The one who strikes first doesn't always walk away with the W. That's a lesson the rap world has learned through years of rappers' clapback songs crushing the diss tracks from the enemies they're responding to.
Sometimes, the rap clapback plays out exactly as you thought it would. When Nas unloaded his Hov-dissing track "Stillmatic Freestyle" after Jay-Z called him out at Hot 97's 2001 Summer Jam, he had to know Hov had more heat coming his way. By the time Jay-Z's The Blueprint album dropped that September, the rapper had delivered a ferocious blow everyone should've expected. That blow was "Takeover," which, despite what a lot of fans had to say about Nas' subsequent diss "Ether" being better, was by far the best record in that historic back-and-forth.
In other instances, the response diss track comes from places fans never expected. When Ice Cube used his guest verse on Mack 10's 1995 song "Westside Slaughterhouse" to diss Common, it's hard to imagine he knew the fury Com would strike back with the following year on the scathing reply "The Bitch in Yoo."
As is the case with most diss songs, the artist who manages to be the most incisive and outright disrespectful usually takes home the win. Sometimes, one rapper will fire off a minor diss on a low-key track that isn't even about beef only to have the person they name-drop or allude to come back to empty a full clip through a whole diss song.
Now, it's time to look at some epic diss tracks that were better than the ones they responded to. Full disclosure: Tupac Shakur's "Hit ’Em Up" won't be on this list. The song, which was released after The Notorious B.I.G. dropped "Who Shot Ya"—the New York rapper recorded the track months before Tupac was shot, doesn't respond to a particular diss track since Biggie's effort wasn't a diss track in the first place. Still, there are plenty of other epic clapbacks to address.
Today, XXL takes a look at diss songs that were better than the ones they responded to. Peep the list below to see which diss tracks made the cut.
Jay-Z and Nas' feud had been steadily brewing since the mid-1990s, but it didn't really explode until Jay-Z previewed his The Blueprint song, "Takeover," at Hot 97's 2001 Summer Jam concert. Concluding the moment, Hov shouted the lyrics, "Ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov," and from there the beef was officially on. But, he either didn't record or didn't perform the actual Nas diss portion of the song that would appear on the final track when The Blueprint was released that September.
Following the preview of "Takeover," which was not officially released yet, Nas responded with his "Stillmatic Freestyle"—a Hov diss—the same month as the 2001 Summer Jam. The diss had some quotable bars, but it simply couldn't live up to the yet-to-be-released full version of "Takeover."
Once "Takeover" officially dropped, it was clear that Hov had the upper hand. An exercise in concision, "Takeover" contextualized all of Nas' perceived shortcomings, namely the idea that the Queens rapper had only dropped mediocre albums since unloading Illmatic seven years beforehand.
"You've been in this 10, I've been in it five; smarten up, Nas/Four albums in 10 years, nigga? I could divide/That's one every… let's say two, two of them shits was doo/One was 'Nah…,' the other was Illmatic/That's a one-hot-album-every-10-year average," Hov raps on the casually vicious track.
Nas' "Stillmatic Freestyle"
Back in 2000, Everlast threw some shots at Eminem on his Em diss "Whitey's Revenge." Somewhat predictably, though, Em ended up taking the W when he delivered his response.
The whole thing started when Everlast spit a bar that Em interpreted to be about his daughter Hailie on Dilated Peoples' 2000 song "Ear Drums Pop (Remix)." In a 2020 interview on Talib Kweli's The People's Party podcast, Everlast explained that he was actually referring to Halley's Comet and not Em's daughter on the song, but Em didn't take it that way and dissed him on "I Remember." From there, the House of Pain rapper unloaded "Whitey Ford's Revenge," a diss record with verbal jabs that would be more remembered if they weren't directed at Em.
For Eminem's response, "Quitter/Hit 'Em Up Freestyle," he makes fun of Everlast's comparatively low record sales.
Using tight rhyme schemes and some quippy wordplay, Em raps, "I knew you was jealous from the day that I met you/I upset you, ’cause I get respect, I bet you/I'm even liked better by your niece and nephew/And now you hate Fred because Lethal left you/Peckerwood mad ’cause his record went wood/No respect in the hood, fled to his neck of the woods."
