A diss track, diss record or diss song (diss – abbr. from disrespect or disparage) is a song whose primary purpose is to verbally attack someone else, usually another artist. Diss tracks are often the result of an existing, escalating feud between the two people; for example, the artists involved may be former members of a group, or artists on rival labels.
The diss track as a medium of its own was popularized in the hip hop genre, fueled by the hip hop rivalry phenomenon (especially the East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry of the mid-1990s). More recently, entertainers from outside the traditional music landscape have adopted the genre.
In the course of constructing their argument, artists often include a wealth of references to past events and transgressions in their diss tracks, which listeners can dive into. Artists who are the subject of a diss track often make one of their own in response to the first. It is this back-and-forth associated with a feud that makes this type of song particularly viral. The term sneak diss refers to a type of verse in a song in which an artist refrains from mentioning a specific individual but describing or referring to them in a negative or derogatory manner.
Origin and early examples edit
Though the term "diss track" originated in hip hop, there are many examples throughout music history of earlier songs written as attacks on specific individuals. Some have also been retroactively described as diss tracks in their own right.
One particular example was the 1963 comedy album I Am the Greatest by boxer Cassius Clay, released six months prior to winning the first world heavyweight championship fight against Sonny Liston, the public announcement of converting to Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali. The album helped establish Ali's reputation as an eloquently poetic "trash talker", which makes several references of dissing Liston (as demonstrated on the album's fifth track "Round 5: Will The Real Sonny Liston Please Fall Down") and toward any future contenders. Ali's remarks were treated skeptically at the time as mere promotional bragging until the Liston vs. Clay fight that was held on February 25, 1964; when Ali won in a major upset after Liston gave up six rounds later. I Am the Greatest is considered a precursor of hip hop music with Ali's impact on the genre's structure well documented.
Reggae musician Lee "Scratch" Perry was known for writing tracks that insulted his former musical collaborators. One prominent example was the 1967 song "Run for Cover", directed at producer Coxsone Dodd. Another example was "People Funny Boy", a 1968 track which attacked Joe Gibbs; Gibbs would respond later in the year on the track "People Grudgeful".
John Lennon of the Beatles wrote "Sexy Sadie", a song released on the band's 1968 album The Beatles, as a diss track aimed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru who he felt had been a let-down to them. The original lyrics specifically targeted him, but at the request of George Harrison the lyrics became more vague. Lennon continued writing diss tracks after the break-up of the Beatles; his most forceful such song was "How Do You Sleep?", from his 1971 solo album Imagine. Lennon had the impression that the song "Too Many People" from Paul McCartney's Ram (1971) was a dig at him, something McCartney later admitted, and that other songs on the album, such as "3 Legs", contained similar attacks. As a result, Lennon wrote "How Do You Sleep?" to indirectly mock McCartney's musicianship. While McCartney is never mentioned in the song, the many references make clear he is the target, particularly in the lyrics "The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you've gone you're just another day", the first lyric being a reference to The Beatles' 1965 song "Yesterday" and the second line referring to McCartney's 1971 song "Another Day".
The opening track on Queen's album A Night at the Opera, "Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)", is an example of a hard rock song now considered to be a diss track. The song attacks a former manager of the band. The Sex Pistols are another group who recorded several diss tracks, including "New York", aimed at The New York Dolls, and "E.M.I.", aimed at their former record label EMI.
The thrash metal band Megadeth's song "Liar" has been described as a diss track towards the band's former guitarist Chris Poland, who frontman Dave Mustaine claimed was stealing guitars and selling them for heroin money.
Coalescing of the genre: Early hip-hop rivalries edit
In the 1980s, diss tracks began to feature prominently in the hip-hop genre. The first known hip-hop feud (or "beef") was the Roxanne Wars. The Roxanne Wars began in 1984 when Roxanne Shanté and Marley Marl released the song "Roxanne's Revenge", a diss track aimed at the trio U.T.F.O. "Roxanne's Revenge" was a quick success, leading U.T.F.O. to compose a response: they joined forces with Elease Jack and Adelaida Martinez, who adopted the stage name "The Real Roxanne," to release a song under that name in 1985. Roxanne Shanté replied soon afterward, and the feud rapidly expanded from there, with numerous other rappers writing songs that expanded upon the Roxanne mythos.
Another prominent hip-hop feud from the 1980s was The Bridge Wars, a dispute over the birthplace of hip-hop. Marley Marl and MC Shan released the track "The Bridge" in 1985, in which they were perceived as claiming that the genre originated in Queensbridge. KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions responded with "South Bronx" in 1986, and the feud continued to escalate, culminating with Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge Is Over" in 1987.
East Coast vs. West Coast era edit
The East Coast–West Coast hip-hop rivalry led to increased popularity for hip-hop diss tracks. This feud began with Bronx rapper Tim Dog's 1991 song "Fuck Compton", which expressed his anger at record companies' preference of West Coast artists over the East Coast. This song provoked many responses, including Dr. Dre's single "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" the following year. "Fuck Wit Dre Day" is also notable as a diss track that emerged from the breakup of the group N.W.A., taking shots at former group member Eazy-E. The N.W.A. breakup also led to Ice Cube's diss track "No Vaseline" in 1991.
