The 25 Greatest Diss Records of All-Time
This has been one of the biggest weeks for Hip-Hop in a long, long time. The foundation was set on Sunday when Hip-Hop turned 40 (at least if you count the first party Kool Herc through in the Bronx as the official anniversary). What became even the bigger story, however, was Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Big Sean’s Control record–The Verse heard ’round the world–where he proclaimed himself the King of New York AND the King of the West Coast and put several MCs in his generation (Big Sean, J. Cole, Drake, Wale, Big K.R.I.T, Mac Miller, Tyler the Creator, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky and Jay Electronica) on notice, by name, that he was in a class by himself. It’s been so long since we’ve had a good old-fashioned battle record that the Hip-Hop world exploded and seemingly could talk of nothing else. But, there was a time when these types of records were commonplace. Rap has long been a genre where grievances and competition are aired out on wax (and unfortunately in the streets, as well). So, we decided to put Control in the proper context of “diss records” (you’ll see why we used quotes when you get to #20).
Below are what we believe to be the 25 greatest diss records of all-time, in order, based on: 1. historical significance, 2. lyricism, 3. truth (there are a lot of records out there claiming a lot of things but the truth hurts…), 4. impact in the moment (the “finisher” records rank higher) and, 5. overall quality of the record (the music has to be good). Weigh in below and let us know what you think.
1. Boogie Down Productions – The Bridge is Over: KRS-One started the battle with The Juice Crew on South Bronx, but he FINISHED the battle with this record. In doing so, he also created the blueprint (pun intended) for the modern day diss record.
2. Jay-Z – The Takeover: This is likely going to be the most controversial amongst Heads. Ether was lyrically superior. I’ll give you that. Everything else goes to Takeover. First, Jay didn’t just go after Nas. He also took out Mobb Deep. He also got really personal about the quality of Nas’ albums, the fact that he took Nas’ line and made a whole classic record, Nas losing his Hip-Hop cred with the Esco persona and he pulled on Nas street cred in a major way by reciting that he showed Nas his first tec in real life (as confirmed by Large Professor). Lastly, the beat was superior and Jay’s flow was more in the pocket. Your turn…
3. Nas – Ether: Nas went for the jugular on this record too, dissing the symbolism of the name Roc-A-Fella, claiming Jay-Z was a Biggie wanna be, saying Jay would be nowhere without Jaz-O and attacking his physical features. The only flaw was he fell into the trap of making several over the top claims about violence he would perpetrate against Jay-Z.
4. 2Pac – Hit ‘Em Up: This record was at the height of the Death Row/Bad Boy beef and Tupac took the gloves off. His claim of sleeping with Biggie’s wife was so aggressive and insistent that many thought it was true…Even Big made a joking reference to it in Brooklyn’s Finest. This record was not technically superior. It earns its place primarily due to the historical context–an unfortunate one that stirred violence on both coasts.
5. Ice Cube – No Vaseline: N.W.A. was one of the most important groups in the history of Hip-Hop. They were also the first group of their stature to split up. The break was messy, extremely public and would go on for years. But this record is the one that will go down in the books as the TKO.
6. LL Cool J – Jack the Ripper: For anyone born after 1980, it may be hard to believe that the TV actor and sex symbol known as LL Cool J was once regarded as one of the most fierce battle rappers in Hip-Hop. He was the Queens bully long before 50 Cent was. In the late 80’s, his battle with Kool Moe Dee was epic, and this record was one of the mortal wounds to Kool Moe Dee’s career.
7. Dr. Dre – F*ck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’): By 1992, Dr. Dre had also split from N.W.A. and assembled his own team of West Coast assassins. The leader of the new crew was Snoop Doggy Dogg and he and Dre made it clear that while Dre was moving on, he had not forgotten his nemeses. This record took aim at Ice Cube and Tim Dog (more on that later), and both the record and the video made Eazy-E a punchline.
