The hip-hop diss track can trace its roots all the way back to playing the dozens. At its best, a diss track can offer memorable one-liners that fans will remember forever—those “oh, snap!” moments that make us gasp or laugh or realize something brand-new and damaging about the intended target. At its worst, however, the diss track can fuel violence, the still-unsolved murders of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac being the obvious touchpoints in 1990s.
A smart, witty and precise takedown of a rival MC—over a proper beat and accompanied by some sly cover-art imagery, of course—can boost a career. That weak sauce, however? It can crush your career and ruin your respectability.
Our current millennium has seen the battle-record tradition laid by the Kool Moe Dees, LL Cool Js, DJ Quiks and KRS-Ones of the world carried forth in exciting (and, sometimes, dangerous) directions. Titans Jay-Z and Nas got the decade off to a scorching start, dropping two of the best diss songs of an era in short order. And various crew beefs involving Roc-A-Fella, Murder Inc., G Unit/Shady/Aftermath, Cash Money/Young Money and the Clipse gave unforgettable rewind-worthy moments in lieu of unity.
Here, in chronological order, XXL takes a look at some of the hot lines—and crossed lines—from 25 of the greatest diss tracks from the year 2000 and beyond. All you need to do is peep the YouTube numbers of Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly’s attacks from a few years ago to know that the thirst for conflict is alive and well. Steel sharpens steel. —Luke Fox
“Bang Bang,” Capone-N-Noreaga Featuring Foxy Brown (2000)Target: Lil Kim
CNN simply set the stage on the explosive “Bang Bang” for special guest Foxy Brown to tear friend-turned-foe Lil Kim a new one with her ferocious cleanup verse. Amidst the flurry of insults, Foxy’s plea for Kim to stop using The Notorious B.I.G.’s legacy as a crutch is especially stinging: “Let the nigga rest in peace, and hop off his dick, bitch, do you.” Foxy’s words were especially consequential—they helped spark an infamous shootout at Hot 97 months later that led to Lil Kim serving jail time for perjury, forever affecting the hip-hop history books.
"Takeover," Jay-Z (2001)Target: Mobb Deep, Nas
Jigga’s Doors-sampling, Kanye West–produced monster managed to stand out on The Blueprint, an album full of standouts. With no time for subliminals, Jay-Z exposed Mobb Deep’s Prodigy (RIP) as a childhood ballet dancer and poked fun at the inconsistency of Nas’s post-Illmatic output: “That’s a one-hot-album-every-10-year average.” “Takeover” was Jay’s self-proclamation as the new King of New York.
"Ether," Nas (2001)Target: Jay-Z
Nasty Nas’ hotly anticipated and highly personal counterpunch to Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” “Ether” ignited a never-ending debate over whose diss track was more scathing.
"You seem to be only concerned with dissin' women/Were you abused as a child, scared to smile, they called you ugly?" Nas wondered aloud. The vicious assault caused Jay to lose his composure, hastily dropping the regrettable “Supa Ugly” freestyle.
“Fuck Jada,”Beanie Sigel (2001)Target: Jadakiss
Roc-A-Fella’s loosest cannon goes hard on this long and gloriously unhinged mixtape freestyle, threatening to “make Jay-to-the-Mwah put his lips on his nine and really kiss the game goodbye.” While the (now squashed) Jadakiss-Beanie Sigel beef played out in the shadows of Jay-Z vs. Nas, it featured some lyrical gems.
“Nail in the Coffin,” Eminem (2002)Target: Benzino
The simmering beef between Eminem and The Source cofounder Benzino reached a boil with “Nail in the Coffin,” Eminem’s response to Benzino’s claim on “Pull Your Skirt Up” that he was the “2003 Vanilla Ice.” Eminem, going full Thanos, eviscerated Benzino with barbs about his advanced age, his fake mafioso persona and his questionable journalistic and business practices.
“Loose Change,” Ja Rule (2002)Target: 50 Cent, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes
Feeling his back against the wall and his pop stardom fading with the emergence of nemesis 50 Cent’s Billboard dominance, Ja Rule comes out gunning for the three-headed monster of the Shady/Aftermath empire. Taking aim at 50, Dr. Dre and “Feminem,” while hitting Busta Rhymes with the shrapnel, a furious—and ragingly homophobic—Ja goes off: “And Em, what’s the doo-rag for?/ You never gonna have waves, you'll never know Black pain/ But you can become the first White rapper slain.”
