Benzino vs. Eminem

Hip-hop loves a war of words.

From Ice Cube trading bitter retorts with Easy-E, to Jay-Z spewing angry rounds with Nas, rap feuds have fueled interest and sales and sometimes bloodshed.

Now comes one of rap’s most pitched and, some say, mismatched battles. Benzino, a modest-selling rapper from Boston, has picked a fight with the mightiest hip-hop star around, Eminem.

The face-off has music fans buzzing.

On raps released this year, Benzino (formerly Raymond Scott) wrote of Eminem: “You’re the rap David Duke/The rap Hitler … I’m the rap Malcolm (X), the rap Martin” And on his new album, “Redemption,” he calls Eminem “2003 Vanilla Ice.”

The genre’s sales king has taken the bait.

Eminem tagged the well-seasoned Benzino (who declines to give his age) an “83-year-old fake Pacino,” asserting that “real lyricists don’t even take you serious/It’s not that we don’t like you, we hate you, period.”

And: “You’re the softest, fakest, wanna-be gangsta in New York and it’s pitiful.”

Benzino claims the battle is not personal but political. Unlike most rap tussles, which center on skills or street credibility, this one hinges on race.

Benzino says Eminem’s huge sales mean that “hip hop is being taken away from black and Latin people.”

According to Dave Itzkoff, associate editor of Spin, “It’s a slippery slope when you make the argument that hip hop is only a black person’s art. Certainly, its origins are in that community, but if you want it to endure as an art form you have to let other people have their way with it.”

It is debatable whether great numbers of people want to hear from Benzino at all.

Though he has worked for years with respected hip-hop crews like Made Men and Hangmen 3, and has a current club hit with “Rock the Party,” Benzino’s first album from 2001, on Motown, sold fewer than 100,000 copies.

For this reason, some accuse the rapper of taking on Eminem to whip up attention for the new album.

“I have a huge deal with Elektra. I’m making good music, I don’t have to do this,” the rapper said. “I’m taking him on because I have real issues.”