A Brief History of Rapper vs. Record Label Diss Tracks

From Lil Wayne vs. Cash Money to Dr. Dre vs. Ruthless Records, some of hip-hop’s best diss tracks have been aimed at labels.

The soap operas written daily are meant to stay in boardrooms, label meetings, and studio sessions, behind doors locked to the public. That’s where the music business is the most mysterious, and the shadiest, where the ghost writers float, mindie deals are made and careers are made or broken. That’s why there’s an an uproar anytime an artist brings private issues into the public’s domain, we all want to see Oz behind the curtain.

Tweeting through the frustration has become commonplace in the social media era. It’s a public tantrum that was once private, a glimpse into the business side of the industry, a side that what was never meant for our eyes and ears. Ab-Soul’s thumbs showed us that TDE wasn’t a label immune to cracks in their fortress. Jeezy’s twitter fingers were used to vent against Def Jam in 2013, their lack of support and promotion of TM:103 pushed The Snowman to the brink of threatening to leak the album for free. Azealia Banks used Twitter to announce how a poor management situation won’t allow any music to be released until March 2016. It’s a common platform for unveiling the hidden truths.

But as Drake so recently pointed out, it’s easy to sound tough 140 characters at a time. This is hip-hop, it’s all just empty tweets until someone steps into the booth and starts lobbing lyrical missiles, and some of hip-hop’s harshest diss tracks haven’t been between rappers, but between disgruntled rappers and their labels.

CyHi the Prince vs. G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam

Extreme is exactly what CyHi’s latest single, “Elephant In The Room” sounds like. Like Big Sean’s venting on “Say You Will,” CyHi mentions his issues with the label and a touring Kanye. It’s a sincere song about feeling stagnant in his career, but CyHi takes the concept to the next level; guns are pulled on label exacts, light jabs are thrown toward his G.O.O.D Music family and the song ends with a kidnapped Kanye. It’s an aggressive record, all the years of being overlooked and underrated created animosity toward the very people he trusted to help move him forward. Since the release CyHi has insisted it’s not a diss, saying Kanye even gave him the concept for the song. I had a feeling it wasn’t meant to be a declaration of war, the record ends with the buzzing sound of an alarm clock, a clue that this is a dream sequence, but I also believe it came from a sincere place. Cy’s buzz was at its highest after “So Appalled” and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but he just didn’t “blow up.” He got a lot of press being a writer on Yeezus but that press doesn’t seem to have advanced his solo career much. He seems stuck in mixtape rapper purgatory and wants to escape, and is expected to announce that he’s left G.O.O.D Music at a press conference later tonight. But no matter what happens between him and the label, “Elephant” will stand as one of hip-hop’s most aggressive anti-label tracks.

Lil Wayne & Drake vs. Cash Money

Lil Wayne shocked the world when he took a similar approach, going from tweeting about being a prisoner at Cash Money to firing diss records toward Birdman. The dirty dealings of Cash Money has been a reoccurring theme in the label’s history. Wayne had been on the label since the beginning of time, he stood strong as the lone solider when Mannie Fresh and The Hot Boyz severed ties and he singlehandedly kept the ship afloat for over a decade, so I expected him to fall back under the spell, until I heard “CoCo,” the intro song from Sorry 4 The Wait 2. The shot he took at his former father signified the collapsing regime, to add gasoline to the flame Quentin Miller Drake repeatedly suggested that he’ll likely be following in Wayne’s departing footsteps on tracks like “Star67”: “"Walk up in my label like, where the check though?/ Yeah I said it, wouldn't dap you with the left ho.” Every family has dirty laundry, Cash Money’s entire waste basket got dumped on the internet for all to see: withheld royalties, a shelved album, lawsuits, diss songs, then a shooting, it was like witnessing the great fire of Rome, a public dispute that won’t be forgotten anytime soon and will live forever in song.

