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Furious, funny and potentially fatal: hip-hop’s 20 greatest diss tracks – ranked! | Music

Furious, funny and potentially fatal: hip-hop’s 20 greatest diss tracks – ranked! | Music
Furious, funny and potentially fatal: hip-hop’s 20 greatest diss tracks – ranked! | Music

20. Future, Metro Boomin and Kendrick Lamar – Like That (2024)

Whether you view the beef that has consumed hip-hop’s upper echelons as a spicy addition to the genre or a dispiriting Trumpian exercise by grandstanding millionaires, it’s hard not to love the fire and venom of Lamar’s verse here, bashing J Cole and Drake.

19. The Game – 300 Bars N Runnin (2005)

The diss track as an act of dogged persistence: 300 Bars N Runnin – written after 50 Cent reignited a supposedly quashed feud with the Game – goes on for the best part of 15 minutes. The shifting production deftly mirrors the umpteen lyrical references to hip-hop classics, as the Game relentlessly slings abuse the way of 50 Cent and G-Unit.

Roxanne Shante circa 1988. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

18. Roxanne Shante – Have a Nice Day (1987)

Shante may have single-handedly invented the hip-hop beef with 1984’s UTFO-bashing Roxanne’s Revenge, but Have a Nice Day – provoked by a sexist insult from “featherweight” KRS-One in Boogie Down Productions’ The Bridge Is Over and actually written by Big Daddy Kane – is the better track, lyrically and musically: “Step back, peasants!”

17. Canibus – Second Round KO (1998)

A classic case of winning the battle but losing the war. Of the various diss tracks that flew between LL Cool J and the hotly tipped young rapper Canibus, Second Round KO, complete with a Mike Tyson cameo, is the best (and most stinging). But Canibus’s career soon faded; LL Cool J’s reputation as one of hip-hop’s pioneers remains intact.

16. Nicki Minaj – Roman’s Revenge (ft Eminem) (2010)

Aimed at Lil’ Kim – “has-been/hang it up/flatscreen” – Roman’s Revenge takes its title from the original diss track, Roxanne’s Revenge, and features Minaj and Eminem’s alter egos trading ferocious verses. Minaj’s have the edge, relegating Slim Shady’s disturbing invective to a supporting role. Lil’ Kim’s response, Black Friday, was no match whatsoever.

Watch the video.

15. Gucci Mane – Truth (2012)

Anger, as John Lydon once suggested, is an energy. Gucci Mane is no one’s idea of a deep lyricist, but his beef with fellow Atlantan Young Jeezy – which had already resulted in the death of Jeezy’s associate Pookie Loc – inspired Truth, a track that punches through via sheer simmering rage.

14. Eazy-E – Real Muthaphuckkin G’s (1993)

Eazy-E’s response to shots fired by Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg throughout 1992’s The Chronic isn’t just brutal – it’s also perceptive, at least with regard to the grim atmosphere around Suge Knight and Death Row Records: “Gotta follow your sergeant’s directions / Or get your ass popped with this Smith and Wesson.”

13. 50 Cent – How to Rob (1999)

Not so much a diss track as a kamikaze act of provocation aimed at, well, everybody: 49 artists in total, ranging from Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z to the Trackmasters (which seemed a bit much, given the Trackmasters produced it). How to Rob is uproariously funny and, as a debut single, it did the job: attention was duly attracted.

The Notorious BIG in 1995. Photograph: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

12. The Notorious BIG – Kick in the Door (1997)

Another diss track with plenty of vituperation and a plethora of great lines, but no particular target, Kick in the Door takes on Nas, Jeru the Damaja, 2Pac (possibly) and sundry members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Its dismissive tone is amplified by a fantastic beat sampling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

11. Lauryn Hill – Lost Ones (1998)

There is no getting around the fact that most celebrated diss tracks are by men, but the fabulous Lost Ones is proof that you don’t need an excess of testosterone to land a succession of bruising lyrical punches. Hill’s ex-bandmate and ex-boyfriend Wyclef Jean gets it in the neck as Sister Nancy’s reggae classic Bam Bam provides the earworm hook.

