When Hip-Hop’s Protege-Mentor Relationships Turn Sour


In any creative discipline, conflict is an inevitability. Wit the fast-paced, high-pressure terrain of hip-hop, even a working relationship that seemed indestructible can be left in disarray. Whether undone by jostling egos, monetary disputes, musical differences, or even personal betrayal, one dynamic that’s proven particularly hard to retain is that of a mentor and protégé. Among the most intimate relationships that an artist can have, founding a partnership takes a remarkable amount of trust and faith in one another. Oftentimes, it pays off in spades, fostering durable bonds between teams like Dr. Dre & Eminem, Pharrell and The Clipse, Nicki Minaj and her Cash Money label boss Lil Wayne. For others, what was once a mutually beneficial arrangement would eventually give way to toxicity and ruination.

After they concluded all business dealings in 2015 on abrupt but by no means mean-spirited terms, Grand Hustle CEO T.I reignited the unease between himself and his former charge Iggy Azalea at a press event for Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow. “I’m still actively looking for another female rapper who can undo the blunder of Iggy Azalea,” the Bankhead veteran revealed. “That is the tarnish of my legacy as far as [being] a [music] executive is concerned. To me, this is like when Michael Jordan went to play baseball.”

Back when they first cut ties, Tip claimed that, although misguided in some ways, Iggy still had the “talent” and “charisma” required to triumph in this high-octane game. Now, he equates their tenure together as an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment. Naturally perturbed by his comments, the Australian artist fired back by casting some aspersions about her former employer’s attitude towards the opposite sex. “The tea I could spill on what bullshit this is but at the end of the day I think people can see it’s clear he’s salty”, Azalea retorted. “He’s a huge misogynist and has never been able to have a conversation with any woman in which he doesn’t speak like a fortune cookie.”

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At the same time Iggy and TI were prising open old wounds, G.O.O.D Music’s Desiigner was voicing his displeasure with his current label predicament. Scouted by Kanye West after the runaway success of “Panda,” the Brooklynite seems to have been thwarted at every turn in the years since signing on the dotted line. Months after he claimed that he “brought G.O.O.D. Music back” and downplayed Kanye’s purported “genius” in favor of labeling him “crazy,” the New English MC is rallying against his circumstances on Twitter. “FREE ME FROM THIS LABEL”, he declared in a tweet that is yet to be deleted, leading many to speculate that the relationship between himself and his one-time confidants at the Def Jam subsidiary is now irreparable.

Rather than serving as rare occurrences, these recent public spats are endemic of how the hip-hop industry and all its intricacies have been ravaging tight-knit relationships between master and apprentice for decades. Long before up-and-coming rappers and their elders could take to social media to vent their frustrations, mentor and mentee bonds were becoming uncoupled. While each dispute will harbor traits unique to their particular scenario, each falling-out between a protégé and their former champion can be grouped into two main categories: Personal and Business.

When it comes to ill-feeling laying waste to a long-held bond, few MCs are more accustomed to this scenario than hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z. In line with his late friend’s credo of “Mo Money Mo Problems,” a recurring blight on the self-styled entrepreneur has been friction between himself and those he once deemed to be the next generation of the ROC. First alluded to in Graduation’sBig Brother,” Kanye and Jay’s relationship has been defined by minor skirmishes that would eventually lead to reconciliation. Both fiery and unflinching in their temperament, the two maintained this uneasy truce until the Summer of 2017. After Kanye split with Jay’s streaming service TIDAL in July, amid claiming that his kids had never played with Blue Ivy, an interview with Elliott Wilson that following month saw the real Sean Carter come to the fore. 

“You can’t bring my kids and my wife into it”, Jay told Rap Radar. “Kanye’s my little brother. He’s talked about me 100 times…. We’ve gotten past bigger issues. But you brought my family into it, now it’s a problem with me. That’s a real, real problem. And he knows it’s a problem.” But where the death knell of Jay and Kanye came appeared to have stemmed from a family feud, the issues between Jay and another one of his students came from a undue physical interaction. Touted as the future of gritty street rap, South Philly’s Beanie Sigel was among the centerpieces of Jay’s newly devised dynasty in the early 2000s. But over time, the chemistry that the Broad Street Bully and Hova displayed on wax began to disintegrate.

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“The sh-t stem[med] from a situation from me that happened when Jay-Z’s bodyguard put his hands on me not in a manner that was harmful to me, but in a manner where he shouldn’t have touched me period,” Beans declared in 2011. “I addressed Jay about it in front of his A-List company and I guess he ain’t like that too much. I think that was the opening of the 40/40 Club, after that I never saw Jay again. I never talked to him again. That couple months went by or whatever, I even tried to reach out to him. It got to the point where you had to get to four different people to talk to Jay.” The alleged recipient of subs on Jay’s infamous “Monster” verse– all I get is these vampires and bloodsuckers, all I see is these n***as I made millionaires / Milling about, spilling their feelings in the air”—the State Property leader felt the need to renege on these claims and speak with a renewed perspective. “Whatever I felt this dude Jay did wrong to me”, Beanie offered, “it can’t outweigh the one thing he did do for me – he gave me an opportunity.”

