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Top 5: The five greatest diss tracks in hip-hop history

Why do rappers write diss tracks? Well, the simple answer is that hip-hop simply wouldn’t be hip-hop without a bit of competition, and from time to time, we need that one brave artist to step up and battle for the top spot. The genre is a competitive sport, and if you’re not eyeing up your competitors and looking over your shoulder at all times, you can go from a winner to a loser in a flash.

However, snatching and securing the hip hop crown is never easy, especially when your opponent sees you coming and, more often than not, there is a tussle which can be vicious.

Diss tracks have always played an enormous part in the history of hip hop, and one of quality can grant you the top spot within the industry, so if you’re anywhere near the height of fame, prepare yourself to be hit with one. From Notorious BIG to 50 Cent and others, in hip hop, being the best comes with a cost.

Across the years, there have been many feuds and battles for the top spot. However, people don’t always agree on who’s the winner. In fact, sometimes they can be highly polarising, with hip-hop fanatics often taking sides. Furthermore, they have been known to divide entire countries by region, such as the East Coast versus West Coast feud of 1990s hip hop, which resulted in two infamous deaths.

However, battles rarely reach such a point, and most agree that competition in hip hop is healthy. Some even promote it as it can help the participants develop their skills and hone their craft.

With almost too many to mention and as polarising as they are, below, we’ve picked out the top five diss tracks ever.

The five greatest diss tracks:

5. Shether (Remy Ma, 2017)

Before becoming a credible recording artist, Remy Ma was primarily known in New York as a battle rapper who (as a teen) would destroy men twice her age at a venue above a Bronx record shop called ‘The Fight Klub’. Her most famous battle before her stint in jail was against New Jersey artist Lady Luck. However, when she was released in 2014, the rapper came up against a new competitor.

Enter Nicki Minaj.  

According to the rapper, she wrote ‘Shether’ because Minaj was repeatedly impeding her career path and suppressing her behind the scenes. She claimed Minaj had paid off journalists to write negative album reviews, blackmailed award ceremonies to prohibit her ability to attend and even coerced producers to deny her collaboration opportunities. This culmination led to the legendary ‘Shether’ diss track addressed to Nicki Minaj.

4. Back Down (50 Cent, 2003)

50 Cent has had his fair share of feuds, but his beef with Ja Rule holds the top spot.

Dating back to 1999, this beef was one of the many early noughties hip hop feuds. With both of the artists hailing from the Queens borough of New York, it is no surprise that is where the problems started. 

It all began when Ja claimed he was robbed of his chain by one of 50 Cent’s close friends. From here, things got worse as the whole of Ja Rule’s crew (Murda Inc) began snubbing 50 Cent and mocking his music.

In 1999, 50 Cent released a diss track aimed at Murda Inc entitled ‘Life’s on the Line’, and the two began to clash track for track. But it was in 2003 when 50 Cent hit Ja Rule with the legendary diss track ‘Back Down’ in which he talks about his opponent’s children and labels him a “pu*sy”. Being such a heated track, ‘Back Down’ must be in the top five.

3. No Vaseline (Ice Cube, 1991)

Ice Cube is undeniably one of the most notorious LA rappers, so when he decided to leave his crew NWA in 1989 over disputes about money, he had more than a little to get off his chest. 

In 1991, Cube released ‘No Vaseline’, a diss track aimed at his former bandmates, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella and their manager, Jerry Heller. In the track, he tells Dr. Dre to stop rapping and “stick to producing” and, on multiple occasions, accuses the crew members of sodomy. ‘No Vaseline’ is a ruthless and vicious diss track and belongs in the top five. 

2. Hit ‘em Up (Tupac Shakur, 1996)

Tupac Shakur is considered a legend in hip hop but was an agent of chaos, and his tracks fuelled the now infamous East Coast versus West Coast feud. The Notorious BIG and 2pac were once friends. However, that all changed when Shakur was the victim of attempted murder. 

Positive that his old friend was the man behind the attack on his life, Shakur began addressing the rapper in his music. ‘Hit em Up’ is one of the most famous diss tracks ever to be recorded, as it fuelled the out-of-control regional division that plagued hip hop in the 1990s.

‘Hit em Up’ is perhaps, in the eyes of many, the reason why Tupac Shakur was shot dead in the same year as its release. His death would be followed a year later by his opponent’s. Despite the bloody beef that created ‘Hit em Up’, it is still one of the best diss tracks ever made and is definitely top-five material.

1. Ether (Nas, 2001)

‘Ether’ by Nas is not only the most well-known diss track in hip hop but almost the most well-made.  

Aimed at Jay-Z, ‘Ether’ epitomises the perfect diss track. It is clear with the first three words being “F*ck Jay-Z”, so there is no ambiguity surrounding who the song is aimed at. It addresses Jay-Z’s come-up and dissects how he may have ridden the coattails of others to achieve his success. 

It is also an underdog story. Nas was not as relevant as Jay-Z at the time, so most assumed he would never respond to Jay-Z’s diss track ‘The Takeover’. However, he did and was disrespectful but also comedic in reminding listeners that in Jay-Z’s first ever music video appearance, he wore a Hawaiian shirt, which ultimately undermined Jay-Z’s gangster image and was highly comical. 

He drew comparisons between the rapper and Notorious BIG highlighting how similar they were,  making listeners question Jay-Z’s originality.  Although many still say ‘The Takeover’ is better, Nas’ ‘Ether’ is truly the quintessential diss track.