Funkmaster Flex Vs. DJ Clue is the DJ Battle the Culture Needs

Funkmaster Flex Vs. DJ Clue is the DJ Battle the Culture Needs

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Hot 97 or Power 105.1? Which seminal hip-hop/R&B New York radio station you pledge allegiance to is bound to provoke heated debates. DJ Funkmaster Flex and DJ Clue—the de-facto voices of Hot 97 and Power 105 FM respectively—have recently turned up the heat on their long-standing feud over who is the number one DJ in New York, period. But this time, the fight is not just for radio supremacy. On March 8th, Bronx-bred super-producer Swizz Beatz stoked the flames for a DJ battle between Flex and Clue to settle their longstanding rivalry for once and for all.

Funkmaster Flex and DJ Clue have been rivals on the radio, on the mixtape circuit, and in nightclubs. They both are icons for DJ culture, which is why Hot 97 and Power 105 have elevated them as their primetime DJ talent. Their rivalry has escalated over the years, and the battle proposed by Swizz could finally be their tipping point. Whether or not Flex and Clue actually decide to go into combat, it is no doubt as important as previous face-offs between Nas vs. Jay Z, Kanye West vs. 50 Cent, or Kendrick vs. Drake. Flex and Clue have their own strengths and weaknesses as hip-hop DJs, and since there aren't any set terms for this type of DJ battle—opponents are judged on everything from their technical skills to their showmanship appeal—it's impossible to predict who would win. Still, it's a given that DJs are competitive, and a battle could raise the bar for the art of DJing.

On that night in March, while at a private dinner inside of what looks like a fancy car dealership, Swizz put Clue on the spot in an Instagram video, pressuring him to battle Flex and "earn that crown back." Also present were rapper Fabolous, A&R/photographer Lenny Santiago, and singer/producer Ryan Leslie, who stirred the pot by laughing at Swizz's comments. "Flex is gonna try to finish you," said Swizz. Cue Flex writing in the comments section: "He don't want none of me on that Fucking set BRUH!" Warning shots fired?

DJ Clue and Funkmaster Flex hosting the 2014 McDonald's Flavor Battle (Photo by Patrick Neree)

Since then, Flex and Swizz have repeatedly tried to bait Clue, both posting Instagram clips of Flex scratching the "earn that crown back" taunt over the instrumental to Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?", as if to suggest that he's scared. Yet Clue, the self-proclaimed "Michael Jordan of Mixtapes," maintained a zen master's poise; he assured fans on Instagram last month that he has exclusives that can outshine Flex's turntable skills. (Flex, Swizz, and Clue did not return THUMP's multiple requests for comment.)

A week before Swizz put Clue on the spot, Swizzy had engaged in a high-profile beat battle against Just Blaze at an undisclosed location in NYC, and arguably won by playing an unreleased Jay Z, Jadakiss, Nas, DMX collaboration in a "drop the mic" moment. Meanwhile, apparently Pharrell and Timbaland are talking about going at it in their own beat battle.

For his match with Clue, Flex has suggested playing exclusive for exclusive, DJ skills for DJ skills. Both artists have an impressive discography of songs, mixtapes, and studio albums spanning generations of hip-hop and R&B. Clue has a nice rep merging gritty rappers with beloved pop stars; he produced Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" (Remix) featuring Jadakiss and Styles P. Flex has a slight edge with reggae and dancehall collaborations, so the idea of Flex playing dub plates roasting Clue are probable.

According to a recent post on a fan's Instagram, Clue has denounced back-spinning songs as irrelevant to this brewing battle. Yet, there is no denying that two turntables and a mixer are the tools of the trade, and rewinding a record manually or scratching samples lies at the core of hip-hop. Taking two songs and looping the instrumental break to hype up the party is the great invention by hip-hop's founding fathers Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa, who built the foundation for club DJs.

When radio DJs go at it, they are empowered by the almighty microphone to strike down with furious anger from the mountaintops.

