Hip-hop and rap artists defend their honors like warriors, but sometimes it just gets a bit catty. These creatives build their reputations off of the control and power they have over their image, making their harsh hip-hop beef warranted and particularly volatile.
Nowadays, it’s hard to separate which music disses are solely orchestrated as publicity stunts and which are not.
Regardless of the intentions, disses have been keeping the rap & hip hop scene exciting and engaging since the medium’s start. Here are some of our favorite moments of hip hop beef of all time:
1. Control — Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica
Big Sean starts out claiming he doesn’t need to call out other rappers and Kendrick later follows by explicitly listing out the artists he hopes to destroy, including none other than Big Sean.
To be featured on a track and diss the artist featuring you is exactly the type of raw authenticity that makes Kendrick a living legend.
Nowadays, rappers use diss tracks to get attention and streams for themselves and the other artist. I’m not judging that as much as I’m just pointing out facts.
Kendrick dissing artists on another rapper’s song ends the back and forth as it starts it. This hip-hop beef if surely one for the books.
2. Roxanne’s Revenge — Roxanne Shanté
In 1984, legendary producer Marley Marl was heated after music group UTFO canceled their appearance on his radio show.
The group gained a lot of traction for their song Roxanne Roxanne, which told the story of a girl who refused interest in them regardless of their cars or money.
To get back at them, Marl elicited the help of 14-year old Queens rapper, now known as, Roxanne Shanté.
She was well known throughout her neighborhood for winning freestyle battles against rappers who were decades older than her.
Marl offered her a pair of jeans if she freestyles Roxanne’s Revenge, a song dissing UTFO from a woman’s perspective.
Shanté’s song exploded and peaked the charts at No. 22 while UTFO’s got no higher than No. 79. Roxanne’s Revenge is said to have invented hip-hop beef and has cemented Shanté in history as one of hip hop’s first female legends.
3. I Smell Pussy — 50 Cent’s rap beef with Ja Rule
Some of the most genuine hip-hop beef of all time have come from the ongoing feud between 50 Cent & Ja Rule.
Their beef started in 1999 when Ja Rule was robbed at gunpoint by one of 50 Cent’s affiliates. Since then, the two and their crews have had verbal and physical altercations.
In 2002, 50 Cent silently issued a police order of protection against Ja Rule before dropping yet another diss track, “I Smell Pussy.”
In 2013 Ja Rule publicly announced that 50 Cent won the beef, but that hasn’t stopped 50 from continuing to diss Ja.
Aside from their lyrics, no blow comes close to 2018 when 50 Cent bought out the first 200 rows of Ja Rule’s concert so he’d perform to an empty venue:
4. No Vaseline — Ice Cube
Ice Cube was the first member to leave N.W.A. in 1989. He believed their manager Jerry Heller was unfairly compensating the group.
While allegations around Heller’s contribution or detriment to N.W.A. remain controversial, Ice Cube had a lot to say about their professional relationship on No Vaseline.
Ice Cube kept silent on the group in his debut album AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Then, N.W.A. released 100 Miles Runnin’ and Dr. Dre said:
“It started with five but yo one couldn’t take it.
So now there’s four ’cause the fifth couldn’t make it.
The number’s even. And now I’m leaving.”Dr. Dre
Ice Cube takes a turn on each member of N.W.A. and their manager in the iconic lyrics of No Vaseline.
This hip-hop beef became so obvious that Cube’s producer Sir Jinx says they never wanted to beef with the group. But, crowds perceived their disputes as Ice Cube simply standing up for himself.
5. Killshot — Eminem’s hip hop beef with Machine Gun Kelly
Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly’s hip-hop beef started in 2012 when MGK called a viral picture of Em’s 16-year old daughter “Hot as fuck.”
I understand his frustration, but it’s common knowledge that coming Eminem is automatically a lost battle.
While this is one of Eminem’s most aggressive songs, my favorite lyrics have to be the somewhat more lighthearted:
“But how you gonna name yourself after a damn gun and have a man bun?”Eminem
6. Hit ‘Em Up — Tupac’s rap beef with the East Coast
It’s sacrilegious to write about hip hop beef and not feature the most memorable lines of the 90s East vs. West Coast feud.
