13 Most Ruthless Diss Tracks in The History of Hip-Hop

Civilians file lawsuits to settle disputes. In the WWE, they wrestle it out, and medieval rival swordsmen engaged in a fight to the death. Well, rappers deal with feuds through the very thing they love most — music. And like 21 Savage, it ain't nothing new.

In fact, diss tracks, as we call them, are so old — dating as far back as The Roxanne Wars in 1984 — that they might as well be a genre of their own. There are rap battle contests — like Verzuz, which has hosted some of the biggest names in music — for emcees to flaunt their lyrical muscles, primarily for fun.

But some go beyond battle rap and raise the game, paradoxically, to a deeper level. And just as some careers have ended from ruthless lyrical combat, some have also bloomed. So, as long as controversies exist and the world feeds off them, beef is always welcomed, irrespective of the butcher's impact on the industry.

As the saying goes, without law, there is no crime. The only rule rappers have in common when they step into the ring is the one that guides every other no-holds-barred battle: take no prisoners. As a result, warring emcees have recorded sledgehammers in the name of beef.

So, gear up, folks. It's a blistering bloodbath with Canibus and the D.O. Double G. on the list of thirteen brutal diss tracks.

Lost Ones (1998), Lauryn Hill

It's funny how money change a situation / miscommunication lead to complications, Hill opens with, stating later on: Now some might mistake this for just a simple song. But it was no simple song, as it addressed her relationship with her former fellow bandmate, Wyclef Jean of the Hip-Hop group Fugees. L-Boogie, as she is fondly called, attributed the cause of their stormy relationship to their hugely successful careers.

She admitted he had given in to vain materialism and lost the one thing that mattered most.

The two had been in a highly heated romance, despite being in different relationships. But as they grew as a group, becoming one of the most successful rap groups of the 1990s, their differences arose. Hill hints at Jean's betrayal and hypocritical and unsupportive nature throughout the song.

“Lost Ones” is a Hip-Hop/R&B track on Hill's five-time Grammy award-winning album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. 

Hit ‘Em Up (1996), Tupac

As vicious as ever, ‘Pac dropped a “fat” hint on who he'd planned to hit up in the first line. The Biggie — Tupac beef was as old as time and never went stale — even till the time of ‘Pac's death. It pioneered the West Coast – East Coast rivalry, which led to other beef in Hip-Hop's chronology.

A wise man once said, “even the cruelest disses come from a place of pain, not hate.” Tupac and Biggie Smalls, a.k.a Notorious B.I.G., once had an enviable bond. Tupac was Biggie's idol, and Biggie (an up-and-coming emcee at the start of their relationship) was Pac's protégé. But the day they robbed and shot Tupac in Quad Studios marked the end of their friendship, as Tupac believed Biggie masterminded the attack.

While Tupac was in jail serving time for a sexual assault case, Biggie released the track “Who Shot Ya.” Despite the indicative title of the track and subtle references in it, Biggie denied allegations it had anything to do with the West Coast emcee. ‘Pac, however, was not having it. He retaliated with the legendary “Hit ‘Em Up,” which name-dropped not only Biggie but Lil Kim, Mobb Deep, Puffy, and Biggie's other known associates.

‘Pac's vocals were especially intense on the song, and at the end, he gave into a cyclonic rage as he vented on the mic. Johnny J produced “Hit ‘Em Up,” featuring Outkast.

ShEther (2017), Remy Ma

“ShEther” was one of the most iconic moments of pop culture. She aimed the track at the self-proclaimed Queen of Rap, Nicki Minaj. A title which Remy scathingly ridicules: “And to be the Queen of Rap, you gotta actually rap.”  

That was only the beginning of Remy's savagery. She left no stone unturned in peeling every facet of Nicki's life and career open. Remy accused Nicki on counts of debauchery, ghostwritten songs, drug use, harassment of other female artists, and punk sex life with ex-boyfriend and fellow rapper Meek Mill.

She went as far as prosecuting Nicki for supporting child molestation, citing her brother, who was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for raping an eleven-year-old.

Within the timeline of ShEther's release, the two artists threw shades back and forth. But the seven-minute-long diss was the first of its kind. It was a remorseless, highly controversial, cold-blooded massacre, for which Nicki had a short verse response after a period of silence. Music streaming services later took it down for copyright issues, though it remained on the Internet. As some say, “ShEther” did to Nicki what “Ether” did to Jay.

Bomb First (1996), Tupac Shakur feat. E.D.I. Mean & Young Noble

“Bomb First” is the first track on The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory, the fifth studio album by famed rapper Tupac Shakur, alias Makaveli. It was released posthumously; still, it rocketed up the charts, peaking at number one on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

For its opening number, Tupac went toe-to-toe with the top guns. And this time, he didn't just Hit ‘Em Up. He blew them up, too.

Although Tupac was always hardcore, he went full-on Godzilla on this track, as the title depicts, launching the verbal missile on his rivals before they could nuke him. It led with a comedic news report name-dropping Nas as the alleged ringleader of a conspiracy involving “Mobb Sleep” and “Notorious P.I.G.” to assassinate Makaveli.

