It's a brutal insult, but this sort of lyrical bitchslap is nothing new. Artists have been dissing ex's, other artists and political figures for decades. The diss is generally associated with rap, but don't be fooled; it can translate to all genres.
There are several immediate measurements of a quality diss, such as originality and inappropriateness. However, only time will tell how good a diss song really is. As you'll see below, the best disses usually make a long-lasting impression and cause damage beyond just hurting someone's feelings. Some even lead to severe emotional damage, public humiliation, or in extreme cases, death.
Here are the greatest musical disses of all-time...
20) Foo Fighters "I'll Stick Around"
Count Dave Grohl among the people that are not fans of Courtney Love. In this song, off the Foo Fighters' debut album, Grohl lets his feelings on Love be known.
How could it be
I'm the only one who sees
Your rehearsed insanity
19) 50 Cent "Wanksta"
50 made underground waves with the song "How to Rob," but this is the song that really put him on the mainstream map. This song tackles the issue of rappers posing as gangstas, when in reality their lifestyle is nothing even close. "Wanksta" is widely believed to be about Ja Rule (a well-known 50 Cent nemesis), who at the time was throwing down pseudo-gangsta raps over Ashanti and J. Lo hooks.
You said you a gansta but you never pop nothin'
We say you a wanksta and you need to stop frontin'
50 claimed in an interview with MuchMusic that the song wasn't specifically about Ja Rule, then went on to add, "but Ja Rule is a wanksta." Regardless of who he wrote this song about, he made it about Ja with that quote.
18) Eminem "The Real Slim Shady"
This song is a diss to all the kids (and other rappers) copying Eminem's style. As a whole, it's more funny than brutal. However, one line in particular stands out, and it's inappropriate enough to earn this song a spot the list.
The line in question deals with one Ms. Christina Aguilera, who had previously -- and unwarrantedly, in Em's opinion -- insinuated on national television that Slim Shady was into domestic abuse.
Christina Aguilera better switch me chairs
So I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst
And hear ‘em argue over who she gave head to first
That's just brutal. Eminem has had many great diss songs, but no other lyrics quite match the ridiculousness of that one. The massive popularity of "The Real Slim Shady" only magnified the insult. Aguilera was even inspired to release a response song called "Will The Real Slim Shady Please Shut Up?," in which she called Eminem boring and said that Durst and Daly "both came closer than you ever will."
17) Dave Chappelle "Piss On You"
Yes, this counts. It may not have been intended as a put-down, but it's probably the worst insult anyone has thrown at R. Kelly (and that's saying a lot, considering the man is facing charges of child pornography).
16) Nas "Ether"
Among fans of rap, "ether" has become synonymous with a venomous insult. That right there is enough for the Nas track to make the list.
The feud between Nas and Jay-Z allegedly began in 1996 when Nas declined the chance to be a guest on Jay-Z's album Reasonable Doubt. Jay-Z took the feud to a new level with his song "Takeover" (we'll get to that later). This song was a response to "Takeover," and Nas included it on his 2001 album Stillmatic.
Nas spends most of the lyrics of this song questioning Jay-Z's credibility and threatening violence. That is, when he's not calling Jay-Z gay.
When these streets keep calling, heard it when I was sleep
That this Gay-Z and Cockafella Records wanna beef
Rockerfeller died of AIDS, that was the end of his chapter
And that's the guy y'all chose to name your company after?
I rock hoes, y'all rock fellas
Political correctness be damned.
15) Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen"
Long before there was Rage Against The Machine, there was this. A lot of political songs are vague as far as who is being criticized; often singers will attack an establishment, a way of thinking, or an entire government. Not so with this song. The Sex Pistols not only call Queen Elizabeth II "fascist," but they declared that England had "no future." The song went to #2 on the U.K. charts and helped solidify the band as a seminal punk act.
This song, which borrows its title from the British national anthem, was extremely controversial when it came out. Go figure.
14) Lynyrd Skynyrd "Sweet Home Alabama"
As a general rule, devoting just a couple lines of a song to a diss wouldn't be enough to get an artist on this list. However, that policy is amended when the song in question becomes a de-facto national anthem for the entire South.
Neil Young did not earn himself a lot of fans below the Mason-Dixon when he released the song "Southern Man," which criticized Southern society and the treatment of African-Americans. Skynyrd felt that Young had gone overboard with his criticisms, and responded on behalf of all Southerners with the now-infamous line from "Sweet Home Alabama."
