One thing that differentiates hip hop from other genres of music, for the most part, is the fact that it’s incredibly competitive. While musicians from other genres have had disagreements in the past, and even have written songs about one another (the John Lennon/Paul McCartney beef comes to mind), for the most part they communicate their dislike in a more subtle fashion than those in the hip hop realm. Diss tracks are an integral part of hip hop, at least before the YouTube generation, as battles are part of coming up through the hip hop communities that people used to have to partake in before getting their shine/deal. Despite the fact that the internet has completely changed that dynamic, diss tracks are still an integral part of the hip hop community to the extent that people often compare the rap game to the WWE world. However, there were periods where diss tracks could get you hurt or even killed, so let’s take a look at the Top 10 diss tracks of all time in terms of quality and consequence(s).
10. 50 Cent “Ja Rule Duets”
50 Cent released so many diss tracks against Ja Rule that it was hard to choose just one and while there were many examples of 50 (and the fellas in G-Unit, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo) eviscerating Ja, there really was no better example of a two to three minute diss completely ending someone’s career than the Ja Rule Duet tracks from G-Unit’s G-Unit Radio mixtape series. They aren’t diss tracks per se, but they’re so hilarious that they’ll basically turn any ardent Ja Rule fan into a 50 fan in the time it takes to listen to them. The tracks team up the world’s best Ja Rule impersonator with a cadre of pop-songs from back in that era, showing the formula of cheezy R&B/Rap melding that Ja made popular before 50 signed with Shady and Aftermath. There are countless “Try Not to Laugh [Super Duper Extreme For Real This Time Edition]” videos on YouTube, but really if you want to find a video that could make anyone laugh, these are it. If you don’t believe me, girls say, Ja Rule say!
9. Eminem “The Sauce”/”Nail in the Coffin”
This might be cheating as there are two songs listed on this entry, but considering the fact that they were released at the same time and are about the same subject, rapper/producer/former magazine owner Benzino, they basically each feel like one-half of a whole. Benzino is a rapper who has been in the game basically forever, and somehow he weaseled his way into running The Source, which was at one point referred to as “Hip-Hop’s Bible”. He used that platform to essentially attack Eminem, after years of throwing shade his way, essentially because Eminem was hyper popular and Benzino felt like he was appropriating hip-hop culture (and wack, and basically a newfound Elvis). While that might’ve played a lot better these days, it basically ended up looking like “hater-ism” back in the early aughts and basically everyone in hip-hop co-signed Eminem (even after Benzino somehow found tape of Eminem using the N-word in a rap). These tracks show Eminem at his peak, around the time of 8 Mile, before drugs completely ruined his creativity. It was also nice to see Eminem diss another rapper, after years of attacking easy targets like N Sync and Britney Spears. Eminem came up as a battle rapper and you can tell that here as he basically exposes Benzino to the point that you almost feel bad for him. An honorable mention goes to Eminem’s “I Remember” diss to Everlast, as well. That’s just a good song.
8. The Notorious BIG “Long Kiss Goodnight”
Lyrically, and in terms of flow, Biggie Smalls’ Long Kiss Goodnight should be at or near the top of this list. The beat, his wordplay, it shows why Biggie, who only had only released one album at the time of his death, is considered to be one of the best rappers of all time. However, this diss loses points because it was released well after the death of it’s target, Tupac Shakur, which if you’re adding and removing points to these songs based on consequence, means that Biggie basically was afraid to release anything while Tupac wasn’t resting “where the worms and the weak be”. The unedited version of this track, while obviously bootleg in quality, is better than the version that was released on Biggie’s Life After Death, mainly because it has Puff Daddy going ballistic at the end a la Tupac’s Hit ‘Em Up and essentially bragging for Bad Boy’s involvement in the death of Tupac. Biggie also spit these lyrics on a radio station in Los Angeles a day or two before his death, which is just beyond ironic and proves that Biggie and Puff weren’t the innocent victims of Tupac’s wrath like most people believe they are/were.
7. 50 Cent “Funeral Music”
50 Cent’s a master manipulator and while he came up by basically destroying other people’s careers, he moved away from beef after his second album (as a mode of generating hype for his upcoming album). So, it’s hard to say that the guy who blew up thanks to the single How to Rob wasn’t the actual instigator of this beef, but as 50 says at the beginning of Funeral Music, “Cam, I mean, I was being nice to ’em”. This beef all started when 50 was in studio at Hot 97, and he was basically talking smack about Koch records, which was a record company run by a man named Alan Grunblatt. Grunblatt ended up calling into Hot 97 to defend his label (which was genuinely the label where old rappers went to die back in 2007), as he had Cam’ron in his office with him. Cam eventually hopped on the phone and started arguing with Fif about Lloyd Banks’ and Mobb Deeps sales numbers, which prompted 50 to say that Koch was a “graveyard”. That’s where the idea of Funeral Music came in, which was released with the above video. This song is great because it’s just fun to listen to, which is something 50 used to be the king at, making super catchy songs/hooks (and selecting the right beats, as well). Of all the songs on this list, the fact that Funeral Music is super catchy really helps it’s ranking on this list. Honorable Mention goes to Order of Protection and I Smell P****, for the same thing.