In later verses, ‘Pac spits: “Looking for a bad boy killer, Jay-Z die too / Looking out for Mobb Deep, Nigga when I find you.” Unfortunately, ‘Pac was not around long enough to hear Jay's slapback in “Dead or Alive.”

Tupac and Nas squashed their beef — which stemmed from a minor misunderstanding — days before ‘Pac's painful demise. But one fact the East Harlem-born emcee nailed was that his lyrical arsenal was not to be trifled with.

No Vaseline (1991), Ice Cube

Ice Cube's “No Vaseline” featured on his second studio album, Death Certificate. He targeted the song at his former Hip-Hop group N.W.A, which comprised Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Arabian Prince, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren. Ice Cube embodied the moniker, putting forth his callous side in response to comments N.W.A made on their album following his severment from the group.

Ice Cube left N.W.A in 1989 over royalty disputes and band politics.

On “No Vaseline,” he threw knives at members of N.W. A, who he claimed were envious of him, as he showed his transcendence over them. “Yella Boy's on your team now, so you're losing / Ay yo Dre, stick to producing […] You got jealous when I got my own company / But I'm a man now, and ain't nobody helpin' me.”

N.W.A never responded to it, as they broke up soon after the song's release.

The Warning (2009), Eminem

Eminem issued this warning to Popstar Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, her ex-husband. It was produced by 50 Cent, written by Eminem, and contains firsthand accounts of their affair. In addition, Eminem revived his alter ego, Slim Shady, and revealed how deep in the dirt he'd bury himself — if it meant she was going down, too.

“If I'm embarrassing me, I'm embarrassing you,” the Detroit rapper stated on “The Warning,” following humiliating sexual accounts.

Mariah, who claimed to have never dated Eminem, wrote and released the song “Obsessed,” depicting the rapper as delusional, arrogant, and altogether obsessed with her. According to “The Warning's” intro, it was Mariah's blatant denial that there was nothing between them that birthed the diss track.

Eminem never hid his dislike for Mariah Carey and even slipped in a line or two about her on random tracks. He did it on “These Demons” with the one-liner: What rhymes with Pariah? And others like “25 to life” with subtle slurs. “The Warning” climbed the Billboard charts, despite not appearing on any album or even being an official single.

“Nothing gets Shady going quite like beef.” — Daniel Kreps

Takeover (2001), Jay-z

Jay was right when he said on the track: “Hey lil' soldier you ain't ready for war, R.O.C. too strong for y'all / It's like bringing a knife to a gunfight, pen to a test.” But Nas had already poked the bee's hornet with his “Stillmatic” freestyle.

Prodigy of Mobb Deep also caught the heat, though Jay was intent on making him a lesser focus than his long-term rival, Nas. Also, “Takeover” marks a vital moment in the backlog of industry beef, as it was the first track to address the rivalry of the two most prominent New York emcees.

The beef began in 1996 with Jay-Z's debut studio album, Reasonable Doubt, which should have featured Nas. But he didn't show up for his recording session. Instead, on his next album, he (Nas) released “The Message,” filled with subliminal shots, which he admitted were inspired by Jay, not necessarily targeted at him.

This did not stop the subsequent recording of diss tracks and liners between the two, leading to one of the biggest and oldest feuds in the rap game. On “Takeover,” Jay-Hova still referenced the Nas line he sampled in place of a verse: “So yeah I sampled your voice, you was usin' it wrong / You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song.” Kanye West produced the hit song.

“Regardless of Jigga's recent output, “Takeover” will always beam with the righteousness one can only have when they're clearly playing the upper hand.” — Ian Cohen

Ether (2001), Nas

New York rapper Nas released a response to Jay-Z's “Takeover” titled “Ether” on his fifth studio album, Stillmatic. But “Ether” was not just a song; it was a tonic on Nas' career, facing an all-time low after his fourth album, Nastradamus. On “Ether,” Nas began with an explicit statement placarding his grudge against fellow New York rapper.

He ridiculed Jay-Z's label, too. “Heard it in my sleep that this Gay-Z and Cock-a-Fella wanted beef […] Rocafella died of AIDS, that was the end of his chapter / And that's the guy y'all chose to name your company after?” 

His record label wasn't the only thing Nas lyrically murdered. From his looks to authenticity as a rapper to a rumored relationship with Foxy Brown to the misogyny in a few of Jay's early tracks.

Hip-Hop devotees refer to the Jay-Z – Nas, Takeover – Ether as a significant era in Hip-Hop, which every rapper can attest to. And perhaps be inspired enough to attempt recreating.

“I'm talking about Hov and Nas, I'm talking about “Takeover” and “Ether”, let's have our moment,” The Game stated in an interview with Fresh Pair. He was talking about his Eminem diss track, “The Black Slim Shady.”

Killshot (2018), Eminem

Almost everyone took a bite out of Slim Shady at some point, and most were lucky (or unlucky) enough to get away without a response. Machine Gun Kelly might have been one of the lucky few if he hadn't brought up Eminem's daughter, Hailie. Again.

