As amusing as as Meek Mill’s beef with Drake has been — I think we can all agree that Drizzy’s been killing it — the actual meat of the beef is less wagyu and more fast food patty.
“Charged Up” and “Back To Back Freestyle” unquestionably destroyed Meek’s weak “Wanna Know”, but none of those tracks even come close to the ferocity and fire that thrilled us from emcee battles of old.
Seeing as this fresh feud may be the first rap war that our younger readers have encountered, we figured this would be the right time to look back at some of the most murderous lyrical fights in hip-hop history.
2Pac - “Hit Em Up” (1996)
Victims: Mobb Deep, Puff Daddy, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Lil Kim, The Notorious B.I.G., Chino XL, Bad Boy Records
Backstory: We have to start with the grandaddy of all hip-hop wars, East Coast versus West Coast in the early 90s’, marqueed by the falling out between rap legends — Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious B.I.G.) and Tupac Shakur.
The public ate this beef up, and their very public animosity became the media’s foremost talking point during their careers. Besides slinging mud on the streets and on interviews, it was their amazing diss tracks that really sent everyone into a frenzy. Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya” kicked it off by mocking 2Pac’s mugging and shooting in Manhattan in 1994, implicitly suggesting that Bad Boy was behind the attack in a couple of suspicious verses.
In retaliation, 2Pac came out all guns blazing with “Hit Em Up”, a song that’s come to be known as the ultimate diss track. In it, 2Pac claims sexual relations with Biggie’s wife, makes fun of his weight, and repeatedly threatens bodily harm on Biggie and all his East Coast associates. 2Pac scorched the earth with this one and we’ve never seen a verbal assault so outrightly vicious before or since.
Most brutal verse: "So f*ck peace / I'll let them n***as know it's on for life / Don't let the Westside ride the night / Bad Boy murdered on wax and killed / F*ck with me and get your caps peeled"
The beef tragically ended with murders of Biggie and Tupac, making this a cautionary tale for why beefs should remain on wax and off the streets.
Ice Cube - “No Vaseline” (1991)
Victims: N.W.A., Ruthless Records
Backstory: Particularly relevant now with N.W.A.’s cinematic biopic, Straight Outta Compton, making headlines due to its content (or lack thereof).
Founding N.W.A. member Ice Cube left the group acrimoniously in 1989 due to a royalty dispute (having written over half of Straight Outta Compton’s lyrics himself, he felt entitled to a larger share of the profits). Subsequently N.W.A. attacked Ice Cube on tracks like “100 Miles & Runnin’” and “Real Niggaz” where they called him a coward, criticized his originality and authenticity, and labelled him as a traitor by comparing him to Benedict Arnold. While these tracks were good, it felt like they brought knives to a gun fight the second “No Vaseline” dropped, because Ice Cube absolutely annihilated his former groupmates.
In particular, “No Vaseline” shed light on Jerry Heller (N.W.A.’s manager) and Eazy E’s shady business practices in one of rap history’s most famous public shamings.
Most brutal verse: "Cut my hair? Naw, cut them balls / Cause I heard you like giving up the drawers / Gang-banged by your manager, fella / Getting money out your a** like a mothaf*cking Ready Teller"
Jay-Z - “Takeover” (2001)
Backstory: Jay-Z and Nas spent the better part of the late-90s’ as silent rivals, each staking a claim as the rightful heir to be the "King of New York".
The feud remained a cold war up till Nas fired the opening salvo during his 'Stillmatic' freestyle. Jay responded with a stone-cold diss classic called “Takeover” where he systematically took apart the myth of Nas. No threats, no name-calling, just straight facts. Jay belittled Nas’ talent with analysis and numbers, summarised by a compelling concluding argument (while taking pot-shots at New York hip-hop duo Mobb Deep).
Outside of the hate, it was a beautiful track, flowing like the most organized street essay ever recorded. Fun fact: this track was produced by a young Kanye West.
Most brutal verse: "Four albums in 10 years n*gga? I could divide / That's one every, let's say, two / Two of them sh*ts was doo / One was naahhh, the other was Illmatic / That's a one hot album every 10-year average"
Nas - “Ether” (2001)
Backstory: Many suspected that Nas couldn’t recover from Jay’s blistering offensive.
The effect was quite the opposite — Jay reignited the fire in Nas’ belly. This was a sleeping giant reawakened and “Ether” was his glorious path of destruction. While Jay presented a dissertation, Nas’ response was a bare knuckled brawl. “Ether” brutally taunted Hova’s sexuality and street cred, called out his propensity to recycle Biggie’s lyrics and continually made fun of his looks.
The track’s viciousness grew so legendary that being “ethered” became a common slang term to describe someone battered in battle. At that juncture, Nas’ stature in the hip-hop community had begun to diminish, so “Ether” couldn’t have happened at a better time because it helped launched a renaissance. This was one of those rare instances where a beef brought out the best in both men’s careers, keeping both lyrically sharp and on top of their respective games.
Most brutal verse: "My child, I've watched you grow up to be famous / And now I smile like a proud dad watchin' his only son that made it / You seem to be only concerned with dissing women / Were you abused as a child? Scared to smile? They called you ugly?"
To be fair, this was before Jay-Z even dated Beyonce, but damn.
Boogie Down Productions - “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)
Victims: MC Shan, Marley Marl, the Juice Crew
Backstory: Originating as a dispute over the very origins of hip-hop, The Bridge Wars was a late-80s’ feud that pitted South Bronx’s Boogie Down Productions aka BDP (led by KRS One) against Queenbridge’s Juice Crew (led by Marley Marl).
A 1985 track by Marley Marl and MC Shan called “The Bridge” incorrectly claimed Queensbridge as the birthplace of hip-hop (although MC Shan later clarified that his lyrics were misinterpreted, he meant that Queensbridge was the birthplace of his crew and not hip-hop in general). This caused great offence amongst Bronx rappers who recognized South Bronx as the true birthplace of hip-hop.
BDP defended their turf with a track called “South Bronx”, leading to a lengthy back and forth between both sides, highlighted by a brilliant KRS One opus aptly titled “The Bridge Is Over”. This reggae-tinged blow, isn’t just notable for its quotable lines, it's also credited with effectively ending MC Shan’s career. And any track that actually causes irreparable damage to its target’s reputation deserves a spot on this list.
Admittedly, The Bridge Wars did continue for 3 more years, but none of their subsequent diss tracks proved to be as memorable or as crushing as “The Bridge Is Over”.
Most brutal verse: "You'd better change what comes out your speaker / You're better off talking bout your wack Puma sneaker / Cause Bronx created hip-hop, Queens will only get dropped"
10 HONOURABLE MENTIONS:
Eminem - “Nail In The Coffin” (Victims: The Source magazine, Benzino)
Common - “The Bitch In Yoo” (Victims: Ice Cube)
Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg - “Dre Day” (Victims: Eazy E, Tim Dog)
Canibus - “2nd Round KO” (Victims: LL Cool J)
50 Cent - “Back Down” (Victims: Ja Rule, Murder Inc.)
LL Cool J - “Jack The Ripper” (Victims: Kool Moe Dee)
Lauryn Hill - “Lost Ones” (Victims: Wyclef Jean)
Eazy-E - "Real Muthaph*ckkin' G's" (Victims: Death Row Records, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg)
The Notorious B.I.G. - “Kick In The Door” (Victims: Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, every New York rapper)
Company Flow - “Linda Tripp” (Victims: Sole)