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Rhyme For Rhyme: The Bridge Wars

A collection of songs by KRS-One and MC Shan, released in 1996

A collection of songs by KRS-One and MC Shan, released in 1996

Before there was Nas vs Jay-Z, or even Tupac vs Biggie, there was a war brewing in New York City. Hip Hop undoubtedly originated in the Bronx, and the infamous beef between Queens and the Bronx started over a simple misunderstanding. MC Shan and KRS-One, two of early Hip Hop’s biggest names, were the faces of this war that is cemented in Hip Hop’s history.

The two crews in the 1980’s, the Juice Crew from Queens and Boogie Down Productions from the Bronx, released diss tracks back and forth. And it all started in 1985 with MC Shan and Marley Marl’s famous track “The Bridge.” The track was about Queensbridge Hip Hop, about where MC Shan and Marley Marl got their start as artists. It was about Queens pride. But the lyrics, specifically “You love to hear the story again and again , of how it all got started way back when,” were misinterpreted by KRS-One. The track was taken as a declaration that Hip Hop started in Queens.

Although a response to the track wasn’t released immediately, in 1986 KRS-One performed "South Bronx” at a show where MC Shan was performing “The Bridge.” The track, although did not mention Shan or Marl by name, was similar to “The Bridge,” only it was reiterating that the Bronx was the true birthplace of Hip Hop. KRS-One at the time was not a well known artist, and decided to take things into his own hands when Mr. Magic refused to play his track “Success Is The Word” on his radio show “Rap Attack.” And the “South Bronx” lyrics, “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” were the just the start, and launched KRS-One’s long lasting career.

KRS-One, MC Shan, and DJ Scott La Rock at Latin Quarter, NYC. From the book “No Half Steppin’ — An Oral and Pictorial History of New York City Club the Latin Quarter and the Birth of Hip-Hop’s Golden Era”

KRS-One, MC Shan, and DJ Scott La Rock at Latin Quarter, NYC. From the book “No Half Steppin’ — An Oral and Pictorial History of New York City Club the Latin Quarter and the Birth of Hip-Hop’s Golden Era”

The Bridge Wars, as this rivalry is referred to, lasted for years to come. It escalated in 1987 when the Juice Crew responded with “Kill That Noise” on MC Shan’s album “Down by Law.” Although the Crew mocked KRS-One and BDP for taking offense in the first place, it only fueled the fire which led to the creation of one of hip hop’s most sampled songs, “The Bridge Is Over.” KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock created a track that had been one of the first blendings of rap with reggae.

It was widely believed that this was, in a way, the end of MC Shan’s career. Although after recording “Kill That Noise” MC Shan became more passive in the battle, the war between the two boroughs was far from over. Queens artists such as Rockwell Noel, Blaq Poet, Butchy B continued to diss KRS-One and BDP, and other Bronx artists like Cool C and MitchSki joined in to retaliate. Even after BDP’s DJ Scott La Rock’s tragic death in 1987, there was no stopping this feud.

The Bridge Wars was an indirect result of the feud between pioneering radio DJs Mr. Magic and Kool DJ Red Alert, and launched KRS-One as an important figure in the history of Hip Hop. Over the years KRS-One and MC Shan have appeared in interviews and have performed on stage together. They even appeared battling in a 1996 Sprite commercial (see below). In an interview with JayQuan in 2002, MC Shan declared, “people kept sayin "why aren't you answering back"? I'm like why?...I gave him a career already.” And he’s not wrong. In a 2014 concert in Philadelphia, KRS-One took to stage and pointed at MC Shan to say, “if it wasn’t for this man, there would be no KRS-One.” KRS-One even collaborated on an album with Marley Marl in 2007, “Hip-Hop Lives.” So, all of these recent developments would make you believe that The Bridge Wars are officially over, right? Not quite yet.

MC Shan resurrected the beef in 2016, nearly 30 years after the release of the track that started it all. The Murder Master Music Show interviewed MC Shan in 2016, who claimed that he could not have “lost” because he never truly “battled” KRS-One, since they were never really on stage one-on-one. KRS-One was challenged by MC Shan to a real battle, but instead he called in to the show at a later time and demanded an apology from MC Shan. Although he didn’t receive an apology, MC Shan responded with a 3 minute long freestyle in a phone interview. It took only one day before KRS-One released his counter-attack, breathing a new life into a decades old rivalry. KRS-One rapped on his track “S.H.A.N. (Still Huggin A Nut),” “What's up? After 30 years you just stand up? After 30-something years you just man up?” What followed was “Revenge of the Walking Dead” by MC Shan, and another track by KRS-One titled “Take Em Out.”

Feuds, rivalry, and wars are nothing new in hip hop. They have become a staple. The Roxanne Wars were a predecessor to the MC Shan - KRS-One rivalry. But the first of its kind full blown rap beef, and what these two hip hop pioneers created, will forever be an important chapter in the history of the culture.