8. Tim Dog- F*ck Compton: Tim Dog was a relative no name before this record, but all that would change after its release. There is nothing particularly special about the record. The rhymes are not sharp, the beat is not a classic and, because he wasn’t well-known, no one should have cared about what he said. However, when the record was released in 1991, it was in the middle of a sea change. The East Coast had long been the Mecca for Hip-Hop but in the prior 3-4 years, other regions were starting to establish themselves, particularly the West Coast with Compton’s N.W.A. Tim Dog’s record was more symbolic than anything. It was the (crude) collective expression of the East Coast saying “stand down,” we still run Hip-Hop. Unfortunately, this record will forever have the dubious distinction as the one that started the “East Coast/West Coast” beef.
9. Kool Moe Dee – How Ya Like Me Now: The battle between Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J was a watershed moment in that it was a symbolic passing of the torch. Kool Moe Dee represented the old school (peep how relative that term has become?), with his simpler couplets and monosyllabic rhymes, and LL Cool J was the brash new school with rapid-fire rhymes and supreme braggadocio. This song was the Hip-Hop equivalent of an elder George Foreman’s lumbering but powerful punch against a younger, swifter and equally tough Evander Holyfield.
10. Lauryn Hill – Lost Ones: Heads knew Lauryn Hill could rhyme when she was in The Fugees. But, this song established her as one of the nicest MCs in the game–male or female. This was her proclamation that she was the REAL talent in the critically-acclaimed group and she kinda backed it up. In Hip-Hop, words speak louder than actions…
11. Boogie Down Productions – South Bronx: The opening salvo in KRS-One’s war with The Juice Crew.
12. LL Cool J – To Da Break of Dawn: LL takes on 3 different opponents in one song. Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T and MC Hammer all got served.
13. MC Lyte – 10% Dis: The Roxannes battled first, but it was MC Lyte’s verbal assault on Antoinette that made it clear battle rap was not just a male sport.
14. Common – The Bitch in Yoo: By this time, people expected diss records from Ice Cube, but Common?? No one was prepared for this, especially how hard he went.
15. Compton’s Most Wanted – Who’s F*cking Who: MC Eiht was one of the first in a long list to go back at Tim Dog.
16. DJ Quik – Dollaz & Sense: This was the finisher in the years-long battle between DJ Quik and MC Eiht.
17. MC Eiht – Def Wish III: Widely regarded by many as Eiht’s best effort in his war with Quik.
18. Canibus – 2nd Round KO: Canibus was one of the first to go at another rapper on that rapper’s own song (though he didn’t call out LL’s name on 4,3,2,1 as Kendrick did with Big Sean on Control). He raised the stakes on 2nd Round KO challenging LL’s legacy and claim that he was the GOAT.
19. Eminem – Nail in the Coffin: The context around this record was unprecedented. Eminem was in a feud with Benzino (now known from Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta) who at the time was a power broker at The Source Magazine. In 2002, when the battle erupted, The Source was the most important magazine in Hip-Hop and one of its most important platforms, PERIOD. This was like a Fortune 500 CEO getting into a battle with The Wall Street Journal. Not only did Eminem come out on top (emerging as the most commercially successful rapper of all time), this was ultimately one of the nails in the coffin of The Source’s credibility and the beginning of its demise.
20. Big Sean – Control: Despite the credit, this will never be known as Big Sean’s record. Despite all the commotion, it’s not even really a diss record…However, it will go down in the Hip-Hop archives as the Kendrick Lamar verse that woke up the Hip-Hop nation. Competition is a part of the culture that will never go away and Kendrick reminded us all of that. But, let’s give this song its proper context and the proper respect to all the great diss records before it…
21. 50 Cent – Back Down: Before 50 Cent, Ja Rule was one of the biggest names in music. After their battle? His career was over.
22. Mobb Deep – Drop a Gem on ‘Em: Mobb Deep was the East Coast group that went the hardest at 2Pac in the East Coast/West Coast rivalry.
23. Eazy-E – Real Muthaphukkin’ G’s: Eazy-E defended his legacy after getting repeatedly lyrically assaulted by Dr. Dre and Snoop. Sadly, it was his last hit record before he passed.
24. MC Shan – Kill That Noise: MC Shan represented for The Juice Crew in their battle with BDP.
25. Common – So Sweet: Common punched Drake outta nowhere and called for Hip-Hop to stop being so soft. Sound familiar?