Dane did, as you can hear the same tone when he’s speaking. Also, his rhyme style is completely different than Ghost’s, employing a more traditional, “1-2″ cadence, and landing on the 4th beat most of the time, whereas Ghost’s flow is notoriously all over the place, in a good way. The similarities are uncanny vocally, but one close listen to the way these guys actually rap will show you that there’s no biting going on. Still, Action needs to respect the God regardless.
Accused of biting: Slug of Atmosphere
During his ascent to superstardom, Macklemore has been compared to Sean Daley, AKA Slug, the frontman of the legendary indie rap duo Atmosphere. They’re both lyrically driven rappers with a penchant for tugging heartstrings and telling a vivid story. They both have earnest deliveries, but keep their sense of humor on display too. They’ve both had careers that serve as templates for independent success in hip-hop. But the similarities stop there.
Macklemore has denied being directly influenced by Atmosphere’s music in numerous interviews, but admits learning from their business acumen. Even in Macklemore’s earlier work, which is more similar to Atmosphere, I don’t hear actual biting. Mack writes in a more straightforward, literal way, while Slug has always employed complex metaphors to leave a lot of his songs open to interpretation. Essentially, Macklemore is like a Rembrandt: a traditional, landscape painter, while Slug is more of a Picasso, putting an abstract twist on real life situations. So while they’re both independent juggernauts with probably the whitest audiences ever at rap shows attending their concerts, Macklemore isn’t biting.
Defendant: Troy Ave
Accused of biting: 50 Cent
Troy Ave has based his career on bringing traditional New York rap back, and has been open about being influenced by one of the biggest stars to emerge from the Big Apple, 50 Cent. But when does that influence become biting? They both have melodic deliveries, a bunch of tracks with half-sung hooks, and they both talk about similar subject matter (money, women, cars, etc.). It seems Troy isn’t trying to hide all the stylistic traits he takes from 50 at all, even featuring G-Unit capo Lloyd Banks on his single “Your Style”, where he raps “they call me the new 50/ call me what you want, except broke, let’s talk/ who the fuck I’m s’posed to sound like? I’m from New York”. Sounds like a confession to me.
Defendant: Your Old Droog
Accused of biting: Nas
When another NYC emcee, Your Old Droog, first started building a buzz, everyone (including myself) seemed to be convinced it was Nas’ new alter ego, as they sound vocally identical. I remember hearing his self titled EP and thinking “damn Nas changed his style up, but this is dope”. Upon further listens though, it became clear that stylistically, this guy was way too different from Nas to actually be the Queens legend. Like Bronson compared to Ghostface, Droog has a much more linear, punchline/couplet-driven style, while Nasir has always been more abstract with his cadences. Sure, they both use a good deal of New York slang, but outside of that, there are no lyrical similarities here. Droog has been crucified by old school aficionados because his God-given vocal tone happens to sound like another man’s, but as far as his writing style, he has a lot more in common with Big L or Cassidy, whom he’s listed as influences.
Defendant: Nicki Minaj
Accused of biting: Lil’ Kim
Female rappers are not immune to being accused of biting, as folks have claimed Nicki Minaj has stolen her whole image and sound from another famous female emcee from New York, Lil’ Kim, since her career began. From the colorful wigs and racy outfits to her thick ‘New Yawk’ accent, you can see why the accusations are made. No matter what Nicki says, she’s clearly influenced by Kim’s look and attitude, as the visual evidence is undeniable. But this debate is about rhyming, so is there evidence of biting in Nicki’s actual music?
One could make an argument that there was in her early, more straight-forward hip-hop tracks, even once rapping over a Lil’ Kim beat, but since blowing up in 2009-2010, there’s not really a trace of Kim’s sound in her records. Nicki makes much poppier music than Kim ever did, and when Minaj ditches the singing and straight-up raps, she does it in a unique schizophrenic style with multiple voices, while Kim always kept the same tone in her tunes. Lyrically, Nicki is a more clever writer (while it’s doubtful Kim even wrote her own stuff), utilizing a lot more punchlines, where as Kim rarely used any. While Nicki may deny it, she’s definitely been stealing from Kim’s old wardrobe; but musically, she’s innocent of thievery.
Verdict: INNOCENT (musically)
Accused of biting: Jay-Z
You probably haven’t heard of NOE, a former Jim Jones affiliate who never took off, because he sounds and raps exactly like one of the most famous emcees of all time, Jay-Z. Just listen to his opening verse in the above video; even the most well versed hip-hop head would think it’s Hova spitting. This guy isn’t the only Mr. Carter copycat though; failed imitators Angelous and Sacario can also be added to the list of offenders. Wonder what lab they were all cloned at?
Accused of biting: The Notorious B.I.G.
One of the most infamous allegations of biting has been leveled at Jay-Z himself, as throughout his career, he has frequently quoted lines from the late, great Notorious B.I.G.. But Jay swiftly denied these accusations on “What More Can I Say?” with the lyric “I’m not a biter, I’m a writer for myself and others/ I say a BIG verse, I’m only biggin’ up my brother”, implying that his quotes are merely paying homage to his close friend. Their overall styles are completely different, and Hova has always been very open about his motives for quoting Biggie. Sorry, Jay haters, but this ain’t biting.
Defendant: Guerilla Black
Accused of biting: The Notorious B.I.G.
Unlike Jay-Z, this guy looks, sounds and raps just like Christopher Wallace. No wonder Guerilla Black’s career never went far; anyone on earth who’s heard a Biggie song can see and hear his clear biting of the legend, from the image to the voice. Much like another Biggie biter, Diddy’s temporary replacement and fall guy, Shyne, Mr. Black just couldn’t fill those massive shoes.
Defendant: Young Thug
Accused of biting: Lil’ Wayne
Young Thug’s view of Lil’ Wayne is a conundrum; in one breath, he’ll say he came up listening to no one but Weezy, and calls him his “idol“. Then in the next, he’ll release an album with a title parodying Wayne’s Carter LP series and has even been accused of plotting to kill the Louisiana legend. Before blowing up, Thug sounded like a lyrically inferior Lil’ Wayne; but after finding his own sound with bizarre inflections and crazy new flows he invents on almost every track, there are simply no remnants of Wayne’s style left. Since Thugger was very open about Wayne’s influence on his early work, and then evolved into a legitimate, unique artist, you can’t say he bit anybody; all trolling aside.
Accused of biting: Diabolic, Apathy, Sha Stimuli, Jon Connor, Nino Bless + more
Most known for his participation in Team Backpack‘s viral cyphers, Californian “emcee” (can’t really call him one) Task1ne has been exposed for lifting entire verses, word for word, from many rappers in the underground. Even if his delivery and flow are slightly different, this is still biting in the first degree. Despite a half-assed apology, Task1ne will forever serve as a reminder that all biters eventually wind up exposing themselves, and won’t be tolerated in hip-hop culture. Come original.
Verdict: G.O.A.T. (GUILTIEST OF ALL TIME)