Lauryn Hill in 1998. Photograph: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

10. Eminem – Killshot (2018)

You have to be impressed by Machine Gun Kelly’s cojones. Accused of making inappropriate comments on social media about Eminem’s underage daughter Hailie, he recorded a diss track called Rap Devil, with perhaps inevitable results. Killshot, a huge commercial success, finds Eminem sounding utterly re-energised, dispatching MGK with lethal precision and wit.

9. Boogie Down Productions – South Bronx (1986)

The Bridge Wars – ostensibly about hip-hop’s birthplace – was one of the earliest beefs. There is every chance that KRS-One wilfully misunderstood what MC Shan was saying on 1986’s The Bridge, but his response, the James Brown-sampling South Bronx, is the feud’s classic, a history lesson peppered with insults.

8. Common – The Bitch in Yoo (1996)

A feud that started over the direction of hip-hop itself. Common called gangsta rap “showbiz” on I Used to Love HER; Ice Cube took offence, calling Common a “pussy-whipped bitch”. The Bitch in Yoo was the response. Gently paced musically but lethal lyrically, it mocked Cube’s declining sales and less stellar film roles.

Listen to Back to Back.

7. Drake – Back to Back (2015)

Riled by Meek Mill’s claim that Drake used ghostwriters – a fairly common complaint about Drake – Back to Back ruthlessly mocked Mill’s relationship with the more successful Nicki Minaj and announced that he had been “bodied” by a rapper who sings: a brilliant combo of self-own and self-aggrandisement. It was nominated for a Grammy; how many diss tracks can you say that about?

6. Dr Dre – Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’) (ft Snoop Dogg (1992)

The bitter fallout from NWA’s breakup inspired more diss tracks on this list than anything else. Riding a monster G-funk bassline, Dre’s contribution is more wearily dismissive than angry. Snoop gets most of the best lines, although Dre’s drawling delivery of “put down the candy and let the little boy go” is a delight.

5. Pusha T – The Story of Adidon (2018)

One critic called The Story of Adidon “bringing a gun to a knife fight”; some people thought its revelations about Drake’s secret son, and hypotheses about Drake’s psyche, went too far. But diss tracks are meant to be vicious and wounding – and The Story of Adidon is almost clinical in its character assassination. Tellingly, Drake never released a track in response.

Jay-Z in 2001. Photograph: George De Sota/Getty Images

4. Jay-Z – Takeover (2001)

Is Takeover or Nas’s Ether the best track from their long-running feud? In truth, as tracks, there is nothing in it. Takeover’s Doors-sampling beat is inspired and the lyrics are superb: teasing, but not revealing, gossiping about Nas’s private life, needling him about everything from declining sales to publishing money.

3. Nas – Ether (2001)

Ironically, Takeover’s taunts about Nas’s declining inspiration since his debut, Illmatic, provoked Nas into an Illmatic-standard response. Ether edges Takeover because it rattled Jay-Z: his response, Supa Ugly, was a disaster for which his mum made him publicly apologise. To “ether” someone subsequently became hip-hop slang for lyrical evisceration.

2. Ice Cube – No Vaseline (1991)

It was, perhaps, a mistake for NWA to take on the departed Ice Cube, by far the most talented MC in the group. No Vaseline opens with samples of their disses, before unleashing the full power of his lyrical ability on them to hair-raising effect. Suffice to say, there was no response.

Watch the video for Hit ’Em Up.

1. 2Pac – Hit ’Em Up (ft the Outlawz) (1996)

In one sense, it’s the prime example of a diss track gone wrong. Arguments still rage over whether Notorious BIG’s Who Shot Ya? was really aimed at 2Pac, or just an ill-timed release, but Hit ’Em Up was explicitly designed to exacerbate the east coast-west coast feud – and everyone knows how that turned out. But, as a hip-hop track, it’s extraordinary: a virtually unprecedented explosion of lividity and spite incongruously set to the most laid-back of beats (Dennis Edwards’ soul classic Don’t Look Any Further, via Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full). Its anger feels real, almost nihilistic – nearly 30 years on, it still sounds shocking.

Listen to a playlist of rap’ greatest diss tracks. Spotify

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