While Everlast let some shots off, Em emptied a full clip.
Eminem's "Quitter/Hit ’Em Up Freestyle"
Everlast's "Whitey's Revenge"
The battle between Pusha-T and Drake got very nasty fast in 2018, and both artists got some bars off. In the end, Push was the victor.
The overt part of their beef started when Pusha called out Drake for ghostwriting allegations on "Infrared," a cut from Push's Daytona album, which dropped on May 25, 2018. Less than one full day later, Drizzy responded with "Duppy Freestyle," a track on which he name-dropped Pusha's fiancée, and from there, Push dropped arguably the most consequential diss song in rap history.
Four days after Drizzy unloaded "Duppy Freestyle," Push released "The Story of Adidon," a Drake diss on which he announces the existence of Drizzy's son Adonis and accuses the 6 God of being a deadbeat father.
"You are hiding a child, let that boy come home/Deadbeat muthafucka playin' border patrol," Pusha raps. Sheesh.
Pusha-T's "The Story of Adidon"
Drake's "Duppy Freestyle"
Dissing the person that wrote the majority of your biggest songs is never a great idea, and that's something that N.W.A learned the hard way after throwing some shots at former member Ice Cube on a skit from their Niggaz4Life album. On their 1991 cut "Message to B.A.," Dr. Dre calls Cube, who left the group because of a financial dispute with Jerry Heller and Eazy-E, a "punk muthafucka" and MC Ren says they'll sodomize him with a broomstick. Yikes.
In response, Ice Cube unloaded the 1991 song "No Vaseline," a vicious diss track that alludes to him penning Eazy-E's rhymes, puts down Dr. Dre's rapping ability and insults N.W.A's manager Jerry Heller.
"Yella Boy's on your team, so you're losing/Ayo, Dre, stick to producing/Calling me Arnold, but you been a dick/Eazy-E saw your ass and went in it quick," Cube spits.
With incisive insults, some laugh-out-loud-funny wordplay and a ferocious delivery, "No Vaseline" left no doubt about who'd won the rap battle. N.W.A never responded to the song.
Ice Cube's "No Vaseline"
N.W.A's "Message to B.A."
Back in 1997, Canibus appeared as a guest on LL Cool J's "4, 3, 2, 1," which also features Method Man, Redman and DMX. ’Bus was on the song until LL heard his verse, and was offended by Canibus rapping, "L, is that a mic on your arm? Let me borrow that." So, LL had it removed and added his own lyrics to the song taking subliminal jabs at Canibus. After that, Canibus fired back with "Second Round K.O."
For the track, Canibus paints LL as someone who's got popularity, but not credibility as a lyricist. LL's response put that notion into the ground.
In 1998, LL Cool J returned fire with "The Ripper Strikes Back," a track on which he raps with aggression and technical precision that matches 'Bus.
"Forty-nine pounds and tryin' to be a mobster/Run around town with the Bob Marley impostors/Ask Canibus, he ain't understanding this/’Cause 99 percent of his fans don't exist," LL raps on a song that feels like irrefutable proof he could go bar for bar with anyone.
While "Second Round K.O." definitely has some high points, LL managed to take home this win.
LL Cool J's "The Ripper Strikes Back"
Canibus' "Second Round K.O."
Before he was terrorizing rappers on Instagram, 50 Cent was getting after them on wax, and if you paid attention to his career, you know he left a trail of bodies in his wake. One artist who managed to survive, and even thrive after catching lyrical strays from Fif was Jadakiss, who actually out-did the G-Unit boss in their back-and-forth.
It all started when 50 Cent clowned Jada on "Piggy Bank," a 2005 song that took aim at Jada, Fat Joe, Nas, Ja Rule and multiple others. Fif dissed Joey Crack and Jada for collaborating with Ja Rule on "New York" while the two Queens rappers were embroiled in beef. Hilariously, 50, in a faux Def Jam Vendetta-esque video game clip he made for the "Piggy Bank" video, had Kiss' character look like a chubby Ninja Turtle. Still, Jada had the last laugh.