Snoop Dogg vs. Death Row Records

Long before Birdman was cheating Lil Wayne out of royalties, Suge Knight was doing the same to Snoop Dogg. Instead of giving artists their proper payment, Suge would simply reward the roster with jewelry, homes, and cars, as if the exchange was equivalent. This was in 1997 during the height of Death Row’s downfall, Pac had been murdered, Dr. Dre departed, Snoop just beat his murder case and wanted to be done with the label. Snoop covered The Source in 1998 to announce his desires to free himself from Suge and the label. This is how announcements were made, magazines had to be involved in any grand revealing. That summer Snoop successfully escaped and joined Master P’s No Limit Records. Despite separating himself from Suge, the bad blood was thick enough to send Snoop in the booth to record, “Pimp Slapp’d.” There’s few acts that you can commit to another human that measures up to the disrespect of a pimp slap and I think that was the mission of this record. It wasn’t meant to be “Ether” or “Takeover,” more like a message to Suge that Snoop didn’t fear him, insinuating that Death Row’s Big Bad Wolf was nothing more than a puppy howling at the moon. Much like “CoCo,” “Pimp Slapp’d” was proof that Death Row would never be the same

Dr. Dre vs. Ruthless Records

Before Suge Knight was CEO of Death Row Records he was just a bodyguard, a man of muscle, and he wasn’t afraid to use brute force to get his way. When Dr. Dre and D.O.C wanted out of their contracts with Ruthless Records it was Suge Knight that made it happen. Ruthless was Eazy-E’s label, another label with a history of shortchanging their artists. Financial issues is what separated Ice Cube from N.W.A and sent Dr. Dre and D.O.C. toward Suge. Supposedly, Suge used a bit of muscle to get the contracts from Ruthless. Once Dre joined Death Row and started working on The Chronic, he sent shots at his old label head on “Dre Day.” The music video only amplified the shots sent on the record, he parodied Eazy-E with a jheri curl rocking and dark sunglasses as a character named Sleazy-E.  The war of words was an intense one, a war that didn’t end until a month before Eazy’s death.

The Clipse vs. Jive Records

Pusha T is known for being audacious when vexed, even when it comes to sending shots at the label on a radio single. It’s insane that the lyrics, “These are the days of our live and I’m sorry to the fans, but the crackers weren’t playin fair at Jive” are on “Mr. Me Too,” a song that got play across nation wide air waves. The Clipse were originally signed to Arista Records but when the label dissolved into Jive, Pusha felt they were the reason for ongoing delays with Hell Hath No Fury, their highly anticipated follow-up to Lord Willin’. Jive was a label that was focused on their pop image, The Clipse didn’t fit in with the label’s roster and so Pusha felt stuck. The brothers requested a formal release from their contract that was denied, they later sued Jive in an attempt to break away and were finally successful. That line will always be there in history as a reminder of the four years and the endless struggle that went into releasing an eventual classic.

Joe Budden vs. Def Jam

Joe Budden has had an interesting career, a rare one-hit-wonder that made a GRAMMY-nominated hit single that was embraced by the mainstream, got dropped from Def Jam, and was revived in the underground as a brash, open diary lyricist. “Pump It Up” came out in 2003, Twitter trolls love to remind Joey of his past but it’s unlikely to hear him now mention his time in the Def Jam house. Yet he had plenty to say when he released “Def Jam Diss” on his first installment of the Mood Muzik series, a song that was half-diss, half just the experience of being on a major label and having a hit. His perspective is an interesting one, hearing how the executives treated him when the single did well compared to underwhelming album sales. I wonder if Trinidad Jame$ had a similar experience after “All Gold Everything”?

The industry is full of outraged elephants in rooms, CyHi is far from the first. These are just a few examples of how being tied to a label can lead to issues so unbearable that the only way to express the frustration is to record animosity. The machine is here to make money, they care very little about the artistry. I remember Lupe’s struggle with Atlantic over Lasers, how their views clashed, and Lupe won in the end without ever letting the beef spill over into song. This is the game, the tug-of-war between the art and the machine. You want the deal, you want the budget, the support, but what you sacrifice is more than expected. You can be overlooked, shelved, and discarded for reasons that have very little to do with your art and everything to do with commerce. That’s the industry, it’s a cold business, but it’s the game. When you enter the big leagues there’s rules to play by, and if the label isn’t playing fair? Your only recourse may just be bringing the beef to music.

[By Yoh, aka Yoh Bounce, aka @Yoh31]



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