Nowadays rap beefs bubble and fizzle out on social media but there was once a time when bars over beats was the only respected way emcees settled feuds.
10. Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee
It’s impossible to discuss the greatest hip-hop battles without mentioning the historic showdown between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee. In 1981, back when every rhyme ended with “in the place to be,” two MCs took the stage and, in an 8 Mile-style contest, pioneered what we now know as battle rap. Busy Bee entertained the audience with his crowd-pleasing raps, but Moe Dee made mince meat out of him with his ruthless, hardcore lyrics.
Winner: Kool Moe Dee
9. Eminem vs. "The Source"
This is probably the most absurd of all the battles on this list, considering that Eminem launched his rap career on the pages of The Source, which featured him in its ‘Unsigned Hype’ column in March 1998. The honeymoon came to a halt after Source co-founder Raymond “Benzino” Scott started hurling disses at Eminem on wax and via the magazine. While Slim Shady had no music rag to hurl back at Benzino, he had something Benzino lacked: rhyming skills. Shady struck back with a brigade of insults, including “Nail in the Coffin” and “The Sauce.” As the beef progressed, The Source lost readership and alienated advertisers. Benzino’s music career took a nosedive, while Eminem’s rap career flourished.
8. Eazy-E vs. Dr. Dre
After a nasty breakup, ex-NWA partners Eazy-E and Dr. Dre traded insults non-stop. Just when it looked like Dre had sealed the deal with “Dre’s Day,” Eazy-E fought back with “Real Muthaf–kin’ Gs.” Eazy attacked Dre and Snoop, dubbing them studio gangsters who had never really witnessed the harsh realities of the ‘hood. As if that wasn’t enough, he devoted plenty of airtime to Dre’s past as a member of the electro-pop group World Class Wrecking Cru’, ridiculing Dre’s fruity outfit. “Damn it’s a trip how a n—a can go so quick from wearing lipstick to smoking on chronic at picnics,” he rapped. Eazy threw in a pic of Dre dressed in pumps and mascara to boot. (Imagine if Eazy-E had Photoshop in 1992.)
Winner: Dr. Dre
7. Canibus vs LL Cool J
Canibus is famously known for battling himself (you heard me right), but he truly earned his stripes by sparring with one of the greatest to ever do it. A very prime LL Cool J was in his crosshairs and was not gonna get the icon treatment from Bis. The odds were heavily stacked against him but then he released his “Second Round KO,” which featured the voice the one and only Mike Tyson. This massive right hook was and still is somewhat of a blueprint for rappers looking to box with their peers.
6. Common vs. Westside Connection
History teaches us that one surefire way to draw the ire of a fellow MC is to publicly indict them for hip-hop’s demise. It worked for Soulja Boy and Ice T in 2009, just as it worked for Common and Westside Connection in 1995. The beef stemmed from Common’s lyrics on “I Use to Love H.E.R.,” which Ice Cube claimed was a subliminal diss to the west coast. Cue “Westside Slaughterhouse,” a vicious attack on Common, replete with the grimiest rap video ever made. Common locked himself in a studio with Pete Rock and proceeded to hand Westside Connection a lyrical beatdown on “The B*tch in Yoo.”
5. Ice Cube vs. N.W.A.
Eazy-E and NWA’s management rubbed Ice Cube the wrong way and then had the nerve to dis the group’s best lyricist on “100 Miles & Runnin’.” Cube initiated a flame-throwing match with his former allies and came out unscathed. With “No Vaseline,” Cube single-handedly annihilated an entire group. A rare feat which has never been replicated since then.
Winner: Ice Cube
4. Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J
Prior to his feud with LL Cool J, Kool Moe had dismantled a modest Busy Bee in a freestyle contest. This time, KMD’s adversary was Bigger and Deffer. Kool Moe alleged that Cool J stole his style and decided to teach the 19-year old MC a lesson via the lyrical whiplash titled “How Ya Like Me Now.” LL fired back with the instant classic “To Da Breakadawn.” Kool Moe Dee wouldn’t let LL have the final word, so he struck again with “Let’s Go.” LL hit him even harder with “Jack the Ripper,” in which he ridiculed Moe Dee’s trademark Star Trek shades. By the time Moe Dee returned with “Death Blow,” Cool J had already hung the “L” on his neck and rocked his bells.
Winner: LL Cool J
3. Boogie Down Productions vs. Juice Crew
As is often the case in hip-hop, this historic beef was mainly an offspring of bragging rights. It pitted one New York borough against another. KRS-One instigated the battle after claiming that MC Shan’s song “The Juice” wrongly credited Queensbridge, instead of South Bronx, as hip-hop’s birthplace. Consequently, BDP took Shan and co to the cleaners with the raw dis “South Bronx.” Shan struck back with “Kill That Noise,” thus setting up BDP for the classic “The Bridge is Over,” which delivered the final blow to Shan’s rap career.
Winner: Boogie Down Productions
2. Tupac vs. Biggie
The 2Pac vs Biggie feud was unique in so many ways. Interestingly, Pac’s tactic was the antithesis of Big’s approach. Not one to bite his tongue, Pac kept his insults as explicit and aggressive as possible. (Who could forget “Hit ‘Em Up”‘s opening lines “That’s why I f—ked your wife, you fat muthaf—a”?) Biggie, on the other hand, stung Pac with subliminal disses, often delivered in a poised manner. This was arguably the most influential hip-hop feud ever. It affected entire regions, wrecked relationships, and changed lives forever.
1. Jay-Z vs. Nas
Before the Def Jam deal. Before the Power 105 lovefest. Before the colossal collaborations, Nas and Jay-Z were die-hard rivals. There are many theories on why Jay-Z and Nas suddenly found themselves embroiled in one of the most memorable feuds in music history. Was Nas jealous of Jay’s commercial exploits? Did Jay dis Nas’ baby mama on “Is That Your Chick”? The two New York titans traded insults for years and came short of challenging each other to a lyrical duel on HBO. The quest for supremacy gave rise to two of the greatest battle tracks in history: Jay-Z’s “Takeover” and Nas’ “Ether.” Thanks to Kanye’s hard-hitting drums, “Takeover” was musically superior to “Ether,” but Nas was lyrically superior to Jay.
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