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A diss track or diss song is a song primarily intended to disparage or insult another person or group. While musical parodies and attacks have always existed, the trend became increasingly common in the hip hop genre as part of the hip hop rivalry phenomenon.
The first "diss" feud might be between former Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney. On the 1971 album Ram, McCartney included a track called "Too Many People", which poked fun at Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono. Later in the year, Lennon replied with the much more caustic "How Do You Sleep?" from his album Imagine.
Almost exclusively in the Hip hop culture genre are songs that make condescending remarks towards other people. The first ever recorded diss track was 14 year old Roxanne Shanté's 1984 diss track to UTFO entitled "Roxanne's Revenge." Most of the older feuds can be traced back to geographical affiliations. In various cities around the U.S. are territorial patriotism that leads to violence. When this violence cannot be solved, many local artists use their music as an outlet.
One of the most well known territorial feud was between the East and West Coast Rappers. However this is now settled and most 'beefs' now occur when a group or artist attacks another artist or group rather than a geographic area; a good example of this is of Ja Rule and 50 Cent who started a feud with one another (both artists lived in the same neighborhood of Queens, New York).
Outside of hip-hop, Diss tracks tend to deal with more personal issues. Post-Hardcore band Alexisonfire has made numerous songs targeting their ex-drummer, a feud caused by him leaving the band at a crucial moment in their rise to fame.
The most famous non-rap example of an ongoing musical feud is that between Taking Back Sunday and Brand New. They both aimed several songs at each other since John Nolan allegedly slept with the girlfriend of Jesse Lacey.
Throughout his career, rapper M.C. Hammer has dissed hip hop DJs and rappers in general beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. Since his debut album in 1987, Feel My Power (claiming he was "...second to none, from Doug E. Fresh, LL Cool J or DJ Run" on the single "Let's Get It Started"), Hammer has had "feuds" with several rappers. In fact, Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em was an effort to avoid disrespecting others on wax and becoming more "pop". Nevertheless, Hammer has created, responded to, attacked and/or participated in rap battles with MC Serch of 3rd Bass and LL Cool J (including a feud with other rappers on Mama Said Knock You Out and the remix of "I Shot Ya"), Dres of Black Sheep, Rodney O, A Tribe Called Quest (Q-Tip), Redman and Run DMC (on the track "Break 'Em Off Somethin' Proper" from The Funky Headhunter), Eminem and Busta Rhymes from Full Blast (title track with music video) and most recently "Better Run Run" in response to a comment Jay-Z made about him on the single "So Appalled" in 2010.
In the Latin Reggaeton, a form of Latin rap, diss tracks are referred to as a "Tiraera". They are usually formed because one artist said something about another artist.
In September 2007 rapper 50 Cent proclaimed that if fellow rapper Kanye West sold more records than him in the first week, he would retire from making CDs. Kanye accepted the challenge and it appeared that this was an attempt to get more people interested in the respective artists and buy their CDs. At the end of the first week, however, Kanye outsold 50 Cent with 957,000 copies to 50's 691,000. 50 Cent was recently quoted on The Howard Stern Show as saying that he only said he would retire to "hype the situation."
Often rappers go on radio shows to broadcast their dislike for other rappers. They usually make back-handed comments so as not to say directly whom they are referring to, rather leaving it to the listeners to decide for themselves. Often people take lyrics of some rappers and claim that they are saying something bad about another, and rumors start. This creates controversy for both parties, but usually the pseudo-dispute is settled by one of the parties responding to the allegations in attempt to clear the air.
Diss songs are usually the by-product of heated rivalries between two or more rap artists:
- N.W.A vs. Ice Cube
- Tim Dog vs. N.W.A
- 2Pac vs. The Notorious B.I.G (see East Coast vs. West Coast feud)
- 2Pac vs. Jay-Z
- 2Pac vs. Mobb Deep
- Tim Dog vs. Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg
- Nicki Minaj vs. Lil' Kim
- Eazy E vs. Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg
- Boogie Down Productions vs. Juice Crew (The Bridge Wars)
- Foxy Brown vs. Lil' Kim
- Jay-Z vs. Nas
- Death Row Records vs Ruthless Records
- Eminem vs. Insane Clown Posse
- G-Unit vs. Murder Inc. feud
- LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee feud
- G-Unit vs. The Game feud
- Professor Elemental vs. Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer
- Eminem vs. Benzino feud 
- Hopsin vs. Odd Future
- Meek Mill vs. Cassidy
- Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake
Rapper Lil Wayne released his third album, 500 Degreez, in the summer of 2002. It directly references fellow former Hot Boys member Juvenile's 400 Degreez, released November 3, 1998. Juvenile had left Lil Wayne's Cash Money earlier in the same year.
In some cases, the diss song may be a parody of another song. One example of this is "No Pigeons" by Sporty Thievz, which parodied the TLC hit, "No Scrubs". In the original "No Scrubs" the women talk about not wanting men with bad credentials. The parody talks about not wanting women with no means of their own, as well. In the same vein, rapper Too Short parodied the song "My Neck, My Back" by Khia in the form of the 'male' rebuttal "My dick My sack".
In some cases, disses involves rappers and singers of another music genre, such as Eminem and Mariah Carey. Throughout his career, Eminem claimed he once had a relationship with Carey, dating her for six months. Carey, however, always denied the claim. As a result, Eminem recorded a number of songs in which he rapped about the singer in a negative light, angered by her not admitting to seeing him. On Charmbracelet, Carey included a song titled "Clown", which critics suggested was aimed at Eminem. "Clown"'s lyrics were described as "languidly sinister" by Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe, and read: "I should've left it at 'I like your music too'... / You should never have intimated we were lovers / When you know very well we never even touched each other". In 2005, during concerts on the rapper's Anger Management Tour, he began playing voice-mails and recordings that were reportedly left by Carey. One of the messages said: "I heard you were getting back with your ex-wife. Why won't you see me? Why won't you call me?" After playing the excerpt, Eminem would pretend to be sick before launching into his song "Puke". In his sixth studio effort, Relapse, Eminem released a song entitled "Bagpipes from Baghdad", the lyrics of which suggest that Eminem is still in love with Carey, and feature insulting comments about the singer and her husband Nick Cannon. Afterwards, Cannon made a post on his website, defending Carey and expressing his disgust at the rapper's comments. Eminem responded to his comment sarcastically, saying he meant well and that the song is actually "wishing the couple the best", and later noted that he respected Cannon for his comment, expecting him to defend his wife. After the release of Carey's "Obsessed", a song about an obsessed man who claims to be having a relationship with her, suspicions were raised with many, including Eminem himself, that it was directed at Eminem, despite claims on the contrary by Cannon. As a response, Eminem released "The Warning", in which he claims he still has proof of the couple. Cannon responded to the song with his "I'm a Slick Rick", and even challenged Eminem to a boxing match for charity which never took place.
- Frances Robinson, In 'Chap-Hop,' Gentlemen Rappers Bust Rhymes About Tea, Cricket, Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2011, accessed April 5, 2011.