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A diss track or diss song is a song primarily intended to disrespect a person or group. 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.
One of the earliest examples of a diss track was "You Keep Her" (1962) by Joe Tex. He wrote the song after his wife left him for famous soul singer James Brown, then broke up again and wrote Tex a letter 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).
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 Paul 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 Paul's musicianship. While Paul 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".
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.
Among the best-known diss tracks are "The Bridge is Over" by KRS-One, "Hit 'Em Up" by Tupac Shakur, "No Vaseline" by Ice Cube, "King of the Hill" by Westside Connection, "2nd Round Knockout" by Canibus, "Dollaz & Sense" by DJ Quik "Ether" by Nas, "The Warning" and "Quitter" by Eminem, "Takeover" by Jay Z, "Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" by Dr. Dre, "Where the Hood At" by DMX, "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" by Eazy-E, "Back Down" by 50 Cent, "99 Problems (Lil Flip Ain't One)" by T.I., "Back to Back" by Drake, , "Shether" by Remy Ma and "Roman's Revenge" as well as the verse on Gucci Mane's "Make Love" by Nicki Minaj
- "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...'."
- 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]
- "13 Of The Most Memorable Diss Tracks In Hip Hop History". Capital XTRA. Retrieved 2017-04-16.