Diss tracks are songs meant to trash-talk or throw shade at another person, often a fellow artist. Conceptually, diss tracks are associated with hip-hop. And while the genre has given the diss track its present popularity, diss tracks were around long before hip-hop's inception.
In the mid-1950s, a rivalry brewed between R&B artists Joe Tex and James Brown after Brown challenged him to a dance battle at a juke joint. Things intensified when Tex's ex-wife, Bea Ford, began dating Brown; the duo even recorded a song together. Brown broke up with Ford shortly after, then wrote Tex a letter stating he could have her back. Ford responded with the track "You Keep Her," in which he calls Brown out by name.
Other musical beefs have even worked to advance an artist's career, such as Ice Cube. When Cube and his fellow N.W.A members couldn't see eye to eye during their rise to stardom, he launched a lyrical assault against his former crew on his infamous send-off "No Vaseline."
Some of the most notorious diss songs ranged in their backstories, signifying the end of friendships, an escalation in social tension, or a communication breakdown. The subjects of these songs are just as personal, with diss records aimed at bandmates, lovers, rivals, and beyond.
With that in mind, Stacker compiled a list of 30 epic diss tracks in music history, using various resources, including music news from publications like Rolling Stone, The Hollywood Reporter, and other industry sources like Billboard and MTV.
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Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj have both been vocal about disliking each other over the years. But things escalated in 2010 when Lil' Kim released "Black Friday," a diss track in which she calls Minaj various explicit insults. The track was Kim's way of getting back at Minaj, who she believed dissed her on her "Pink Friday" track "Roman's Revenge." However, Minaj denied the song was about Kim.
Evanescence's Amy Lee had some things to say about her ex-boyfriend, Seether's Shaun Morgan, on "Call Me When You're Sober." The 2006 song aired on radio stations just as Morgan was entering rehab. Although he was unhappy, Morgan said he would not respond using his band's music. "I just refuse to lower myself to that level," the rocker told MTV News. "But it was a painful thing and it got me down -- people coming up to me on the street and referring to that song. But I didn't feel the need to write back and be mean."
Featured on Justin Timberlake's debut album, "Justified," "Cry Me a River" was aimed at his ex, Britney Spears. Not only did he accuse her of cheating while they were together, but the music video for the song used a Spears lookalike. Speaking to Rolling Stone about Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" video, Spears said, "I think it looks like such a desperate attempt, personally. But that was a great way to sell the record. He's smart."
Rockabilly singer Mojo Nixon has had more than his fair share of beefs, taking aim at 1980s pop queen Debbie Gibson ("Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child") as well as more amorphous targets like American pop culture ("Burn Down the Malls").
One of Nixon's most infamous diss track subjects was one-time Eagles vocalist-drummer and solo artist Don Henley in the aptly titled "Don Henley Must Die." That track has lyrics like, "Poet of despair!/ Pumped up with hot air!/ He's serious, pretentious/ And I just don't care," which builds up the wild chorus: "Don Henley must die!/ Put him in the electric chair/ Watch him fry!"
Henley was a good sport to his credit, even joining Nixon onstage to perform the song.
On "Down in the Dirt," Black Flag's founder Greg Ginn and 1979-era vocalist Ron Reyes called out the members of the newly formed band Flag, which included ex-Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris and the band's former drummer and bassist. The lyrics, "Come down from, you're outta the towеr/ I'm not amused by hissy 15-year-old power/ Fiction romancе, all the things that you say/ Come down in the dirt and play," reveal the power struggle between the now-splintered band.
Ginn stated in a press release that Black Flag is "not to be confused with the 'fake' Flag band currently covering the songs of Black Flag in an embarrassingly weak 'mailing it in' fashion."
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During a night out at a bar, Aerosmith bandmates saw a pretty lady with long blonde hair, but when the lovely blonde turned around, they realized it was Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil. One of the bandmates said, "That dude looks like a lady," and thus, a hit song was born. The diss was not really a diss so much as a silly mixup, and frontman Neil had no hard feelings. He even addressed the incident in his autobiography "Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell and Back with One of Rock's Most Notorious Frontmen."
When The Notorious B.I.G. released "Who Shot Ya?," the diss track was thought to be aimed at fellow rapper 2Pac, who had been shot in a 1994 robbery. In response, Shakur unleashed what has been regarded as the most savage and disrespectful diss track of all time. With "Hit 'Em Up," 2Pac called Biggie out, though the latter refused to respond with a diss track of his own. Both men wound up dead in separate and suspicious drive-by shootings.
