If you had to point to a single moment or event that revolutionised hip hop and transformed the artform from party-focused raps to more lyrical minded MCs, then it’s hard not to pick Kool Moe Dee’s legendary battle against Busy Bee Starski at Harlem World on December 1, 1981.
To provide some context: Busy Bee Starski was an old school rapper who came up on the scene during the late ’70s along with the likes of Melle Mel, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kool DJ AJ. He was known for his comedic, party-rocking routines that he would use to win rap battles throughout Staten Island, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.
On the other hand, Kool Moe Dee, a member of the pioneering hip hop group Treacherous Three, was legendary in the rap game for his sharp wit and lethal rhyming skills designed to crush any competitors. Unlike Busy Bee, who was more focused on rocking the crowd, Moe Dee wrote incisive rhymes with poetic value. The whole situation was shaping up to be a battle between the old school party rocker vs. the new school lyrical MC.
So, back to Harlem World in 1981. During a live set, Busy Bee was performing his usual routine – rocking the crowd, getting everyone hyped and talking shit while calling out names. Unfortunately for the party MC, one of the names he called out – Kool Moe Dee – was standing right there in the venue, and he wasn’t going to let him slide for that diss. Once Busy Bee was done with his set, Kool Moe Dee hopped on to the stage and tore into Busy Bee with a devastating, impromptu performance:
Hold on, Busy Bee, I don’t mean to be bold But put that “ba-ditty-ba” bullshit on hold We gonna get right down to the nitty-grit Gonna tell you little somethin’ why you ain’t shit It ain’t a emcee's jock that you don’t hug You even bit your name from the “Lovebug”
The art of rapping was never same after that day. It was out with the party rocking MC and in with the new, lyrical MC. You couldn’t just be spitting gibberish to get the crowd hyped anymore, you had to actually be saying something. Any rap battle since that day – from MC Shan vs. KRS-One to Ice Cube vs. Common to Nas vs. Jay-Z to Pusha T vs. Drake – is a direct result of that fateful night in Harlem World.
In an interview with The Believer, The Roots lead MC and one of the greatest rappers of all time, Black Thought, spoke about the legendary battle and impact of the two differing styles:
Black Thought: Take that classic battle, Busy Bee versus Kool Moe Dee back in the day. That’s an early example of crowd control, and it’s almost all improvised, even Kool Moe Dee’s shit. Kool Moe Dee was freestyling and he came off the top with some crazy shit that was in the moment and specific to what Busy Bee was doing. He said, “Put that bah bitty bah bullshit on hold.” You know, Busy Bee came out talking about “Bah bitty bah, buh dang a dang.” And that shit is ridiculous! But the audience was with it! So he won that battle. Now you ask a rapper’s rapper, they’d say, Yo, Kool Moe Dee killed him.An Interview with Black Thought | The Believer