“Hail Mary,” Eminem Featuring 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes (2003)Target: Ja Rule
Mention Eminem’s daughter at your own peril. Ja Rule dragged Slim Shady into his beef with 50 Cent during “Loose Change,” firing out this gem: “Em, you claim your mother's a crackhead and Kim is a known slut/ So what's Hailie gonna be when she grows up?" So Em grabbed his boys, a Tupac instrumental and went for the jugular on this caustic classic.
“Back Down,” 50 Cent (2003)Target: Ja Rule, Murder Inc.
On this Dr. Dre laboratory beast from the classic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent hilariously stomped out Murder Inc. and Ja Rule, a real-life enemy who he had been jabbing at on mixtapes but had now supplanted atop the charts. “I'm back in the game, shorty, to rule and conquer,” 50 asserts. “You sing for hoes and sound like the Cookie Monster.”
“Stomp,” Young Buck Featuring T.I. and Ludacris(2004)Targets: T.I., Ludacris
When 50 Cent protégé Young Buck reached out for verses from ATL rivals Ludacris and T.I. for his Straight Outta Cashville LP, Tip’s came back with the line, “And me getting beat down, that’s ludicrous.” Buck wasn’t certain if it was a subliminal or not, but he played T.I.’s bars for Luda, who went for broke, delivering this mic-drop moment: “Nobody’s thinkin' about you, plus your beef ain't legit/So please stay off the T-I-P of my dick!”
“Piggy Bank,” 50 Cent (2005)Targets: Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Nas, Lil Kim, Shyne
Curtis Jackson never saw a beef that didn’t make him run and grab a fork and knife. When Jadakiss and Fat Joe collaborated with 50's arch nemesis Ja Rule on the hometown anthem “New York”—and future G Unit signees Mobb Deep popped up in the video—Fiddy blasted everyone within radius. Nas, Kelis, Shyne and Lil Kim all get dragged into the fray in this Needlz banger.
“Checkmate,” Jadakiss (2005)Target: 50 Cent
50 Cent snapped on The LOX’s best wordsmith on “Piggy Bank”: “Jada, don't fuck with me, if you wanna eat/ ’Cause I'll do yo' little ass like Jay did Mobb Deep/Yeah, homey, in New York niggas like your vocals/But that's only New York, dawg, yo' ass is local.” In retaliation, 'Kiss sharply questioned 50’s zip code: "Yeah, you got a felony, but you ain't a predicate/ Never the King of New York, you live in Connecticut."
“300 Bars and Runnin’ ,” The Game (2005)Target: G-Unit
The Game’s epic 15-minute diss of the entire G-Unit, from honcho 50 Cent down to Olivia, set mixtapes ablaze in the summer of 2005. The former 50 protégé goes for broke, airing it all out atop DJ Skee’s beat-switching mix of hot instrumentals like Kanye West’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and Jay-Z’s “Takeover.” “On my album 50 helped me just a lil bit/Only on two songs, now back to some killer shit,” Game spits, mocking Fiddy’s flow.
“Roman’s Revenge,” Nicki Minaj (2010)Target: Lil Kim
Over a raucous Swizz Beatz instrumental, Nicki Minaj (Roman Zolanski) and Eminem (Slim Shady) let their alter-egos run rampant on this standout from the former’s studio debut, Pink Friday. Minaj stakes her claim as the new reigning female MC by subliminally calling Lil Kim a has-been who should hang up her career already: “You out of work, I know it’s tough/But enough is enough.”
“Stay Schemin’,” Rick Ross Featuring Drake and French Montana (2012)Target: Common
In retrospect, the friction between Drake and Common may be one of the most bizarre and least aggressive on-wax battles in rap history, stemming from both men’s infatuation with Serena Williams, who Drake dated after Common. Responding to Common’s “Sweet”—in which the Chicagoan speaks some sharp subliminals at "some ho ass niggas/Singing all around me man, la la la"—Drake hops on Rick Ross’s excellent “Stay Schemin’” and shoots: “It bothers me when the gods get to acting like the broads.”
“Truth,” Gucci Mane (2012)Target: Jeezy
During a 2012 radio interview, Jeezy called Gucci “retarded,” thus reigniting a longstanding feud dating back to “Icy” and the death of CTE rapper Pookie Loc back in 2005. Gucci, who had professed self-defense in the case, brought up an old wound with the fiery “Truth,” crossing a line by referencing Jeezy’s deceased friend: “Go dig your partner up, nigga, bet he can't say shit.”