After 50 dropped "Piggy Bank," Jada dropped "Checkmate," one of the very best clapbacks in rap history. For the track, an exercise in concision and rhyme technique, he says 50 has the worst flow in G-Unit, references the rumors about Fif being a snitch and even finds a way to make fun of him for blowing up after being shot nine times. "Since when has it become cool to get shot and not shoot back?" Jadakiss raps. Ouch.
By honing in on virtually every anti-50 narrative, referencing Fif's friends and business ventures ("You should just sell clothes and sneakers"), Jada created the impression that he knew his nemesis inside and out. The result was one of the rare times Fif was on the losing end of a rap beef.
50 Cent's "Piggy Bank"
Thirty years ago, Tim Dog was doing some old-fashioned player hating, and in doing so, he earned himself a few name-drops on one of the greatest diss tracks of all time.
The whole saga began when the New York City rapper dropped "Fuck Compton," a 1991 song that targeted Compton rappers Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and the rest of N.W.A. during a moment when those acts were dominating rap. Zeroing in on Dre, Tim Dog made some comments about Dre's alleged assault of reporter Dee Barnes. "Dre, beatin' on Dee from 'Pump it Up!'?/Step to the Dog and get fucked up," he rapped.
N.W.A never responded as a group, but on Dr. Dre's 1992 single "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)," Snoop Dogg aims some verbal jabs at Tim (including some homophobic bars about Tim's mother) after Dre throws bars at Eazy-E.
"But fuck your mama, I'm talking about you and me/Toe to toe, Tim M-U-T/Your bark was loud, but your bite wasn't vicious/And them rhymes you were kickin' were quite bootylicious," Snoop raps, before insulting Tim one more time as the song ends.
Dre and Snoop's track is most famous for going at Eazy, but because there's a whole verse dedicated to Tim, it makes the cut.
Dr. Dre's "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)"
Tim Dog's "Fuck Compton"
Although the beef's been squashed since Meek was released from prison for parole violation-related charges in April of 2018, the beef between The Game and Meek Mill was real, and Game took home a win.
During their 2016 back-and-forth in September of that year, Game accused Meek of telling Los Angeles police that Game had something to do with the June 2016 robbery of singer Sean Kingston and let loose a diss track called "92 Bars." That same month, Meek teamed up with Omelly and Beanie Sigel for a Game diss over the beat for Young M.A's breakout single "Ooouuu." On the track, Meek claims that Game used to be a stripper and says that Game backed down in a beef with Young Thug. Game responded with "Pest Control," a diss track over the same beat.
For the song, Game bashes Meek for allegedly having a role in jumping Quentin Miller—a man Meek claimed ghostwrote some Drake songs. Game also says Meek ducked the rap fade from Drizzy.
"You jumped Quentin Miller and now you don't scrap/It was time to go at Drizzy and now you don't rap," Game spit.
With a few one-liners aimed at Beanie Sigel for good measure, Game definitely had the best diss song in this mini feud.
The Game's "Pest Control"
Meek Mill's "Ooouuu (Remix)"
Young Buck found himself in an interesting situation when he was putting together one particular song for his 2004 debut album, Straight Outta Cashville. For "Stomp," he grabbed Georgia rappers T.I. and Ludacris for guest verses, and both of them fired disses at each other.
The issue started after Luda heard Tip's verse, which uses a pun on Luda's name: "Real niggas see the difference ’tween you and this/Me getting beat down? That's ludicrous!"
The bar is a reference to video footage from I-20—an artist on Luda's Disturbing Tha Peace label—in which someone gets beat up. The person was wearing a shirt T.I. thought had the words Trap Muzik on it, which is the title of Tip's second major label album.
After Luda heard T.I.'s verse, he recorded his own filled with less subtle jabs at Tip, referencing a lyric from T.I.'s 2003 single "Rubberband Man" and Tip's rap name for the most quotable diss of the battle: "So pimpin', be easy; quit catching feelings/’Cause you worth a couple hundred grand, and I'm worth millions/Nobody's thinking ’bout you, plus, your beef ain't legit/So please, stay off the T-I-P of my [dick]."
