Hip-hop fans have been relishing in beef these past few weeks. Not only have we had Ghostface Killah delivering a video blog threatening Action Bronson, but the recent shenanigans between Drake and Meek Mill have really captured the attention of hiphopheads and shown the new generation of fans what rap beef can entail. Compared to the rap feuds of yesteryear however, the actions of today are extremely tame, and are often confined to social media instead of on records or in the streets.
It’s our duty here at H&E to give you a crash course on the art of the diss track, and provide some historic examples of tracks that have defined what it means to come at another rapper in your music.
1. Nas, Ether vs. Jay-Z, Takeover
The feud between Nas and Jay-Z is perhaps the last true rap beef that we have been treated to as rap fans, and was one that became extremely personal and borderline violent. Two rappers from New York in their prime in the early 2000’s was always bound to cause problems, and these two rappers were eager to assert themselves as the true “King of New York”. Ether begins with Nas making his thoughts very clear, as a sample of “Fuck Jay-Z” is repeated throughout the track, while insults such as “How much of Biggie’s rhymes are gonna come out your fat lips?” shows that there really was no love lost between these two hip-hop heavyweights. No one is safe from Nas’ vitriol, even the namesake of Jay-Z’s label, Rocafella, who died of AIDS.
Ether was a direct response to Takeover, and these two tracks continue to divide rap fans. It is almost a certainty that if you asked ten fans which of these two songs is the better track, you would get results that are split firmly down the middle. Takeover in my opinion is a better track overall, perhaps just from a musical standpoint, and is still a song that I will listen to on its own merits, not just for its lyrical content. There are a multitude of heavy hitting lines directed solely at Nas however, “Your bodyguard’s Oochie Wally verse was better than yours, matter of fact you had the worse flow on the whole fucking song”, “Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all”.
Sadly, modern rap fans are unlikely to see beef like this again in the future, but at the rate that Drake seems to be single handedly destroying Meek Mills career, who’s to say where the state of the rap beef is headed.
2. No Vaseline by Ice Cube (Directed at N.W.A)
No Vaseline is a scathing track, and is one that pulls no punches. No member of N.W.A is safe from the verbal barbs delivered by Cube, and you know that a diss track is perhaps a little over the top when insults and the introduction of the track are censored and removed from the released version. The track itself is a response to the N.W.A track 100 Miles And Runnin’, which describes Cube as historical figure Benedict Arnold, who defected to the British Army after originally fighting for the American Continental Army, referencing Ice Cube’s decision to leave the group following a payment dispute.
3. Who Shot Ya? by Notorious B.I.G vs. Hit ’em Up by Tupac Shakur
Now this is true rap beef, and an example of the violence that was prevalent within hip-hop during the 90’s, even on a mainstream level. The feud between Tupac and Biggie is well documented, and these two tracks serve as the culmination of years of hatred and disagreement. Tupac Shakur was shot in 1994 at a New York Studio, by who he believed to be an associate of Bad Boy Records, the label of Puffy and Biggie.
In what was a slightly more than subtle jab at Tupac, the track Who Shot Ya? was released, seemingly confirming that the shooter was indeed linked to Bad Boy, and that Biggie was claiming responsibility for organising the shooting. The track itself opens with a brutal sentiment, “Who shot ya? Seperate the weak from the obsolete. Hard to creep them Brooklyn streets. It’s on n*gga, fuck all that bickering beef”. It is definitely hard to imagine seeing Drake say something like this on a diss track these days; the violence associated with hip-hop is much more resigned to behind the scenes or underground circles.
Tupac, not one to shy away from confrontation, and fresh from recovering from the shooting, fired back with arguably the most famous diss track that hip-hop has been treated to, Hit ’em Up. The track features the most iconic line of all of the aforementioned rap feuds, “That’s why I fucked your bitch you fat motherfucker”, an obvious jab at Biggie.
The video for the track itself features a Biggie lookalike which is insulted throughout the song by Tupac and his label mates. After firing off some more heated insults aimed at those behind his shooting, “Fuck your bitch and the clique you claim”, Tupac raps with an arrogance, and there is definitely an antagonistic tone behind his lyrics, “Who shot me? But the punks didn’t finish, now you about to feel the wrath of a menace”.
While tracks like Back to Back have reignited a mainstream interest in rap beef, we are unlikely to ever see these feuds reach the levels that we have seen in previous generations, which is a shame from an entertainment and lyrical standpoint, but is probably beneficial for all parties involved, let’s keep these beefs solely within the music. That being said, Meek Mill, please step your game up.