Uncommon but not impossible, this moment of clarity bears resemblance to how Bow Wow backtracked on his disrespect towards his So So Def mentor Jermaine Dupri in September 2018, after remarking that “Snoop put me in the game, not you.” Yet by the end of the month, the former child star was taking to Twitter to recant his wayward comments. “Want to apologize to my fans and the public and my SSD family lately I been tripping and acting like a f**k boy,” he conceded. “Forgive me for my immature ways. Let’s handle business. Thanks.”

Even within the most legendary crews in hip-hop history, there’s still ample room for discord to arise. Despite the fact that he “told people for years that Jimmy was gonna be a star, so it’s better on my resume,” even Cam’ron and his Dipset brethren Jim Jones were driven apart. Left on life support in 2007 after Jim claimed that “Me and Cam’ron haven’ spoken to each other in a year,” things would continue to degrade as Cam went as far as to claim that the CAPO didn’t grow up in the Byrd Gang’s homestead of Harlem.

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When heading down to South Florida, this dissolution bears a stark resemblance to the lengthy period of mudslinging between Denzel Curry and Spaceghostpurrp. Cited as the progenitor of much of the cloud rap wave that became commonplace in the early 2010s, Purrp headed up the enigmatic Raider Klan, providing counsel and early exposure to Robb Banks, Yung Simmie and Zeltron 6 Billion himself. After Denzel left their ranks of his own volition, the two remained amicable until 2016 when he took umbrage with Purrp’s disrespectful comments about the late ASAP YAMS. Amid a spree of egregious tweets that mocked the deceased figurehead—where is Yams? Oh I forgot he’s dead, my bad– Denzel rallied the new school of Florida for “SPACEGHOSTPUSSY (RIP YAMS).” After trading diss tracks back and forth over the course of January 2016, the pacifistic Denzel declared that they “good” by that June. However, Purrp’s derogatory claims about Denzel, the nature of his relationship with Billie Eilish and suggestion that he “sacrificed” XXXTentacion would suggest that he still harbors plenty of resentment towards his former protégé.

We also have scenarios where the corruptive forces of money and artistic status come into play. Lengthily explored on this very website last month, these are the sort of contractual disputes and underhanded tactics that have plagued Lil Wayne and his “daddy” Birdman for years on end. Among the most iconic duos of the “jiggy era,” it is the unrelenting specter of financial gain that is said to have driven a wedge between Diddy and Mase. Left hanging by Mase’s abrupt decision to renounce the rap game in favor of the life of a pastor, it’s been widely speculated that Diddy’s sole reason for signing Loon was due to a brewing confrontation between the two Harlem MCs. Despite agreeing to perform alongside his former Bad Boy cohorts on their reunion tour in order to “be the bigger person,” Mase’s belief that Diddy took credit for the vast majority of his hard work has meant that this issue will remain lingeringly unresolved until it’s publicly squashed.

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Left to languish in a place of passive-aggression, the unrest between the two is eerily similar to that of two former confidants from Canada. Partly brought to the fore by the 6 God’s co-sign in the first place, the issue of ample credit and compensation—or lack thereof— has hovered over the formerly fruitful relationship between Drake and The Weeknd. Initially aligned with OVO in the Take Care era, Abel Tesfaye was still very much in the embryonic stages of his career. As a result, The Weeknd claims that he willingly regifted songs that he’d devised for House of Balloons to Drizzy. “I was hungry…. I was like, ‘Dude, take anything”, he told Rolling Stone. “I gave up almost half of my album. It’s hard.”

Amid internet chatter that Drake was aggrieved by The Weeknd founding his own label with Republic Records, —the two maintained an uneasy truce and even sporadically performed tracks such as “Crew Love” side by side. But when Take Care’s sixth anniversary rolled around, an Instagram comment made it all too clear that Abel’s suggestion that he was instrumental to the record’s creation has stuck in Drake’s craw. “Abel Tesfaye CO WROTE on ‘Shot For Me’ and ‘Practice,’ obviously was featured on ‘Crew Love’ and ‘The Ride’ and that’s it,” he typed. “There’s 20 songs on that album … don’t try me.” Teamed with the cryptic but not undecipherable words of Abel on the 2019 Gesaffelstein collaboration “Lost In The Fire” in which he claimed, “I just want a baby with the right one, cause I could never be the one to hide one,” all signs point to a turbulent relationship between the former friends. 

Whether the product of personal strife or business matters infringing on friendship, the protégé-mentor relationship is hardly an easy dynamic to navigate. From all the above exemplars, what’s clear is that each and every one of these corrosive incidents could’ve been avoided with cooler heads and greater transparency between the two parties. 

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