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A diss track or diss song (diss – abbr. from disrespect) is a song intended to verbally attack someone else, often as a response to someone's diss track. While musical parodies and attacks have always existed, the trend became increasingly common in the hip hop genre fueled by the hip hop rivalry phenomenon.
An early example of a diss track was "You Keep Her" (1962) by Joe Tex. He wrote the song after his wife left him for soul singer James Brown, who then broke up with her and wrote Tex a letter saying he could have her back. Tex refused and ridiculed this offer in his song.
Another example of a diss track occurred in Jamaica. After Lee "Scratch" Perry left producer Coxsone Dodd he released a track called "Run for Cover" (1967) poking a joke at him. Perry in particular has a long history of releasing diss tracks directed at former musical collaborators. The musical single "People Funny Boy" (1968) attacked his former boss Joe Gibbs by adding sounds of a crying baby into the mix. In response Gibbs himself released a track called "People Grudgeful" (1968). Perry's "Evil Tongues" (1978) was aimed at The Congos and “Judgement Inna Babylon” (1984) and "Satan Kicked the Bucket" (1988) at Chris Blackwell. Perry also attacked Michael Jackson (with whom he never worked together) on the track "Freaky Michael" (2010).
The Beach Boys song "Surfers Rule," from their 1963 album Surfer Girl, ended with a diss of their rival American group The Four Seasons, the backing vocals repeating the challenge "Four Seasons, you better believe it" while Brian Wilson's lead vocal quoted a falsetto motif from "Walk Like a Man."
John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" (1971) from his album Imagine is another prototypical example of a diss track. Lennon had the impression that the song "Too Many People" from Paul McCartney's Ram (1970) was a dig at him, something McCartney later admitted. Lennon thought that other songs on the album, such as "3 Legs," contained similar attacks, and the back cover of Ram, showing one stag beetle mounting another, has been described by McCartney as indicative of how he felt treated by the other members of The Beatles. As a result, Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" indirectly mocked 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".
Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Small Axe" (1973), from their album Burnin', was a hidden diss at record producers Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid. They owned all the power in the Jamaican music industry and thus were the "big tree" that musicians would have to cooperate to cut down.
In 1980 Wild Man Fischer wrote a song called "Frank", which was aimed at his former record producer Frank Zappa, who enabled him to record his debut album An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (1969) but afterwards broke all contact when the mentally disturbed Fischer threw a bottle at Zappa's infant daughter and missed. Dr. Demento once played "Frank" when Zappa was a guest on his show and to his amazement Zappa turned absolutely livid with anger when he heard it, even threatening the radio host to never ever play this song again on the air.
Notable diss tracks
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Among the best-known diss tracks are:
- "Hit 'Em Up" by 2Pac & The Outlawz
- "No Vaseline" by Ice Cube
- "Ether" by Nas
- "Takeover" by Jay Z
- "Infrared" by Pusha T
- "Not Alike" by Eminem and Royce da 5'9"
- "Rap Devil" by Machine Gun Kelly
- "Killshot" by Eminem
- "Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" by Dr. Dre (featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg)
- "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" by Eazy-E (featuring Dresta and B.G. Knocc Out)
- "The Warning" by Eminem
- "Fuck Compton" by Tim Dog
- "The Bridge Is Over" by Boogie Down Productions
- "Second Round K.O." by Canibus
- "Drop a Gem on 'Em" by Mobb Deep
- "L.A., L.A." by Capone-N-Noreaga
- "New York, New York" by Tha Dogg Pound
- "Liar" by Megadeth
- "The Story of Adidon" by Pusha T
- "Shether" by Remy Ma
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-10-26. Retrieved 2016-01-29.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "The Upsetter", Black Music (January 1975). "Perry says the song was his was 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...'."
- "People Funny Boy". rougheryet.com.
- "Red Bull Music Academy Daily". www.redbullmusicacademy.com.
- Playboy Magazine (1984). "Playboy Interview With Paul and Linda McCartney". Playboy Press. Retrieved 23 August 2008.
- Cadogan, Patrick (2008). The Revolutionary Artist: John Lennon's Radical Years. Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-4357-1863-0.
- Song Review by Jo-Ann Greene, AllMusic.com.
- http://telegraphco.trendfuture.net/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/music-obituaries/8626665/Larry-Wild-Man-Fischer.html[permanent dead link]
- "FAME Review: Wild Man Fischer - Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry 'Wild Man' Fischer (DVD)". www.acousticmusic.com.
- Unwin, Eddie (22 November 2018). "15 Of The Most Memorable Diss Tracks In Hip Hop History". Capital XTRA. Archived from the original on 14 March 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
- Shoemaker, Whitney (9 September 2018). "MGK's "Rap Devil" hits No. 1 on U.S. iTunes Chart". Alternative Press. Retrieved 14 March 2019.