6. Tupac “Against All Odds”
The above mentioned 50 Cent honorable mention entry Order of Protection gets a lot of points for being catchy, but is also one of the more “real” songs on this list as it talks about real, street stuff. If this list was ranking diss tracks by that variable solely, Tupac’s Against All Odds would get the top spot on this list as had Tupac not died in Las Vegas, it’s safe to say that Against All Odds could’ve ended up getting him shot (again). In this song, which ended up being the final song in what is arguable Tupac’s best work, The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory (the story behind the naming of that album is worthy of a list, itself), Makaveli goes directly after the men who actually shot him in Haitian Jack, Tut and more. The song starts with guns blasting while ‘Pac raps “21 Gun Salute”, which merges into the chorus which contains the word “This be the realest s*** I ever wrote” and based on the emotion you can feel in Tupac’s voice, it really was. Besides Tut and Jack, Tupac goes after Nas (“This lil n**** Nas think he live like me, talkin’ ’bout he left the hospital took five like me”), Dr. Dre and Puff Daddy as well, in what listens more like an angry speech than a set of bars, and we mean that in the best way possible. The Makavelli album wasn’t appreciated by critics at the time, but the album is a gem and is like listening to the mindset of a 25 year old super star who is both angry and scared, and thus struggling with all the ancillary emotions that come from that. It’s easily a top five album of all-time in the hip-hop genre and Against All Odds is one of the best representations of that. He even mocks his ex-best friend in Stretch (“and that n**** that was down with me, rest the dead, switch sides guess his new friends wanted him dead”), it’s the definition of savage.
5. Ice Cube “No Vaseline”
Diss tracks had always been a part of hip hop but it could be argued that none really went overboard or hyper personal until Ice Cube dropped No Vaseline on NWA and the world. Proof of that stems from the fact that it’s the oldest diss track on this list, one that has to be talked about with people understanding the context in which it was released. Cube had just left NWA, which was the most popular rap group, or act period, and that had basically introduced a new genre of music onto the world and especially suburban America. Because of the genre, Cube, who was one of two basic lyricists for the group NWA (along with MC Ren), had to go hard against his old group to keep with the expectations of someone like Cube was (heavy emphasis on was) and also because of how personal the break up was between Cube and NWA, or rather Cube and Eazy-E/Jerry Heller (Who managed the group). No Vaseline was released as part of Cube’s second solo album, Death Certificate, and immediately shook the rap game to it’s core. However, it wasn’t really the pre-emptive strike that people think it was today (because of how it was portrayed in the NWA movie Straight Outta Compton), as it was Cube’s response to comments that NWA had made about him on their albums 100 Miles and Runnin’ and N*****4Life. On those songs they refer to Cube as “B.A.” (or Benedict Arnold (the double crosser who sold out the United States’ revolutionary army to the British), which was a bad idea because Cube was the heart and mind of NWA and thus was way more equipped to handle a beef than people like Dr. Dre or Eazy-E were, as neither wrote their own material. Cube destroyed NWA but saved most of his wrath for Eazy, mocking him for meeting with President Bush and other Republicans (“I never have dinner with the President”) as well as Eazy and Heller’s relationship (“I heard you both got the same bank account/Dumb N****, What you thinkin’ ’bout?”) and their jealousy of his newfound freedom (“You little maggot, Eazy-E turned F*****, with your manager, fella-f***** MC Ren, Dre. Dre and Yella”). It turns out that Cube was right as Dr. Dre left not too long after, after he discovered that E and Heller had been basically keeping most of the money for themselves. While this song gets credit for influencing a lot of the songs on this list, it probably should get credit for also creating Death Row, since Dre clearly learned something from this track and ended up looking into his own finances. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, one thing that’s for sure is that it ended up creating a ton of classic music.