With a more focused attack, Luda took this one.
Ludacris' Verse on Young Buck's "Stomp"
T.I.'s Verse on Young Buck's "Stomp"
The battle between Boogie Down Productions and MC Shan started over a potential misunderstanding, but it ended in a win for BDP.
The whole saga kicked off when MC Shan spit some lyrics on the 1985 track "The Bridge," which BDP's KRS-One interpreted as a claim that it was Queens, not the Bronx, that created hip-hop. BDP responded with a song called "South Bronx," a 1986 track that bashed Shan for his lyrics about Queensbridge. From there, Shan hit back with the 1987 track "Kill That Noise," and then KRS and BDP came through with a death blow.
Released ahead of the release of BDP's Criminal Minded album in 1987, "The Bridge Is Over" is one of the most legendary battle songs of all time. The track includes barbs at Juice Crew members MC Shan, Marley Marl, Roxanne Shante and others, and features a catchy hook and a piano loop that generates excitement every time it pops up. "I say, the bridge is over, the bridge is over, biddy bye-bye" remains as catchy as ever 34 years after the song's release. KRS-One and BDP definitely hold this win.
Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge Is Over"
MC Shan's "Kill That Noise"
Common is many things, but he'll never truly be thought of as a battle rapper. That doesn't mean he doesn't have it in him, though. That's a lesson Ice Cube learned during their beef in the mid-1990s.
It all started when Common appeared to throw some shots at the West Coast rapper on the 1994 single "I Used to Love H.E.R." On that song, Common describes hip-hop as being an ex-girlfriend, and in one set of lyrics, he appears to blame the West Coast for rap's transition to gangsta rap.
"Now Black music is Black music and it's all good/I wasn't salty she was with the boys in the hood," rapped Com, who also explicitly mentions the West Coast hip-hop explosion as well. The "boys in the hood" reference was believed to be a reference to Cube, who played the role of Doughboy in the 1991 film, Boyz n the Hood.
A little over a year after Com dropped "I Used to Love H.E.R.," Cube responded with a verse on Mack 10's "Westside Slaughterhouse." On the song, Cube takes a not-so-thinly veiled shot at Common.
"Used to love her, mad ’cause we fucked her/Pussy-whipped bitch with no Common Sense," Cube spit.
In 1996, Com clapped back with "The Bitch in Yoo." For the track, Common calls Cube a fake Muslim and roasts him for using too many George Clinton samples. What stands out most is the way Com completely abandons that pacifist side in his music that he'd become famous.
"Now what the fuck I look like dissing a whole coast?/You ain't made shit dope since AmeriKKKa's Most," Common raps.
While Cube got some incisive lines in there, Common's ferocious and arguably unexpected approach gives him the upper hand here, though both songs are dope.
Common's "The Bitch in Yoo"
Ice Cube's Verse on Mack 10's "Westside Slaughterhouse"
For this beef, Sole thought he had one when he called out then-Company Flow member El-P, but the current Run The Jewels member ended up having the best and last laugh.
In 1999, Sole struck first with "Dear Elpee," a song on which he accuses El-P of trying to have Sole blackballed from the music industry and using big words he doesn't understand. "Your ego system's frail, with a spoon I could dissect it/Sounding like Corky got his nubs on a Webster's Dictionary," Sole raps on the track.
That same year, El-P and Company hit back hard with "Linda Tripp," a diss track aimed at Sole that actually includes a recorded phone call between El-P and Sole. In the conversation, Sole gives props to El-P and Company Flow and says he doesn't want beef. With that bit of vulnerability injected into the very beginning of the song, the stage was set for a vicious takedown, and El-P delivered.
"You little, lying muthafucka, you know you kiss my ass/And then you try to [DJ scratch of lyrics saying 'Change up the past']/Who fell into their own hiri kiri kit when they lied to themselves/Self-abuse by selling lies self-destructive," El-P raps, basically calling Sole a groupie.
El-P is not the one.