Finalists in the Disco Mix Club (DMC) World Championship are given six minutes to showcase their talent, no sound effects. Clue and Flex both use a bomb—a seven-second explosion sample that sounds like the ground is erupting from under you—as their signature drop. Flex introduced the atomic bomb first, and in the beginning, reserved as a signpost that he was going to break a major rap record live on Hot 97—Nas "Hate Me Now" or Fat Joe "My Lifestyle" for example. The impact of the bomb is now oversaturated from Flex using it as a point of emphasis during his on-air rants, and Clue co-opting it. Clue's current arsenal of drops ranges from a sample of his signature laugh to his catchphrase "Do Remember." When he shouts his alias "ClueManatti," it rings through like a rapid fire of syllables, long before "G-G-G-Unit" was on the tip of the rap world's tongue.

Then there is the question of showmanship—the scratching, beat-juggling technical DJ skills that defines the DJ's pedigree. When Flex scratches, his style is recognizable—he masterfully rubs the records, yet he doesn't lean heavily on the crossfader to cut smaller pieces of the song. He hits with power instead of precision. On the other hand, Clue's scratching and mixing are questionable, and he rarely does it.

Clue is from Queens, Flex is from The Bronx; their battle is like the DJ version of Coke vs. Pepsi, Mets vs. Yankees, or MC Shan vs. KRS-One. But Clue and Flex's feud actually most vividly recalls the one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and the gloves have been off long before Swizz became the quasi-Don King. Ali and Frazier were friends before they became bitter rivals, just like how the DJs were on somewhat respectful terms in the 90s, when Clue hosted his own weekly show, "The Monday Night Mixtape" on Hot 97, where both he and Flex worked at the time. Clue even shouted out Flex, plus a handful of Hot 97 staff, on his "Winter War Mixtape" in '95. (Clue left Hot 97 in 2006.)

Five years ago, Funkmaster Flex aired out Clue, sending shots at the Power 105 DJ over who rules the NYC airwaves after Flex scooped him on the Nicki Minaj, Cam'Ron & 2 Chainz collab, "Beez In the Trap." "I see this guy talking tough last night… by the way, the Mets they win sometimes too; two weeks out of 52," said Flex live on the radio. He never calls out Clue by name, but it's obvious who he is referring to. A few days later, Clue tweeted and responded with a few scathing insults for Flex on air, calling him a hoe and a clown, and a "number 2 … worrying about what I'm doing." He also claimed Flex plays parties for free—a knock on a DJ who is synonymous with the dynasty of hip-hop nightlife in the 90s.

The one-upping between Flex and Clue fuels the never-ending rivalry between their employers who are owned by the same parent company, Emmis Communications. Besides Clue and Flex going at it, there is no lack of shots at Flex thrown from Charlamange Tha God, or Peter Rosenberg at The Breakfast Club—no one is safe, anybody gets it. But when radio DJs go at it, they are empowered by the almighty microphone to strike down with great vengeance and furious anger from the mountaintops.

A rivalry of a similar scale happened in the early 80s when the late-great Frankie Crocker, program director for WBLS—the first Black-owned New York radio station—was up against Barry Mayo, the general manager for WRKS 98.7 KISS FM. Crocker introduced hip-hop music onto the airwaves on a station known for black adult contemporary R&B music, and hired the late DJ Mr. Magic from WHBI to play on BLS. Not to be outdone, Mayo, hired DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout to challenge KISS FM. (Fun fact: Flex used to carry Chuck's records back in the day.)

So, can anyone be friends? Former Hot 97 host-turned-Power 105 host DJ Envy told Vlad TV in 2012 about the beef between the stations: "There is no talking to your enemy, no shaking hands with your enemy, or DJing a party with your enemy." Despite the entrenched animosity between Flex and Clue, it is competition at the end of the day, akin to a reality TV drama on your car stereo.

But after all the talk, where is the action? It's been over one month since Clue was called out by Swizz on Instagram, but a date still hasn't been set for this brewing showdown—or any of the other dream battles by Swizz. The main display of DJ talent we've seen Flex associated with is Turntable Tuesday—a weekly showcase on Hot 97 in which Flex invites guest DJs like Rob Swift, Scram Jones, and most recently, Just Blaze, to get busy on the 1s and 2s. During the show, Flex stands by on camera, smiling at the artful display of turntablism (real DJing).

As great as all the guests are, they are the undercard. Flex vs. Clue is the main event we're waiting for. A bridge between the two DJs could help end the rift between them, despite what DJ Envy said about how there is no crossing of lines between the station's personalities. But just like an actual bridge, it is a massive undertaking, and like most construction in New York, you can't hold your breath on a quick completion.


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