4. Jay-Z “The Takeover/Supa Ugly”
Some of us are old enough to remember the Jay Z and Nas Beef that overtook the rap game in the early aughts. It’s interesting as the intial reaction from people was that Nas essentially bodied Jay, with the word “Ether” being turned into a verb (“Wow, that dude got Ethered!”). Howver, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, a lot of lists these days actually list The Take Over higher than Ether on their lists for best disses ever and while that’s debatable, this list is about the impact that a song had at the time of it’s release and because of that The Take Over is one spot below Ether. That’s not to say that it’s in anyway a bad song, because it isn’t. It’s perhaps the most personal diss track on this list and that’s saying something considering the fact that Eminem’s The Warning and Tupac’s Hit ‘Em Up/Against All Odds are on this list, as well. The thing about the Take Over that makes it so spectacular, outside of the line about putting a condom on the car seat of Nas’ baby mama, is the fact that Jay released it after he got bodied and somehow ended up winning over time (and we’re not just talking about the fact that Nas ended up signing with Jay’s label, either). Like other songs on this list, context is important and the context here was that Nas was essentially washed up at the time of thise beef and because of that no one expected any sort of anything resembling fire from Nas, or even a response in general. That’s why Jay was so confident and cocky, as he was on top of the world and Nas was already being talked about in the past tense alongside other talented rappers like Rakim. So, when Ether dropped people couldn’t believe it, it was like having a kid wake up from a coma (something that Nas admitted in his songs like “Heard it when I was Sleep, that these Gay-Z and C***-a-Fella Records wanted beef”) and uppercut Mike Tyson and knock him down, sure he wasn’t completely out but the crowd was so amazed that it quickly joined the side of the kid. People thought that Jay’s career was over and so he was really stuck between a rock and a hard place when he released this song. It was so brutal that even his own mother called him and told him to apologize and remove the line about the condom from the song, which shows you just how brutal Jay can get, how great the song was and how amazing rap beefs can be.
3. Nas: Ether
Speaking of which… There’s Ether, a song that is so brutal that it’s title not only became a verb (see the above entry) but that also has been covered or redone by countless rappers of various levels of fame. The most recent and perhaps apt example of this was Remy Ma’s SHether, a diss song directed towards Nicki Minaj that regardless of who wrote it, actually damaged the career of Nicki more than Ether did of the nigh-billionaire Jay Z. Either way, Ether was a direct response to Jay’s disrespect on the track The Takeover (which was on the classic album The Blue Print), a song that was subjectively lazy and the definition of the pride before the fall. While Jay bounced back with a vengeance on Supa Ugly, some still think it was too little, too late. The great thing that came from this feud was that it lit a fire under the ass of Nas, whose Stillmatic album was his best in years. The best line? It’s really hard to say, but the camel line is always popular as is the “You 36 in a karate class? You Tae Bo Ho”. Regardless of where you stand on who won this beef, you have to admit that this line is hilarious. Sigh, it’s hard not to miss the good old days of hip-hop.
2. Eminem: The Warning
It may be blasphemous to list anything that Eminem did above Nas’ Ether, especially considering that Eminem was dissing Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, two people who couldn’t defend themselves lyrically. However, it was the way that this song worked that makes it so highly ranked and to explain that you’ll need some context. Eminem claims to have dated Carey around the time of his Marshall Mathers LP days and for whatever reason she has fervently denied these claims really ever since. Eminem doesn’t seem like the type of guy to make something like this up, especially in the way that he did (on The Warning), as he basically admitted to prematurely ejaculating. So, what makes The Warning so great is the fact that Eminem uses the recorded voice of Carey during the bridge/end of the song, to show that they clearly had some sort of relationship as she was recording both songs and voicemails with and to Em. Beyond that, the way that her voice is used is actually really catchy and shows that Eminem’s brain just works on a different level than most mere mortals. Just think about what it’d take to listen to a recording of someone talking, and then taking certain parts of that recording and making a song around it. It’s hard to explain so you probably should just listen, but apparently The Warning worked as neither Carey nor Cannon responded and both very well could’ve as Cannon attempted to start a rap career at one point and Carey wrote and released a video for a song called Obsessed that was basically about Eminem (hence The Warning). The fact that they didn’t respond, makes this song a classic, as well.
1. Tupac: Hit ‘Em Up
There are diss tracks and then there’s Hit ‘Em Up. This song took the idea of diss tracks to a whole entirely new level as it wasn’t really about the lyrics as much as the emotion and facts behind the lyrics. There’s a reason that the East Coast/West Coast beef was such a big deal back around 1996 and it’s because Tupac and Biggie were the two best rappers of all-time, they were both in their primes and they also used to be friends which makes the entire thing feel so Shakespearean. Tupac was shot five times at a recording studio in New York and while both Puff Daddy and the Notorious BIG denied having any knowledge of the shooting, as we’ve learned in recent years, they definitely did (well, at least Puff did). While Tupac was shot because of the interviews he had given outside the courtroom during his trial for rape, the people responsible were hanging out with Puff and Big that night (namely Jimmy “Henchman” Rosemond). Beyond that Biggie released Who Shot Ya while Tupac was in prison and didn’t visit the rapper, either. Those were both bad looks for someone who was supposed to be your friend. So, when Tupac was released from jail he took no prisoners and ended up releasing Hit ‘Em Up a song that starts with ‘Pac bragging about sleeping with Biggie’s estranged wife, Faith Evans (Who appeared on Tupac’s album All Eyez on Me). Beyond that, it’s just an amazing example of someone flipping the melody of another’s song to diss them, like a really angry Weird Al Yankovic song. The outro is what really makes the song as it shows the anger that Tupac had and while some think that that anger is misguided, the truth is that Tupac had a reason to be that angry.