One of hip-hop's most random rap beefs has to be KRS-One vs. Nelly. Their back-and-forth in 2002 made for one of the most bizarre and corniest beefs ever.
In 2002, Nelly was one of hip-hop's biggest stars, anchored on the pop crossover success of his 2000 breakout debut, Country Grammar, which gave the music world catchy, sing-songy hits like "E.I.," "Ride With Me" and "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)." The album sold nine million records.
Understandably, the anticipation for the St. Louis rapper's 2002 follow-up, Nellyville, was high. Mostly. Enter old school boom-bap rap pioneer, KRS-One, who had earned a reputation not just for his community-conscious lyrics but for never shying away from a lyrical showdown—see: The Juice Crew and… P.M. Dawn?
At any rate, KRS— who by that time had already proclaimed himself to be a keeper of classic hip-hop— voiced his discontent with hip-hop's commercial inclinations on the track "Clear Em Out" from the compilation The Difference.
"You tired of me saying what's real hip-hop/ Well I'm tired of you biting my sh-t to go pop," KRS raps on the track. "Sales don't make you the authority/ It only means you sold out to the white majority."
The song was aimed at pop-rap, and given his success as hip-hop's reigning top-seller at the time (alongside Eminem), Nelly took offense. He'd just dropped the track "#1" from the Training Day soundtrack, where he was defending his right to reign on top of the charts. Early on, Nelly's buddy, Murphy Lee, said the song came from place of weariness on Nelly's part.
"The man is just tired," he said, according to MTV. "He had to defend himself. He's like, 'My career probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for KRS-One,' that's what Nelly is on. My man got tired of critics and made a song '#1.' He wasn't specifically talking about nobody, but if the shoe fits, wear it."
While KRS said "Clear Em Out" wasn't about Nelly specifically, and he hadn't even heard "#1" when he wrote the track, Official Jointz, who was promoting The Difference compilation, put out a press release hyping up the supposed beef, claiming the track was indeed aimed at Nelly. Clearly that didn't help the situation.
"I have 16 years of history in hip-hop," KRS told MTV back in 2002, dismissing the press release as false. "When I diss somebody, I say the [rapper's] name, the name of the crew and possibly the label and we go all at it. Every battle rhyme I put out, that was my basic stance. [Official Jointz] was hyping it to sell more records. I kept downplaying it."
KRS claimed he even sent an email to Nelly's camp, explaining there was no beef and he wasn't interested in getting into it with the St. Louis star. Nelly didn't get the memo, however, and in response, recorded a verse on the Freeway's "Roc the Mic" remix, on which he called out the veteran rhymer, letter by letter.
"I strike a nerve in old MC's wanting a comeback/I got the strength that he's lost and that's fact/Like K – "Know" one here even said your name/R – You really feeling guilty bout something mayn/S – Sad to see you really just want just/One – more hit please please!/You the first old man should get a rapper's pension/No hits since the cordless mic invention," Nelly lashed out on the song.
"When I heard the 'Roc the Mic' remix, I said 'You know what, let me get this cat,' " KRS said. "It was the whole street thing. If somebody slapped you in your face the whole block is gonna start slapping you, trying to punk you on the block. He came out with a record and tried to punk me on the block."
KRS responded by calling for an actual boycott of Nelly's album, Nellyville, which was scheduled to drop that June 2002, dramatically declaring himself a "sovereign power" in the process.
"Nelly challenged a sovereign power," KRS told MTV. "The MC part of it, I can slap him around for days. I got joints for days!"
KRS also dropped the diss track, "Ova Here," where he says Nelly, who had the time had a strong affinity for wearing bandaids on his cheek, "sounds like a 'NSYNC commercial."
As for the boycott? Well, KRS kept with his theme of being very theatrical during his explanation to MTV back in May 2002. For those who don't know, the Nelly boycott was divinely ordained.
"The boycott, that's the will of God," KRS proclaimed. "I said, 'Yo, we should boycott Universal Records and Nelly to send a message to the recording corporations of the United States that says there are people in hip-hop culture who, if they say this is wack, you lose sales. We need to take that stance and let these corporations know hip-hop is a ble culture. You can't jerk us, give us contracts that don't make no sense, then turn around and give contracts to artists that dis their communities. Tell Universal to tell their artist the rules before he goes around yapping, trying to dis those that have paved the way for him to be there."
Needless to say, the whole boycott thing didn't exactly pan out the way KRS had hoped.
June 25, 2002, rolled around, Nelly dropped Nellyville, and the entire world danced to the album's monster hit, "Hot in Herre." Nellyville ended up selling over 6 million albums and it stands as the 14th best-selling rap album of all time.
Thankfully, both of them soon moved on from the boycott and the beef.