“Killshot” may not be the best out of Eminem's discography and may sound corny in terms of flow and technicality, but it had the most ruthless bars.

Younger me? No, you're the wack me, it's funny but so true / I'd rather be 80-year-old me than 20-year-old you […] My biggest flops are your greatest hits.” On YouTube, it became the nineteenth most-viewed video in the first 24 hours and peaked at number three on Billboard Hot 100.

M.G.K. did not release a follow-up track to “Killshot.” In fact, shortly after the feud, he switched genres to pop-punk, and fans saw this as a sign of concession, having lost the rap battle to Eminem. His decision, perceived as an act of cowardice, contributed to his career's swift descent following a peak during the beef. Eminem already foreshadowed it with his “Killshot” bar: “This is it, as big as you're gonna get, so enjoy it.”  

10% Dis (1988), MC Lyte

MC Lyte is one of the oldest female names in Hip-Hop, and her smash hit “10% dis” from her debut album, Lyte as a Rock, was one of the earliest diss tracks ever recorded. Amongst other songs (and notable disses) Tupac's “Hit ‘Em Up” contains samples of the track.

Lyte targeted New York rapper Antoinette for her single “I Got An Attitude,” which bore a lot of resemblance to Audio Two's hit song, “Top Billin'.” “10% dis” inspired the “beat biter, dope style taker” catchphrase.

“10% dis” was an unrelenting assault. A knife cut that deepened with every line throughout the verses until Lyte's scathing, offhanded dismemberment of her rival came to a glorious end. Shockingly, it was still only 10%. Shortly after, Antoinette bit back with “Lights Out, Party's Over.”

Second Round K.O. (1998), Canibus

Canibus' well-known boxing-themed track, produced by Wyclef Jean of Fugees band, presented the second-round knockout the Hip-Hop scene faced after the Tupac and Notorious reign. It served as a single on his album Can-I-Bus and blew up to be regarded as his most famous hit.

The feud between Queens rapper and record producer LL Cool J and Canibus started from a single on Cool J's album, Phenomenon, released in 1997. The Cool J song “4, 3, 2, 1” featured Canibus, Method Man, Redman, and DMX.

Originally, Canibus' verse contained demeaning, backhanded lyrics, which he took down at Cool J's request. Still, Cool J had already written his verse in retaliation for Canibus' lines and failed to change it, despite having Canibus rewrite his lines. As a result, there was a conflict between both parties.

“Second Round K.O.” featured a banger intro with the heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, instructing Canibus in the intro and outro to “eat, eat, eat MCs for lunch, breakfast, dinner!” Canibus' diss is a calculated, well-versed, and lethal blow, following a close study of his opponent's mass and weak points.

And, as always, his lyricism is top-shelf intellectualism, as he keeps a smooth yet fierce flow. “A hardcore artist is a dangerous man,” he said and proved it with the intentionality he employed in tearing down his opponent physically, mentally, and emotionally.

F*CK Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin') (1993), Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg

It was Compton's very own, Dr. Dre and his then protégé Snoop Dogg against the world — anyone who went up against them did so at their own peril. But, apparently, Eazy-E hadn't gotten the memo.

Ice Cube was not the only departee from the Hip-Hop group N.W.A. Dr. Dre also parted ways in 1992 for similar reasons as Ice Cube. He believed he was not getting enough royalties, and Jerry Heller (the group's manager) prioritized one emcee, Eazy-E, over the others, leading to the beef.

Dr. Dre is still one of the most notable in Hip-Hop, not only for his successful career but for his massive contribution to the industry and culture.

Pimp Slapp'd (2002), Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg recorded “Pimp Slapp'd” for his sixth studio album, Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss, released in 2002. It was a diss track mainly aimed at Suge Knight, former C.E.O. of Death Row Records.

The feud between Suge Knight and Snoop Dogg, amongst other artists who left the label, was rooted in controversies. The most common involved the Death Row Records, the East Coast – West Coast rivalry, and the aftermath of Suge's prison time.

However, Suge Knight had vilified the artists who left the label — including the notorious Snoop Dogg, who wasn't taking it lightly. Snoop Dogg recorded the track “Pimp Slapp'd,” dissing Suge and a few East Coast emcees.

Snoop's voice may have lacked the usual ferocity of beef tracks, but his lyrics were just as unpleasant. The flow was slick, interjected by a catchy hook. He continued in his usual confident manner throughout the song to conquer the one specific battle all rap feuds have in common, on who was the better star.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Boloere Seibidor, fondly called B.S. is a Nigerian based writer and poet. Her favorite topics to cover include music, especially Hip-Hop, film, lifestyle, and fashion. She's been published by Feral Journal, Fantasy Magazine, The Temz Review, and most notably, Wealth of Geeks. She enjoys romantic dinners, movie nights, and touring new sites. When she's not writing, she's delving back in time to the underground world of Hip-Hop, watching TikTok, or visiting the cinema.