Entertainment

YouTube Is the Big Winner of the Goofy Feud Between Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

In most celebrity feuds, information is the most valuable currency. The much-discussed dispute between rapper Pusha T and Canadian hip-hop sensation Drake, which played out in songs and on social media in the lead up to new albums from both artists earlier this year, was centered around rumors that Drake was, in the phrasing of Pusha T, "hiding a child." In his instantly viral song "The Story of Adidon," Pusha-T wielded that information like a knife; on his chart-topping but musically confused record, Scorpion, Drake struggled to respond with an equally potent revelation about his antagonizer. These TMZ times call for TMZ-caliber gossip. 

On a more recent diss track aimed at 28-year-old Ohio-born rapper Machine Gun Kelly, rap elder statesman Eminem summarized the tricky dynamic of beef in one line: "Know your facts before you come at me, lil' goof." But in a modern battle like this, where the most exciting exchanges occur on ad-sponsored platforms, the real winner isn't necessarily the artist who makes the cruelest joke, sells the most records, or embarrasses their opponent. (In this specific white rapper showdown between Slim Shady and MGK, both come away looking very, very goofy.)

Instead, if we're going to believe recent headlines about the pair's war of words, the real winner is YouTube, the site that has helped drive both Eminem's "Killshot" and Machine Gun Kelly's "Rap Devil" up the Billboard charts. ("Killshot" had the biggest debut for a hip-hop video on YouTube ever, collecting 38.1 million views in its first 24 hours.) As of this writing, "Killshot" currently sits at the top of Billboard's "YouTube Songs" chart and debuted at #3 on the Hot 100 this week; comparably, "Rap Devil" is at 11 on the YouTube chart and peaked at #13 on the Hot 100.

Why exactly are these two white rappers so angry with each other? The origin of the disagreement can be traced back to a Machine Gun Kelly tweet from 2012 when the rapper wrote that Eminem's then-16-year-old daughter Hailie was "hot as fuck, in the most respectful way possible cuz Em is king." Later in 2015, Kelly claimed in an interview that his comment, which apparently reached Eminem at some point, got him banned from certain radio stations and had hurt his career. Besides a lyrical shot at Eminem in a Tech N9ne song from Kelly, the "feud" didn't exactly set the world on fire. Even Kelly would likely admit he's not exactly in Eminem's league as a rapper or as a pop culture figure. (Eminem starred in the Oscar-winning movie 8 Mile; Kelly was in the short-lived Cameron Crowe series Roadies on Showtime.)

So, it was a bit odd when Eminem decided to respond to Kelly on his new surprise album Kamikaze, which dropped on August 21 and included a mention of Kelly in the song "Not Alike." "Next time you don’t gotta use Tech N9ne if you wanna come at me with a sub-machine gun," rapped Eminem. "And I’m talking to you but you already know who the fuck you are, Kelly/I don’t use sublims and sure as fuck don’t sneak-diss."

The line caught the attention of Kelly, who responded with his own track on September 21. On "Rap Devil," the Cleveland rapper called Eminem's beard "weird," described him as a qasi-shut-in always "cooped up in the studio," and, perhaps most significantly, alleged that Eminem's manager Paul Rosenberg had tried to sabotage his career. He also implied that Eminem's most recent music sucks, which is an accurate statement. The larger problem is that Machine Gun Kelly's music -- and "Rap Devil" itself -- isn't particularly compelling either. The conflict feels so perfunctory and lame that some fans have even argued that the whole thing is a conspiracy concocted by Interscope, the record label shared by both artists.

During an interview with radio personality Sway Calloway, who was also namechecked by Kelly on "Rap Devil," Eminem actually said he became aware of Kelly's comments about his daughter after falling down "a fucking wormhole of YouTube." However, the Detroit rapper clarified that the reason he came after Kelly in "Not Alike" was more about the allegations of being banned from Shade 45, the hip-hop satellite radio station co-created by Eminem. "Like I'm trying to hinder his career," said Eminem. "I don't give a fuck about your career. You think I actually fuckin' think about you? You know how many fuckin' rappers that are better than you? You're not even in the fuckin' conversation."

That comment was followed by another new track from Eminem, titled "Killshot," which arrived on September 14 and immediately became a YouTube favorite of guys who want to hear a middle-aged man complain about "mumble rappers" and claim that he "left hickeys" on Rihanna's neck. While it contains more than a few groan-inducing punchlines, which come with the territory when Eminem puts pen to paper these days, there is one really funny jab at Kelly's expense: "But how you gonna name yourself after a damn gun and have a man-bun?" It's clever, mean, and accurate. Not exactly a "killshot" as the title would suggest. But it's an effective spitball fired from the back of the classroom, which has been Eminem's specialty since he was picking fights with boy bands and MTV personalities in the late '90s.

But Eminem isn't purely a figure of TRL and rap radio anymore: This conflict is now a YouTube-based phenomenon. The combination of heated slander and ridiculous anger makes the Machine Gun Kelly and Eminem feud perfect fodder for the video platform, a strange ecosystem where the largest (and most obnoxious) personalities often engage in long, pedantic battles over the dumbest shit imaginable. It's no coincidence that two of the site's most loathsome celebrities, blonde brothers Logan and Jake Paul, have both grown their fan bases by engaging in pro wrestling-like drama that's not too widely dissimilar from Eminem's own youthful antagonism. Obviously, Eminem also has a musical gift, a respect for his craft, and emerged from a genre with a hallowed history. The Paul's have much less to offer on an artistic level. 

However, this current fight between Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly feels indebted to the metrics-based demands of the contemporary media environment and is profoundly different from the basement battle raps familiar to 8 Mile fans. The reaction doesn't play out in the crowd; instead, the analysis spirals out into comment sections, "reaction" videos where commenters break down the lyrics, and podcasts where hosts breathlessly recap each new development in the larger narrative. (This is the part where I should mention that another white rapper, G-Eazy, and the singer Halsey have also been pulled into this still unfolding storyline.) You can listen to "Killshot" and "Rap Devil" on Spotify, Apple Music, or whatever music streaming service you'd like to. But why would you? YouTube is the boxing ring in this scenario and you can be sure another fight between two "lil' goofs" will start at any moment.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.