Gwen Stefani crafted this clap-back pop track in the wake of Courtney Love insulting her in an issue of Seventeen magazine, stating: "Being famous is just like being in high school. But I'm not interested in being the cheerleader. I'm not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She's the cheerleader, and I'm out in the smoker shed."
Stefani channeled her anger into the 2004 hit "Hollaback Girl" while poking fun at the stereotype and calling out Love for supposedly talking smack. Years later, Love told Howard Stern on his radio show that she and Stefani's ex-husband Gavin Rossdale had a fling while he and Stefani were dating.
The rift between Nine Inch Nails frontman and solo artist Trent Reznor and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst began when Reznor used explicit terms about Reznor in a 1999 Rolling Stone interview. In response, Durst dissed Reznor on his track "Hot Dog," which featured the lyrics, "You like to think that I'm a perfect drug/ Just know that nothin' you do will bring you closer to me," references to several of Reznor's tracks woven throughout, as well as a string of expletives.
The animosity between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was well-documented, ran deep, and included a lawsuit and a damning interview. McCartney's song, "Too Many People," from his 1971 solo album "Ram," was an explicit dig at Lennon, who responded with "How Do You Sleep?" In the song, Lennon argues, "The only thing you done was yesterday/ And since you're gone you're just another day." In a 2020 interview with GQ, McCartney said that after years of blaming himself for breaking up the Beatles, he overcame his depression, realized he was not solely at fault, and made up with Lennon.
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Rapper CupcakKe called out Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and a host of other rappers in her remix of the 50 Cent song "How to Rob" in 2020. "Catch Lizzo and drag her out the food court," CupcakKe raps on one of the verses, taking a dig at the "Truth Hurts" singer.
Due to the controversy the diss track caused at the time of its release, CupcakKe responded in a since-deleted tweet, writing: "I think it's a beautiful thing & any one upset with it it's just use to the mediocre. Understand it's not male rappers complaining it's female rappers . Sit back & enjoy talent at its finest & for the last time it's all love to all the rappers mentioned. Don't be sensitive."
Riot grrrl matriarch Kathleen Hanna became the target of NOFX's tongue-lasher of a song, which includes lyrics like, "Kinda like the punk rock Gloria Steinham/ You can't change the world by hating men/ Can't change the world by blaming men." The band even references Courtney Love, who was rumored to have punched Hanna at Lollapalooza 1995.
Hanna didn't miss a beat and returned the lashing on her album "Le Tigre." On the song "Deceptacon," Hanna pokes at the NOFX track "Linoleum," singing, "Your lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor/ I'll walk on it, I'll walk all over you."
The English band's only studio album was released in 1977. It included the track "New York," which called out the group's predecessors, the New York Dolls, with lyrics like "An imitation from New York/ You're made in Japan/ From cheese and chalk/ You're hippy tarts hero/ 'cos you put on bad show/ Oh don't it show." In 1978, Johnny Thunders, the Dolls' former guitarist, dissed the then-disbanded Pistols with his own track, "London Boys."
While it's sometimes difficult to get to the root of a beef, the one that brewed between Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly began with an inappropriate tweet Kelly made in 2012 about Eminem's then-teenage daughter. Eminem discovered Kelly's remarks while tumbling down a YouTube rabbit hole.
In response, Slim Shady shredded Kelly in the only way a rap god can, with the 2018 diss track "Not Alike." Kelly quickly responded that same year with "Rap Devil," on which he retorted: "We know you get nervous, Rabbit/ I see Mama's spaghetti all over your sweater/ I wish you would lose yourself on the records/ That you made a decade ago, they were better." Keeping the seemingly endless feud going, Eminem responded to Kelly again with 2018's "Killshot," which many fans considered the final blow.
Things didn't get any better for Kelly when a 2010 tweet of him admitting his admiration for Eminem resurfaced.
In 1984, 14-year-old amateur Roxanne Shanté burst onto the hip-hop scene with her scathing response to UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne," a song about a woman who basically wouldn't give them the time of day. Shanté responded with "Roxanne's Revenge," which she recorded in her living room.