“Exodus 23:1,” Pusha-T (2012)Target: Lil Wayne, Drake
The Drake vs. Pusha beef is essentially a deafening echo effect of the Clipse’s original rift with Lil Wayne (a.k.a. “Mr. Me Too”), which goes all the way back to Baby’s video shoot for “What Happened to That Boy.” Pusha took exception to Weezy’s perceived copying of his style of dress. Here, he fires at Wayne’s ugly contractual mess with Cash Money Records: "You signed to one nigga that signed to another nigga/That's signed to three niggas, now that's bad luck."
“Back to Back,” Drake (2015)Target: Meek Mill
Rapidly realizing his first salvo at Meek Mill, “Charged Up,” was actually only at about 50 percent power, Drake doubled down with a second clap, the vastly superior “Back to Back.” He cleverly used a photo of Toronto Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-clinching home run over Philadelphia in the artwork. Zingy one-liners alluding to Meek's then-lover Nicki Minaj—“Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?”—and a catchy hook earned the diss Billboard placement and a Best Rap Performance nomination at the Grammy Awards.
"Pest Control," The Game (2016)Target: Meek Mill
In his flip of the Young MA hit “Ooouuu,” the Compton's of The Game portrays Philadelphia’s Meek Mill as “Nicki Minaj sideshow” and a rat, giving him the dismissive nickname “Meeky Mouse.” Arguably more entertaining than the diss track itself is the accompanying video, which depicts a boy requesting pest control to take care of a rat in his room. Greeted with Mill’s beats upon opening the door, the exterminators then smash the rat with a bat.
“Shether,” Remy Ma (2017)Target: Nicki Minaj
Remodelling Nas’s 2001 ethering of Jay-Z for her own target, Remy Ma goes hard at Nicki Minaj over the same charged Ron Browz beat, accusing her of getting butt implants and bringing up the fact Nicki’s brother, Jelani Maraj, was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl: “And I got a few words for the moms of the young Barbz/Guess who supports a child molester? Nicki Minaj.” Whoa.
“The Oracle,” Ma$e (2017)Target: Cam'ron
Former crewmates and collaborators on one of the biggest hits of either’s career, “Horse & Carriage,” Cam’ron and Ma$e’s long-splintered relationship was still showing its thorns decades later. The Pastor broke down the origins of this Harlem World beef from his perspective, firing pointed shots like, “You robbed Juelz on some Diddy shit/And when Jim start ballin’, you get back on sissy shit.”
“Dinner Time,” Cam’ron (2017)Target: Ma$e
Cam’ron prefers to describe his diss songs aimed at Ma$e as “stories” instead of battle raps and claimed he was actually paid $70,000 through a YouTube deal to respond to “The Oracle.” Over four-plus minutes of ravaging, in line with the lion feasting on the joint cover art, Cam refutes Mason Betha’s claims in “The Oracle” and asserts that Pastor Betha joined the church with ulterior motives.
“Duppy Freestyle,” Drake (2018)Target: Pusha-T, Kanye West
A retort to Pusha-T’s “Infrared,” which was produced by Drake’s on-and-off frienemy Kanye West, “Duppy Freestyle” refers to a malevolent spirit in Jamaican patois. By questioning the veracity of Pusha’s drug-dealing background and name-dropping his wife, however, Drake would prompt the nastiness of the “The Story of Adidon.”
“The Story of Adidon,” Pusha-T (2018)Target: Drake
Over the No I.D.-produced beat for Jay-Z's “The Story of O.J.,” Pusha’s over-the-top response to “Duppy Freestyle” reveals that Drizzy has been “hiding a child” he’d had out of wedlock with French model Sophie Brussaux, accusing his enemy of being a deadbeat dad. For good measure, the track’s cover art features an out-of-context photograph of Drake wearing blackface in 2007. Yikes.
“Rap Devil,” Machine Gun Kelly (2018)Target: Eminem
In this response to Eminem’s slamming of MGK on “Not Alike”—which was invoked by Kelly tweeting that Em’s daughter Hailie was “hot as fuck” once upon a time—MGK earned 225 million YouTube views by making fun of the Rap God’s weird beard.
“Killshot,” Eminem (2018)Target: Machine Gun Kelly
Piling up more than 38.1 million views within 24 hours of its YouTube debut, Eminem’s highly anticipated response to MGK’s “Rap Devil” dismantles his former fan with precision and hilarity. Em rips into Kelly’s lackluster sales—“I’m 45 and I’m still outselling you/By 29 I had three albums that had blew”.