What’s Beef

‘Beef’ was a term that was popularised through hip-hop. It denoted a fracas, something far greater than a verbal dispute. In the nineties, when rappers mentioned they were in beef with another rapper…you knew what time it was. They weren’t going to have a dance-off or DJ spin-off like they did in the eighties – things had evolved since then. You knew someone was likely to get hurt real bad or even killed. Like most things American, this type of terminology has its way of traveling across foreign waters, through the TV screens and radio airways, into the living rooms, bedrooms and minds of young people. Just like it had done with me. Nevertheless, if anyone amongst us ever declared beef, it was always vague as to what level one should prepare for bloodshed. You never really knew how far your opponent would be prepared to go.

We were only in our early teens. And though we were still pent up with our own tumult and peer pressure, we still hadn’t peaked our violent potential. We didn’t really know how far we could actually go, though death was never the objective. In later years when Biggie Smalls released his tune ‘What’s Beef?’, which skilfully outlined the catastrophic outcome of what he perceived beef to be (denoting the parents of beef opponent to be unsafe in the street, requiring guns to sleep and rolling no less than with thirty companions because there was likely to be shots fired), this set the benchmark for what was to be adhered to if seriously beefing. Thankfully, we were nowhere near there yet.

Stephanie Johnson

This is the opening lines of Chapter 10, Beef, in Once Bad Intentions where the narrator Stephanie Johnson provides readers with a little history on the terminology ‘beef’ in relation to its usage within the hip-hop community throughout the nineties. This is all in preparation to a number of street brawls. Below is an extract from this chapter capturing one of my favourite fight scenes. It’s a little gory at times, however there is humour to be found beneath the cracking of jaws or through the piercing of flesh. I do hope you find it…

Fifteen minutes then passed with no sign of anyone, so we decided to leave. We bopped away triumphantly from Ghetto and headed to Stella’s home. Suddenly, as though they wanted to wake the dead, furious chants of: “What, what, who wants beef?!” pierced through the night. I snapped a look at the agitated and stunned faces surrounding me before peering into the darkness to make out a herd of boys, girls, men and women running ferociously towards us like bulls to red rags. I was suddenly gripped by trepidation.

Things moved in slow motion, but came to pass rapidly, and before I knew it, a bottle had been snatched out of the hands of René by a grown man who looked like he must be Shannon and Taniqua’s father. Taniqua took that opportunity to slip a right hook into the side of René’s face. Maria jumped in on that, then Shariece, then Shannon’s mum, then Charlene, then Candice’s mum, and lastly Safire.

I was standing there, almost frozen, watching this multi-bodied fight when I heard Stella’s voice shout, “Steph! Look out!”

I turned to see Shannon’s fist heading for my nose, but I managed to duck in time and when I arose, I arose with a mighty dragon punch (as I’d admired in the film Street Fighter!) that connected with her chin from beneath, lifting her off the floor. A little boy with an afro, of about nine or ten, attacked me throwing punches and kicks to my back and shouting for me to leave his cousin. I backhanded him to the floor to join his cousin.

I heard Candice’s mum mutter something about her pickney and she came for me with a shoe, licked it in my head several times. I threw a combo her way, blooding her nose, as Shannon got me into a headlock from behind. The mum was coming back for my exposed face, but Stella got to her before she got to me and they rolled across the concrete. Shannon unleashed a tornado of blows into my head. I became dizzy and started to lose consciousness. I did try to throw bent punches aimed for her head, but the headlock made this impossible.