Tupac started taking shots at East Coast artists after suspecting they were behind his near-death shooting and robbery at New York studio Quad Recording Studio.
Months later while 2Pac was in prison, Biggie dropped Who Shot Ya? This song was recorded long before the incident, but on account of its timing, 2Pac took it as a direct attack.
Pac started planning his diss track in prison and in his rhymes took intense blows at East Coast rappers’ girlfriends, careers, and physical appearances.
While the verses themselves are merciless, nothing hits as hard as the last minute and a half of the song when 2Pac stops rhyming and blasts his opinion on the East Coast in some of the vilest lyrics rap has ever seen:
“Well, this is how we gonna do this: fuck Mobb Deep!
Fuck Biggie! Fuck Bad Boy as a staff, record label, and as a motherfuckin’ crew!
And if you wanna be down with Bad Boy, then fuck you too!”Tupac
7. Barbie Dreams — Nicki Minaj
One of Nicki’s favorite parts of this song was the reactions she got for it. Barbie Dreams pays homage to 90s hip hop from its vintage beat to its aggressive nature. In her 2018 song, Nicki addresses rapper by rapper speaking about their controversies and stirring the pot.
Regardless of this being one of the most honest and outspoken rap lyrics of our time, Nicki claims this isn’t a hip hop beef track but instead a joke and tribute to diss tracks from the 90s.
Nicki is no stranger to beef, on and off her tracks, as she’s been seen engaging in altercations with Cardi B, Mariah Carey, and Remy Ma, to name a few.
Taken as a joke, this song is extremely fun and celebrates rap and hip hop culture and beef in some of the most unconventional ways possible:
“Used to fuck with Young Thug, I ain’t addressing this shit.
Caught him in my dressing room stealing dresses and shit. I used to give this nigga a lisp test and shit.
How you want the puthy? Can’t say your s’s and shit.”Nicki Minaj
8. Ether — Nas’ hip-hop beef with Jay-Z
In 2001, Jay Z released Takeover with producer Kanye West. The song is seen as a methodic essay addressing his beef with Nas, who was noticeably at a lower point in his career after releasing what is regarded as his weakest work, Nastradamus.
Takeover strategically comments on blows Nas has taken on Jay Z in the past, calling him a fake hustler and questioning his sexuality.
As a response, Nas opens Ether with a deep “Fuck Jay Z” and states that Jay already lost the battle because he doesn’t have what it takes.
Upon its release, the hip-hop beef was so obvious, radio stations claimed it was the end of Jay-Z’s career. While both songs are regarded as some of the best diss tracks of all time, Ether clearly takes the cake.
Since then, Jay Z accepted his defeat and the two squashed their beef leading to their mutual success through collaborations.
9. Duppy Freestyle — Drake and Pusha T’s beef still looms large today
Drake’s beef with Pusha T stems from 2011 when T profusely called out the Canadian rapper for using ghost writers. Since then, the artists have had back and forth disses, taking shots at each other’s labels and close friends.
The same day T dropped his album Daytona, directly dissing Drake for his lack of originality, he responded with Duppy Freestyle.
Drake claimed to have written verses for Kanye in the past – T’s mentor – and followed the song with an invoice to T’s label for his services.
10. Shether — Remy Ma
In 2006 Remy Ma was the self proclaimed Queen of Rap and a year later Nicki followed with her own claim of the title. The dispute led to no bad blood and the two were on good terms for years to follow.
That is until Ma was released from prison and repeatedly took shots at Nicki through her lyrics. Minaj indirectly responded with these lines on her Make Love feature:
“You see, silly rabbit, to be the queen of rap/You gotta sell records, you gotta get plaques/S, plural like the S on my chest.”
Ma took it as a direct offense and released a 7 minute diss track over the beat of perhaps the most iconic diss track of all time: Ether. The lines are brutal, paying proper homage to Nas.
These instances of hip hop beef remind us that rappers get roasted too
Even the highest and the most esteemed creatives can be publicly humiliated and put in their place.
But then again, it’s hard to have a huge ego in an industry where everyone relies on their enormous ego, too.
Rap beef, especially between female artists, can be spun by the media to harshly pin people against each other.
However, it’s valuable to address the cultural roots and contributions that feuds have offered hip-hop and rap.