The lyric in question:
Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow
While that isn't the most brutal of insults, the enormous popularity of "Sweet Home Alabama" ensures that the Young-Skynyrd feud will live on in spirit for a long time.
13) Pearl Jam "Bu$hleaguer"
Nowadays, it's perfectly acceptable (and almost commonplace) for musicians to rail on George W. Bush, but when Pearl Jam included this song on the 2002 album Riot Act, that was not the case. In the wake of 9/11, it was widely viewed as un-American to go against the President.
Eddie Vedder, not a fan of this logic, responded with the song "Bu$hleaguer." Though the song was never a single, it gained notoriety when Pearl Jam played it on the band's 2003 tour. Vedder would wear a George Bush mask during the song, and was often seen impaling the mask on the microphone stand (this caused a large crowd of fans to walk out during a show in Denver). Pearl Jam eventually toned it down and stopped playing the song for awhile, but the diss had already been delivered.
This one gets bonus points for including some of the most ridiculous vocabulary ever found in song lyrics. However, it loses points because 99% of Americans -- including George Bush -- probably can't understand it.
A confidence man, but why so beleagued?
He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer
Swinging for the fence, got lucky with a strike
Drilling for fear, makes the job simple
Born on third, thinks he got a triple
A think tank of aloof multiplication
A nicotine wish and a Columbus decanter
Retrenchment and hoggishness
The aristocrat choir sings
"What's the ruckus?"
The haves have not a clue
The immenseness of suffering
And the odd negotiation, a rarity
With onionskin plausibility of life
And a keyboard reaffirmation
12) Stone Temple Pilots "Too Cool Queenie"
Based on the mediocre success of STP's Shangri-La Dee Da album, plus the fact that it wasn't a single, there's a good chance you've never heard this song. Nevertheless, it is one of the most awful insults ever uttered from one musician about another.
Take a look at the lyrics and see if you can figure out who this is about. Here's a hint: she's already made the list once.
There was this girl
Who lived not too long ago
As a matter of fact
I think she lives still
She knew she could do no wrong
Just singin' those songs
That we all knew
There was this boy
He played in a rock-n-roll band
And he wasn't half-bad
At saving the world
She said he could do no right
So he took his life
This story is true
11) Ja Rule "Loose Change"
Make no mistake, in the war between Ja Rule and Eminem/50 Cent/Dre, Ja lost by a landslide. However, he did manage to land the most vicious line of the whole feud.
Em, you claim your mother's a crackhead and Kim is a known slut
So what's Hailie gonna be when she grows up?
Maybe this song wasn't a huge hit, but no rapper has ever stepped as far over the line as Ja Rule did in this lyric. Insulting someone's mother, wife and daughter in the same line? Unreal.
10) No Doubt "Don't Speak"
Gwen Stefani went out with a guy named Tony Kanal for a while, they broke up, and Stefani wrote a song about it. Usually this would be a standard rock n' roll story, except for one small fact: Kanal is the bassist for No Doubt.
A lot of artists have to listen to diss songs about themselves. How many have to play the bass line? Kanal says that Stefani's lyrics don't bother him. He's a better man than most.
9) Carly Simon "You're So Vain"
Alright, so it's unknown just exactly who this song is about (possible candidates include Warren Beatty, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and even Mick Jagger, who sings on the track). But the fact that this song remains memorable 35 years later is a testament to the power of Simon's diss.
Bonus points for being sampled by Janet Jackson.
The memorable line:
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
8) Ice Cube "No Vaseline"
N.W.A. was to diss songs what George Washington was to America. After the other members of N.W.A. referred to Ice Cube as "Benedict Arnold," Cube responded with this onslaught against his former band mates (mostly Eazy-E).
This song is filled with death threats and gay jokes. In other words, it paved the way for 98% of future rap diss songs.
This song does lose a little credibility because the guy rapping has since starred in Are We There Yet?
7) Jay-Z "Takeover"
You know your diss has made waves when it inspires a Fall Out Boy song title.
On this song off Jay's Blueprint album, he takes on several rappers, but most notably his nemesis Nas. This is the song that inspired the aforementioned Nas track "Ether."
This song is brutal all the way through, but where Jay-Z really stands out and takes it to a whole different level is in his breakdown of Nas' career. Jay turns into a mathematician and runs through Nas' successful albums (or lack thereof).