The little boy came for me again with little punches to my stomach. I kicked him somewhere and found strength to twist my body round to face downwards in the head grip. Silly move. She kneed me in the face, my lip catching my teeth. I spat out blood, now bursting with rage and searching desperately inside myself for the strength to unleash it. Through a blurry gaze I saw her well-bandaged leg and I knew what to do. I grabbed hold of her bandaged leg, put all my weight and strength on to it, and smashed weighty, knuckle-exposed blows into the bandaged wound. Blood erupted beneath the fabric dressing and seeped through its air holes. She wailed like a hunted beast falling from the blow of a spear, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop. My clenched fist continued to inflict pain and damage onto her injury. A powerful hand grabbed hold of my hair and slammed my head against the side of a parked car. I moaned in pain, brought my hands up to my head to steady the rotating birds that had blurred my vision.

“Fox!” Killer Man Joe cried. “’Llow di yout’ dem; ah Richie pickney dat!” he tried restraining Fox who was Shannon’s and Taniqua’s father.

I was now sitting on the concrete ground rocking back and forth trying to protect my head from Fox with my arms. The birds were pounding through my skull. Joseph continued to calm and physically restrain Fox who was reaching after me. With squinted eyes and a curled, angled upper lip Shannon marched my way. I leaned up against a car and started to panic. I couldn’t see any free bodies to come to my rescue. Everyone was so heavily involved in their own one to one fight, and my vision was diminishing, my head swaying from side to side.

“Safire!” I mustered. She had just thrown a collection of blows onto the head of a woman who in turn was attacking Charlene.

Safire turned to me but at that moment Candice’s mum’s fist smashed against her jaw, which Safire then retaliated by imbedding her nails into the woman’s face, drawing flesh and blood. Meanwhile, Candice was in tears, roaring pleas of, “Stop! Please, you lot, STOP FIGHTING!”

Blood spattered from my nose as I realised Shannon had made contact with me and was punching my lights out. Suddenly however she went flying off somehow with an arched back and when I turned my bloody face I saw Shariece’s foot outstretched, having kicked my assailant. She went for her again stamping out the air from Shannon’s lungs.

I shuffled back against the car, then sat on the kerb to steady the birds and dizziness. As Taniqua went for Shariece who in turn was attacked by René and Maria, Fox broke free from Joseph, grabbed Shariece and threw her over a parked car. That move vexed me. I fought to shake off my dizziness, found a big rock and served it into Fox’s head, as I would serve a ball into a wicket, and ran back behind the car at a crouch to help Shariece up, and hide.

“You all right?” I asked leaning her up against the car.

“My back’s hurting, man, and my hands are a little bit grazed.”

I looked up, peeping over the car to see Joseph trying to help Fox by keeping a white flannel to the back of his head which was surging blood. Yes! I thought and scanned the car park to see the Ghetto Boys gathering again; Stella scuffing Taniqua and Shannon’s mum; Charlene rocking another big woman who I didn’t know; Safire going toe-to-toe with Candice’s mum, her brother and a shoe; René going all out with Taniqua; Maria getting her hair pulled out by Shannon, and then Jermaine running over to where we were.

“Is she all right, Steph?” He looked down at Shariece.

I looked up. “Yeah, I think—”

“Rah! Look at your face! Your nose is all bleeding!”

“I know.” I wiped the blood with my sleeve and pinpointed Shannon. “Where’s Tyrone?”

“He went home after you lot…”

I got up, leaving Jermaine mid-sentence, ran in Shannon’s direction with rage stampeding through my limbs bringing my adrenalin rush to its peak. I pounced on her back, the wind lifting me like a wave. I was tempted to bite her but didn’t; instead I landed my fist about her face like chickenpox. She let go of Maria’s long curly hair. Fox broke from Killer Man Joe’s grasp and made for me as I tightened the grip on Shannon’s neck, trying to cut off her air supply, squeezing and squeezing…

Blue lights flashed from out of nowhere and everyone scattered in various directions before the police pulled into the car park. I jumped off Shannon and swiftly followed Jermaine, Shariece, Stella and Charlene, dashing my penknife into a bush as I sprinted.

“Gotcha!” The tail of my jacket was gripped by the hands of an officer. “You’re nicked!”


Stephanie Johnson, Once Bad Intentions

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