"Every time that he sees me, he says a rhyme/ But, see, compared to me it's weak compared to mine/ A-every time I know that I am sayin' somethin' fresher/ In any category I'm considered the best," rapped Shanté, putting the members of UTFO in their place and giving female rappers serious street cred at the time. The conflict between the two acts led to a series of back-and-forth rap disses known as the Roxanne wars.
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Salt-N-Pepa needed to wow the hip-hop world in an attempt to get their names recognized and leave behind their day jobs at Sears. There seemed no better way to do so at the time than to create a diss track in response to Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh's "The Show." Both women were nervous that the male rappers would respond to their track, but that never happened. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Pepa said, "Doug is such a great person, by the way. … I remember Doug E. Fresh telling me that Slick Rick was gonna get us, but Doug Fresh said, 'Ah, let 'em live.' Those were his exact words, 'Oh, let them girls live.'"
While this diss track may not be as well-known as some others on the list, "Something Personal" deserves a mention for its funny digs at notable bands Green Day and All Time Low. Obscure New Jersey pop-punk band Bright and Early called these bands to the mat for selling out with lyrics like, "Never looked good in high tops or camo/ Never had a fake fur-hooded coat/ I won't strike a pose like All Time Low."
Drummer Mike Joyce filed a lawsuit against his former bandmates, Morrissey and Johnny Marr, nearly a decade after the Smiths broke up. Joyce won the suit and received 25% of the band's earnings instead of the 10% they'd given him. This annoyed Morrissey, who made his feelings known on the track "Sorrow Will Come in the End," which includes the threatening lyrics, "You pleaded and squealed/ And you think you've won/ But sorrow will come/ To you in the end."
Before the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop rivalries, the famous rivalry between the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons dominated the pop charts and had similar record sales in the early 1960s. The Beach Boys called the Four Seasons out on their 1963 album "Surfer Girl," which features "Surfer's Rule." They mocked the group on the record, singing, "Four Seasons, you better believe it." What's more, the Beach Boys followed the line with a very Four Season-esque falsetto. The Four Seasons returned with their own indirect jab on "No Surfin' Today," sparking what could be deemed the early East Coast/West Coast rivalry.
After Godfather of Grunge Neil Young took a few jabs at the South with songs like "Southern Man" and "Alabama," Lynyrd Skynyrd clapped back on their record "Sweet Home Alabama," singing: "Well I heard Mister Young sing about her/ Well I heard old Neil put her down/ Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/ A Southern man don't need him around anyhow."
The lyrics were all in good fun, though—just after the song's release, Ronnie Van Zant said, "We wrote 'Sweet Home Alabama' as a joke. We didn't even think about it. The words just came out that way. We just laughed like hell and said, 'Ain't that funny.' We love Neil Young. We love his music."
Young played a medley of "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Alabama" as a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd just weeks after Van Zant and other Skynyrd band members died in a plane crash in 1977.
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While the pop star was at the top of his game around the release of "Teenage Wildlife," David Bowie saw musician Gary Numan moving up the ranks quickly, and he didn't like it. The song's lyrics find a bitter Bowie singing, "A broken-nosed mogul are you/ One of the new-wave boys/ Same old thing in brand new drag/ Comes sweeping into view/ As ugly as a teenage millionaire/ Pretending it's a whiz-kid world."
In an NME interview, Bowie gave Numan a backhanded compliment, stating, "What Numan did he did excellently but in repetition, in the same information coming over again and again, once you've heard one piece." Numan, for his part, was sad to see he spurned such distaste from a singer he admired; he'd understand years later, though, and said of Bowie to Uncut: "He was still a young man, with ups and downs in his own career, and I think he saw people like me as little upstarts. But later, he said some nice things about me, so that made the whole thing better!"
Folk singer Woody Guthrie's version of "This Land Is Your Land" became one of the nation's most enduring anthems. While not a traditional diss track, Guthrie considered it a response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Guthrie deemed Berlin's tune an inaccurate representation of America; the folk singer got sick of Berlin's overly patriotic musings and crafted a different kind of song about the country.
When Eminem claimed he had a relationship with Mariah Carey, she denied it and accused Slim Shady of being obsessed with her on her aptly titled song "Obsessed." Eminem teamed with Dr. Dre to produce and record a response, the diss track "The Warning," which included the scathing verse: "Perfect way to get back, wanna hear something wick-wack?/ I got the same exact tat that's on Nick's back/ I'm obsessed now, oh gee/ Is that supposed to be me in the video with the goatee?"