Company Flow's "Linda Tripp"
Sole's "Dear Elpee"
Back in 2018, Machine Gun Kelly used a Funkmaster Flex freestyle to throw some verbal darts at G-Eazy, and Gerald responded with an epic takedown that doesn't get as much praise as it should. For the freestyle, which premiered in August of 2018, MGK claims he had sex with G-Eazy's girlfriend—MGK doesn't say the woman's name, but G-Eazy was dating singer Halsey at the time—and that Eazy was trying to take his look.
"Let's just keep it G/Only Eazy I fuck with is E/I seen he died his hair and got a hanging earring/I fucked his girl, now he look like me, this shit overbearing/How dare him, I dare him/Don’t think about comparing/Man turn that frat rap off, I’m getting sick of hearing."
For "Bad Boy," which was G-Eazy's response that was released the same day MGK's freestyle dropped, Gerald hits MGK with bits of facts and a whole lot of pettiness.
"I headline arenas, and all of my shits go platinum/You never seen a plaque and your last shit did 30,000/It's not a competition, I'd hurt you if I start bragging/Irrelevant in culture, no one gives a fuck about him/You got both of my numbers, all this time, you never called the boy/I'm headlining, heard you opening up for Fall Out Boy."
These two have since squashed their beef, but when it was on, it's safe to say Gerald collected the win.
G-Eazy's "Bad Boy"
Machine Gun Kelly's Funkmaster Flex Freestyle
In 2017, Cam'ron threw some shots Ma$e's way, and what Cam got in return was an even more vicious diss.
This back and forth all started when Cam dropped his song "It's Killa" in November of 2017. On the song, Cam recounts a time he says he protected Ma$e from the boyfriend of a girl Ma$e was sleeping with. He also threatens to harm his fellow Harlem rapper.
"I ain't give a damn, yeah, Cam I was gung-ho/Got this nigga home and he passed me a hundo ($100 dollars?!)/Told him straight up I ain't feeling him/Let me curve this nigga ’fore I end up killing him," Cam rapped on the track.
Ma$e responded with the 2017 diss "The Oracle," an outright diss track that reminded the rap world why he became a legend. For the track, he unloads allegations of snitching and pokes fun at Cam for getting shot in Washington, D.C.
"Tax know you as the nigga that snitched on the Roc/D.C. crips only know you the nigga they shot," Ma$e rapped before claiming that Cam had sex with his own sister.
Cam came out strong, but ultimately, his diss wasn't as Ma$e-dedicated and he didn't offer up as many quotable bars, so Ma$e grabbed the W here.
Ma$e's "The Oracle"
Cam'ron's "It's Killa"
Although it's somewhat lost in the mix because Pusha-T had the best moment of their entire battle, Drake initially had the best diss track in their open war of words.
After Push joked about Drake and ghostwriting rumors on Pusha's 2018 Daytona track "Infrared," Drake responded the same day with "Duppy Freestyle," a song that calls Pusha-T's street credibility into question and bashes Kanye West. The Toronto rapper also makes time to reference an autographed mic he got that Clipse signed years ago.
"Man, you might've sold to college kids for Nike and Mercedes/But you act like you sold drugs for Escobar in the ’80s/I had a microphone of yours, but then the signature faded/I think that pretty much resembles what's been happening lately," Drake raps on the track.
While Pusha-T's "The Story of Adidon" was the best song in their beef, Drizzy's "Duppy Freestyle," with its more focused lyrics, was a better diss than "Infrared."
Drake's "Duppy Freestyle"
The saga of Dame D.O.L.L.A. and Shaquille O'Neal's rap beef is a story of playful jabs and over-the-top claims. Ultimately, though, Dame was victorious. It all started in 2019, when Dame admitted that he thought he made better rap songs than Shaq, who kicked off his own rap career in the 1990s. Dame made the comment during a September 2019 episode of The Joe Budden Podcast.
From there, Shaq dropped his Dame diss track "The Originator," which looked to discredit Dame's accomplishments as a ballplayer and a rapper. About two weeks later, Dame responded with "Reign Reign Go Away," which is a reference to Shaq's third studio album titled Can't Stop the Reign.
