By: TR Phillips
Under the gritty streetlights and against the pulsating heartbeat of New York City, MC Shan and KRS-One found themselves embroiled in a lyrical war that would go down in history as the notorious Bridge Battle. This epic confrontation, which began in 1985, was a fierce verbal duel between two titans of the rap world, representing their respective neighborhoods: Queensbridge, home of MC Shan, and the South Bronx, where KRS-One reigned. Their words, like sharp-edged swords, cut through the air, leaving a trail of fiery rhymes and powerful storytelling in their wake. The Bridge Battle’s seismic impact on hip-hop was undeniable, inspiring a new generation of rap artists to embrace the art of the rap battle and to push the boundaries of lyrical prowess.
Born Shawn Moltke, MC Shan hails from Queensbridge, New York, and started his music career in the early 1980s. He joined the influential Juice Crew, a hip-hop collective led by producer Marley Marl and radio DJ Mr. Magic, which also included iconic artists such as Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, and Roxanne Shanté.
MC Shan gained popularity with hit songs like “The Bridge,” “Beat Biter,” and “Left Me Lonely.” He was known for his distinct look, often sporting a high-top fade and gold chains, reflecting the fashion of hip-hop culture in the 1980s.
The year was 1987, and America was grappling with a myriad of challenges. The AIDS epidemic was rampant, race relations were tense as the nation finally confronted the remnants of Jim Crow, and a new threat emerged that would blight the community for decades, in a way that disease and institutional constructs couldn’t: crack. It was everywhere, infiltrating the streets and the lives of those who fell prey to its addictive clutches.
Many rappers of the time focused on the money, the hustle, or the struggle, with early gangsta rap either celebrating or condemning the grim reality of life in the streets. MC Shan, however, took a different tact. In “Another One to Get Jealous Of,” he painted the starkest, most realistic image of the scourge that was crack cocaine. The song was unflinching in its truth:
“I hear ya puff it one time and from there you’re hooked
It make you sell your car, your house, your ring
Have you flying through the clouds and you don’t have wings!
He passed it to me, I said, ‘No,’ him said, ‘Why?’
My boy jumped up and said, ‘I’ll give it a try’
From the very first time he ignited the flame
My homeboy wasn’t actin’ da same
I tapped him on the shoulder and I said, ‘Let’s go’
He looked at me and replied with, ‘No’
I said, ‘Fuck it,’ and left him there
The torch, the pipe, the base, the chair
I came back five days from then
To my surprise I seen my friend
To let you know what this thing does
He was sitting in the very same spot he was”
With these raw and powerful lyrics, MC Shan depicted the tragic consequences of crack addiction in a way that many other artists hadn’t dared to. The song resonated with listeners who recognized the authenticity of Shan’s portrayal, giving voice to the dark reality that was tearing communities apart.
As MC Shan’s “Another One to Get Jealous Of” shed light on the devastating impact of crack cocaine, the city of New York was experiencing its own set of challenges. It was 1988, and the urban landscape was a far cry from the gentrified metropolis we know today. High rises loomed over inner-city neighborhoods, casting shadows on the streets below, while a pre-Disney Times Square still retained its gritty, seedy character.
Amidst this backdrop, the infamous Bridge Battle between MC Shan and KRS-One raged on. As the rivalry escalated, both artists released a series of diss tracks aimed at each other. MC Shan’s “Kill That Noise” served as a direct response to KRS-One’s “South Bronx,” while KRS-One’s “The Bridge Is Over” went down in history as one of the most iconic diss tracks in hip-hop.
These exchanges not only highlighted the intensity of their rivalry but also showcased their skills as lyricists. As the two titans of hip-hop battled for supremacy, their verbal jousting reverberated through the concrete jungle of New York City. The Bridge Battle was a reflection of the competitive spirit that defined the era, as well as the social and cultural issues that shaped the lives of those living in the urban heart of America.
Following the peak of his career, MC Shan continued to make music, though controversies arose over the years. In 2017, he claimed to have ghostwritten for several prominent artists, stirring up debates within the hip-hop community. Despite the controversies, MC Shan still performs and occasionally releases new music.
MC Shan’s influence can be felt throughout hip-hop, particularly in the Juice Crew’s legacy. While other members of the Juice Crew, such as Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie, may have had more commercial success, MC Shan’s role in the Bridge Battle cemented his place in hip-hop history.
To this day, the Bridge Battle remains a defining moment in MC Shan’s career and an important chapter in the annals of hip-hop. As MC Shan famously rapped in “The Bridge”: “You love to hear the story, again and again, of how it all got started way back when…” These words remind us of the lasting impact of the Bridge Battle and MC Shan’s place within the Juice Crew’s legacy.
Here’s a playlist featuring some of MC Shan’s most popular and influential tracks, as well as a few lesser-known gems:
MC Shan – “The Bridge” (1986)
MC Shan – “Kill That Noise” (1987)
MC Shan – “Beat Biter” (1986)
MC Shan – “Left Me Lonely” (1987)
MC Shan – “Down By Law” (1987)
MC Shan – “I Pioneered This” (1988)
Enjoy exploring MC Shan’s discography through this playlist, which showcases his lyrical talent and his contributions to hip-hop history.