The battle has continued over a decade, with Carey impersonating Eminem on TikTok in June 2021.
This one-hit wonder called out several celebrities with lines like, "Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson/ Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson/ You're all fakes/ Run to your mansions/ Come around/ We'll kick your a** in." The band's frontman, Gregg Alexander, later told The Hollywood Reporter that he was disillusioned by the fact that people focused more on the lyrics mentioning celebrities than on the song's more pointed verses.
Marilyn Manson spoke to MTV's Kurt Loder about his feelings about being included in the song, saying: "I'm giving an open invitation to the singer of the New Radicals, because he's all strange and spiritual, and he challenged me in one of his songs. A lot of people would say, 'Y'know, don't give him the attention, cause that's what he wants.' But I think I'll crack his skull open if I see him. … I'm not mad that he said he'd kick my a**, I just don't want to be used in the same sentence with Courtney Love."
While a host of male musicians were rumored to be the subject of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain"—David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, and Simon's ex-husband James Taylor, among them—Simon finally came clean in 2015. The singer-songwriter told People magazine that the track's second verse refers to Warren Beatty, though she said Beatty thinks the whole song is about him. She vowed not to reveal who the remaining verses are about but did admit it was two men.
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The rap feud between Nas and Jay-Z is rumored to have started back in the '90s when Nas originally agreed to collaborate with Jay-Z on a song but failed to show up to the recording studio. The missed opportunity would cause Nas and Jay-Z to take subtle lyrical jabs at each other on various records over the years, though it's speculated Nas dealt the first blow.
On his infamous record "Ether," often regarded as a classic hip-hop diss track, Nas accused Jay-Z of imitating his style."In '88 you was gettin' chased through your building/ Callin' my crib and I ain't even give you my numbers/ All I did was give you a style for you to run with," Nas raps on the record, prompting Jay-Z to respond with the Kanye West-produced "Takeover," from Hova's iconic album "The Blueprint."
Years later, the two hip-hop artists publicly squashed their beef with each other at a show in 2005 held at the Continental Airlines Arena.
The rift between Jay-Z and Nas widened in the late 1990s with rumors that Jay-Z wanted to claim the hip-hop throne after the untimely death of The Notorious B.I.G. Hip-hop circles have stated that Jay-Z took jabs at Nas in a couple of songs including the 1997 track "Where I'm From."
In 2001, the feud escalated when Jay-Z dissed Nas and fellow Queens rapper Prodigy in "Takeover." Later, in 2002, Jay-Z admitted to having an affair with the mother of Nas' child on the song "Supa Ugly," a blow so low that even Jay-Z's mother warned he'd taken things too far.
On the track "Infrared," hip-hop artist Pusha T alluded to Drake using a ghostwriter named Quentin Miller to pen his rhymes. Drake fired back with the 2018 track "Duppy Freestyle," where he addressed Pusha T, Kanye West, and the G.O.O.D Music record label.
On the song, Drake raps, "Don't push me when I'm in album mode/ You're not even top 5 as far as your label talent goes/You send shots, well, I got to challenge those."
"Duppy" is the Jamaican slang word for ghost, which Drake most likely uses to reference Kanye West and Kid Cudi's musical collaboration called Kids See Ghosts.
Taylor Swift has often been something of an open book musically when it comes to her romantic life. On 2010's "Dear John," which details her brief romance with rock musician John Mayer, Swift admits she was warned about his manipulative ways but decided to date him anyway.
Swift didn't hold back on sharing which "John" she was singing about; the title alone was a clear giveaway, if not the song's mentioning a significant age gap between lovers. Swift was 19 when she dated the then-32-year-old Mayer, of whom she sings, "Dear John, I see it all now that you're gone/ Don't you think I was too young to be messed with?"
Mayer told Rolling Stone in 2012 that he was "really humiliated" by the song.
Many hip-hop fans agree Ice Cube's "No Vaseline" is one of the hardest disses ever made. After departing the group years prior over unpaid royalties, Cube unleashed the 1991 retaliation track aimed at his former N.W.A members Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. N.W.A had recorded several tracks lashing out at Cube after exiting the group at the height of its success.
"Lookin' like straight Bozos/ I saw it coming that's why I went solo," Cube raps on "No Vaseline," solidifying the solo artist as a force to be reckoned with. Cube and Dr. Dre have since reconciled and collaborated on several music projects.
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