Four albums in ten years n***a? I can divide
That's one every let's say two
Two of them shits was due
One was NAHHH, the other was Illmatic
That's a one hot album every ten year average
That's one of the funniest and most clever disses in rap history. You can actually hear Jay-Z cracking up during this line. It all worked out though, as many people credit this song for reviving Nas' career.
6) Alanis Morisette "You Oughta Know"
When this song first came out, it was one of the most venomous break-up songs to ever come from a female artist.
That was before we found out it was about Uncle Joey. Now, it's legendary.
Did you forget about me Mr. Duplicity
I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner
It was a slap in the face how quickly I was replaced
Are you thinking of me when you f**k her
(The fact that it inspired a VH1 tagline only keeps the legacy growing.)
5) Notorious B.I.G. "Who Shot Ya?"
Usually, when your nemesis gets shot, that's enough of a diss. But not for Biggie. After Tupac was shot at the Manhattan recording studio where B.I.G. and his crew had been hanging out -- let's just say there's a chance he was involved -- Notorious decided to rub it in by recording the song "Who Shot Ya?"
Whether or not Biggie was involved, laughing in the face of someone after they get shot goes down as a pretty solid diss.
4) John Lennon "How Do You Sleep?"
Most people are aware of in-fighting that plagued the final years of The Beatles. Once John Lennon went solo, he addressed his feelings in this song, off the Imagine album. In the song, Lennon calls out Paul McCartney as a hack songwriter. The lyrics speak for themselves...
The only thing you done was "Yesterday"
And since you're gone you're just another day
3) Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg "Dre Day" [a.k.a., "F**k Wit Dre Day (and Everybody's Celebratin')"]
This is one of the greatest rap songs ever written, and it's also a direct insult to Dre's former N.W.A. band mate Eazy-E and rapper Tim Dog. In case you couldn't figure out the song's meaning in the first 4 minutes, the ending contains the not-so-subtle lines "Eazy-E can eat a big fat d**k / Tim Dog can eat a big fat d**k."
The video for this song is what made it a truly memorable diss. The clip features a character called Sleazy-E who eventually ends up homeless offering to rap for food. It's an amazing song, it's a memorable video, and it will be around for years to come. Dre and Eazy reportedly settled their feud before Eazy's death, but some disses just can't be undone. Everyone between the ages of 25 and 35 knows this one by heart.
Bonus points for Dre's inclusion of "The $20 Sack Pyramid" on The Chronic. It contained another Tim Dog diss, and remains to this day the greatest skit ever included on a rap album.
2) Justin Timberlake "Cry Me A River"
This song was pretty vicious to begin with. Though Timberlake won't admit it, anyone with common sense can tell the song is about Britney Spears. The video even shows Timberlake cheating on a Britney clone.
While Spears and Timberlake were dating, Spears allegedly cheated on JT (some say it was with a back-up dancer). When Spears begged forgiveness, this was Timberlake's way of saying "no thanks."
What makes this diss amazing is hindsight. While Timberlake has gone on to absolute superstardom and critical acclaim, Spears has fallen into a downward spiral that culminated with a head-shaving incident, a divorce, a trip to rehab, and the near-explosion of TMZ.com. In other words, you could make a strong argument that this song ruined Britney Spears' life. If Britney dies in the next year -- odds are currently 60/40 -- Timberlake should be tried as an accessory.
1) Tupac "Hit ‘Em Up"
"Hit ‘Em Up" was Pac's response to the aforementioned B.I.G. song "Who Shot Ya?" and the shooting in general.
This song has it all. Despite originally being a B-side, it's one of the best rap songs ever recorded, and its lyrics are ten times more venomous than anything else ever put on CD. It has some of the most clever lines in diss song history, including a hilarious joke about Mobb Deep and sickle cell and the all-time classic lyrics "My fo-fo make sho all yo kids don't grow" and "We ain't singing, we bringing drama, f**k you and yo mothaf**kin' mama." Toward the end of the song, Tupac gives up on rapping and just starts screaming insults at everyone from the East coast. His insults are so memorable that one of the rappers he calls out -- Chino XL -- is arguably best known for being dissed in this song. Imagine if your most well-known accomplishment was having Tupac tell you "f**k you" in a song; thus is the life of Chino XL.
After listening to this song, you actually feel like Tupac is going to kill you. Pac made it absolutely impossible for Biggie or anyone else to reply with a fitting diss.
And oh yeah, he was eventually killed (*allegedly*) because of the East coast-West coast feud that was severely escalated by this song. When dissing someone leads to your death, well, it was probably a pretty good diss.