Rappers from other regions also became involved in the feud at times; for instance, Chicago rapper Common exchanged diss tracks with Ice Cube after Common was perceived as having insulted the West Coast on his song "I Used to Love H.E.R."
The East Coast–West Coast rivalry came to be exemplified by the feud between 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G., which began after Biggie's song "Who Shot Ya?" was interpreted by 2Pac as a mockery of his 1994 robbery. Though both B.I.G. and Puff Daddy denied involvement and asserted that "Who Shot Ya?" had been recorded before the robbery, 2Pac nevertheless retorted on several tracks, most famously "Hit 'Em Up" in 1996.
Another major feud from this era was the feud between Jay-Z and Nas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Jay-Z dissed Nas (as well as Prodigy of Mobb Deep) on the 2001 track "Takeover", and Nas retorted later that year with "Ether." Ether in particular has come to be seen as a "classic" diss track, and caused "ether" to emerge as a slang term meaning to ruthlessly defeat someone in a rap battle.
Contemporary hip-hop rivalries edit
In the 2010s, rivalries among hip-hop musicians have birthed numerous notable diss tracks.
After years of a reported feud and subtle references, rapper Pusha T called out Lil Wayne, as well as Wayne's Cash Money and Young Money record labels, in a 2012 song titled "Exodus 23:1". Lil Wayne responded with a diss track of his own, "Ghoulish". Drake, who at the time was signed to Young Money, subsequently entered the feud with "Tuscan Leather", a song on his 2013 album Nothing Was the Same. Pusha T and Drake then recorded several further diss tracks against each other. In 2016, Pusha T released the freestyle "H.G.T.V." and Drake responded with "Two Birds, One Stone". Pusha T then continued the feud with "Infrared", the closing track of his 2018 album DAYTONA. This song sparked the response "Duppy Freestyle" from Drake, to which Pusha T responded with "The Story of Adidon". The cover of "The Story of Adidon" depicted a young Drake in blackface and featured lyrics revealing that Drake had a son. Due to Drake's high level of commercial success and popularity, the feud and the diss tracks that followed received significant coverage from hip hop media and beyond.
In 2015, Drake also engaged in a feud against rapper Meek Mill, who alleged that Drake used ghostwriters for his music. Drake's second diss track in response to the allegations was "Back to Back", which went on to become a critical and commercial success.
In 2018, rapper Eminem, who had a long history of being embroiled in feuds, released "Killshot" in response to Machine Gun Kelly's diss "Rap Devil". Collectively, the official uploads to YouTube alone have raised more than 800 million views as of 2023.
Online renaissance edit
In the late 2010s, personalities from outside the music industry – especially YouTubers – began releasing diss tracks. Diss tracks performed especially well on YouTube, often drawing tens or hundreds of millions of views, spawning internet memes, and earning millions of dollars in AdSense revenue for their creators. Notable YouTubers who have released diss tracks include Logan Paul, Jake Paul, RiceGum, KSI, PewDiePie, and IDubbbzTV. In 2018, YouTuber Jake Paul was certified platinum for his track "It's Everyday Bro", and YouTubers RiceGum and Alissa Violet were certified platinum for "It's Every Night Sis", the diss track they made in response.
In January 2016, rapper B.o.B. and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson engaged in a public argument on Twitter after B.o.B. claimed that the Earth was flat. The argument culminated with B.o.B. releasing a diss track against Tyson, titled "Flatline"; Tyson subsequently enlisted his nephew, Stephen Tyson, to write and record a rebuttal titled "Flat to Fact".
In 2022, rapper Pusha T and restaurant chain Arby's collaborated to promote Arby's new Spicy Fish Sandwich by releasing a diss track aimed at McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. Pusha and Arby's followed the track with a second one, later in the year, which criticized the McRib.
See also edit
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- "The Upsetter", Black Music (January 1975). Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine "Perry says the song was his way of expressing how he felt about the way Clement Dodd (Sir Coxsone) had treated him financially while he had been working for Dodd. It spoke of revenge: 'You take people for fool, yeah / And use them as a tool, yeah / But I am the av-en-ger...'."
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- "American certifications – Jake Paul – It's Everyday Bro". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
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- "American certifications – Jake Paul – It's Everyday Bro". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
- Wagner, Laura (January 26, 2016). "Neil DeGrasse Tyson Gets Into A Rap Battle With B.o.B Over Flat Earth Theory". NPR. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
- Brait, Ellen (January 26, 2016). "Flat earth rapper BoB releases Neil deGrasse Tyson diss track". The Guardian. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
- Edwards, Jonathan (March 22, 2022). "Pusha T says he didn't get paid enough for writing iconic McDonald's jingle. So he made a diss track with Arby's". Washington Post.
- Wynter, Courtney (September 28, 2022). "Pusha T drops another McDonald's diss track 'Rib Roast'". NME. Retrieved May 5, 2023.