"He say he the G.O.A.T., I come for his body/Platinum ’cause he bought the copies/Should've just passed me the torch/I got no remorse, I beat him like Rocky/I fill the tank up with Diesel," raps Dame, referencing Shaq's nickname, Shaq Diesel.
The two went back-and-forth and both got some hilarious bars off, but ultimately, Dame got the better of the NBA legend.
Dame D.O.L.L.A.'s "Reign Reign Go Away"
Shaquille O'Neal's "The Originator"
While Machine Gun Kelly definitely took round No. 1 in their rap beef with "Rap Devil" in 2018, Eminem's response, "Killshot," was even better despite some contrarian takes saying otherwise.
For "Rap Devil," MGK made fun of Em for being 46 on and for "Killshot," Em really just used his commercial success and cultural legacy to belittle Kelly.
On "Killshot," Em raps, "What do you know? Oops/Know your facts before you come at me, lil' goof/Luxury, oh, you broke, bitch?/Yeah, I had enough money in ’02/To burn it in front of you, ho/Younger me? No, you the wack me, it's funny but so true/I'd rather be 80-year-old me than 20-year-old you/’Til I'm hitting old age/Still can fill a whole page with a 10-year-old's rag/Got more fans than you in your own city, lil' kiddy, go play/Feel like I'm babysitting Lil Tay."
While MGK's song was more concise, Em's was a little more based in reality and its high points were a little higher. Still, this was a surprisingly dope battle.
Machine Gun Kelly's "Rap Devil"
Eminem wasn't happy with some lyrics he thought Machine Gun Kelly directed at him on a guest verse for Tech N9ne's 2018 song "No Reason (The Mosh Pit Song)," so he responded with his Royce 5'9"-featured song "Not Alike," released on Em's Kamikaze album in 2018. Surprisingly, though, MGK delivered a response that made him the victor of round No. 1.
Released in September of 2018, just days after Em's MGK shade made waves on the internet, MGK's "Rap Devil" was a big deal. The song, the title for which is a clever flip of Em's self-prescribed rap moniker "Rap God," is one on which Kelly makes Em look like a geek who memorizes the dictionary but does little else.
"Homie, we get it, we know that you're the greatest rapper alive/Fucking dweeb, all you do is read the dictionary and stay inside/Fuck 'Rap God,' I'm the rap devil/Coming bare-faced with a black shovel," Kelly raps.
The track earned MGK the W in this round, but Em would show him he had more in the chamber a few months later.
Machine Gun Kelly's "Rap Devil"
Eminem's "Not Alike"
At the peak of their beef in April of 2003, Ja Rule dropped "Loose Change," a song on which he disses 50 and name-drops Eminem's daughter Hailie. That set the stage for Em to clap back in a major way.
That same month, Eminem returned with 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes for a freestyle over Tupac Shakur's "Hail Mary" instrumental. For the track, Em and 50 adopt the flow and rhyme pattern Tupac used for the classic 1996 song.
On the song, 50 delivered the most vicious barb.
"Lil' nigga named Ja think he live like me/Talkin' ’bout he left the hospital, took nine like me/You live in fantasies, nigga, I reject your deposit/When your lil' sweet ass gon' come out of the closet?/Now he wondering why DMX blowed him out/Next time grown folks talkin', bitch, close your mouth," 50 rapped.
Ja got some bars off, but in the end, this was too much to overcome.
Eminem, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes' "Hail Mary"
Ja Rule's "Loose Change"
According to Kurupt, Dogg Pound's "New York, New York" was meant to be a tribute to NYC, but after someone shot at them while they were on set for the N.Y. video shoot, Snoop included a scene where he kicked over some towers. Capone-N-Noreaga weren't happy with the 1995 song and video, so they struck back with "L.A., L.A."
For their song, which also features Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga used essentially the same beat as "New York, New York." But for the video, they made things much more personal by kidnapping Dogg Pound members and throwing them over an NYC bridge.
While none of these songs have explicit disses toward the other artists, "L.A., L.A." gets the edge because of its boldness and the even more insulting video.
Dogg Pound's "New York, New York"
Capone-N-Noreaga's "L.A., L.A."