During a 2018 appearance on The Breakfast Club, Mo’Nique birthed a mantra to live by after being told that “people” have labeled her difficult to work with on set: “Say their names or leave it on the playground.” This phrase can be applied to so much, but especially amid what we’re witnessing among the current crop of rap girls subtweeting and arguing on social media.
Nicki Minaj and Cardi B‘s four-year-long feud has spilled over into several sub-feuds, including the cold war between Minaj and “Hot Girl Summer” collaborator Megan Thee Stallion. After Minaj took shots fans speculated were for Meg on 2021’s “Seeing Green,” we’ve seen the two rappers exchange subtweets and sub-shots on songs that you might’ve missed if you’re a casual fan. More recently, Cardi has directly called out City Girls’ JT and Akbar V online, resulting in everything from business secrets to revenge porn being shared online.
Now, this is indicative of the social media era we now live in. Where confrontations can take place in real time for all the world to see, and fans are able to add to the fire and cape for their side in an instant. But in this golden era of women in hip-hop (and contemporary hip-hop at large, where even consistent lyrical assassins like Freddie Gibbs and Benny the Butcher are exchanging words on Twitter instead of on wax), it’s surprising to see how these artists aren’t making as many bars as they are subtweets at their competition. In other words — where are the diss tracks?
While it’s easy to ask “Can’t we all get along,” it’s unrealistic to ask female rappers to act kumbaya, while their male counterparts get to solidify themselves in the hip-hop tradition of diss tracks. LL COOL J’s “Jack the Ripper,” Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” Nas’ “Ether,” Drake’s “Back to Back,” Pusha-T’s “The Story of Adidon” — both past and present male rappers have resorted to diss tracks to not only showcase their lyrical prowess, but put their competition in check. The contemporary girls could do the same, offering something that has a little more shelf life than a collection of subtweets or social media videos.
Historically, the queens of hip-hop have never been scared to address their ops directly in song. In 1984, a 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté made a name for herself after she released “Roxanne’s Revenge,” a response track to hip-hop group U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a song about a girl who refused the group’s advances. Shanté freestyled the diss track not because she felt slighted by the song (her real name isn’t even Roxanne), but because U.T.F.O pulled out of a show that was promoted by her Queensbridge Projects brethren, Marley Marl. Because of this, the infamous “Roxanne Wars” of the ’80s was born. Ultimately, the “Roxanne” character became the center of several songs — “The Parents of Roxanne,” “Yo, My Little Sister (Roxanne’s Brothers),” and “Roxanne’s Doctor,” among others — making it one of the most responded to diss tracks of all time, and solidifying Shanté’s legacy as a hip-hop legend.
Lil Kim is the blueprint for women in hip-hop, but what isn’t often discussed is how she never shied away from putting her problems with other artists over a beat. Whether calling Tupac out on the remix to “Big Momma Thang,” accusing Shyne of stealing Biggie’s flow on “Notorious K.I.M.,” or telling Eve to back down on “Came Back For You,” the five-foot Brooklyn rapper has never backed down when she felt disrespected. Even her feuds with Nicki Minaj and Foxy Brown have produced some cultural shifting moments, especially her verse on Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” remix.
There’s something really admirable about an artist using beef as a way to elevate art. We’ve seen it with Queen Latifah’s “Name Callin’,” Remy Ma’s “Shether,” and Nicki Minaj’s “Tragedy.” Hell, even Lauryn Hill had five minutes for Wyclef on “Lost Ones.” But what’s stopping today’s rappers from turning their Twitter fingers into bars in the booth?
In 2020, Chicago rapper cupcakKe remixed 50 Cent’s infamous 1999 track “How To Rob,” calling out fellow rappers Lizzo, Doja Cat, Latto, and more. Despite the rapper kicking off the track with a disclaimer — “if you hear your name, it’s all motherfucking love, don’t take shit personally” — the playful but still scathing diss faced backlash from fans who accused her of being a “clout chaser,” as well as rappers referenced on the track like Sukihana, who took the call out personally and responded with a diss track toward cupcakKe called “Rob Who.” From there, the two continued to release tracks directed at each other — from Suki’s “Cupcakke Bummy!!!!” to cupcakKe’s “The Gag Is.”
Now, will cupcakKe vs. Suki be discussed alongside Boogie Down Productions vs. Juice Crew as one of the greatest rap battles ever? No. But it showed that they weren’t afraid to go blow for blow with anyone that disrespects them. It’s refreshing when two artists can directly address each other and leave it in the booth, rather than have fans trying to decipher one-liners about alleged cheating (is Quavo talking about Lil Baby or Offset on “Messy”? We may never know).
The best part about addressing everything in a song is that you, as the artist, can control the narrative without distractions. There’s also the marketing aspect of a diss track, too. We’ve seen many times how artists garner buzz before an album release through feuds, with one of the most notable being JAY-Z. In 2001, after teasing “Takeover” at HOT 97’s Summer Jam, he’d later release a full version of the then-untitled Mobb Deep and Nas diss on his Magnum Opus, The Blueprint. The buzz from the diss, alongside the success of “IZZO (H.O.V.A.),” helped Jigga catapult to No. 1 on the charts. The back and forth between the two rappers also benefited Nas, whose JAY diss track “Ether” helped redeem him following the release of the commercially successful but terribly executed Nastradamus, as well as contributed to Stillmatic’s success on the charts.
Today’s rap girls love to remind everyone how they’re not “a rap bitch,” meaning they rather confront each other in person than follow the “rules of the industry.” But there’s a time to talk that talk, and a time to walk that walk. To be the queen of rap it isn’t just about selling records, but defending and protecting your crown. Let’s keep it a buck — none of the girls are having a royal rumble brawl over some tweets, and why should they? Why risk losing the bag and gaining a knot on the forehead when you can get a bigger bag and keep your crown by releasing new music? Cardi recently revealed how her strip club brawl case cost her a huge opportunity with Call of Duty, and as we’ve seen with Teyana Taylor during her feud with Rihanna, you can lose endorsement deals overnight if you say or post the wrong thing.
While today’s rappers don’t have to engage in battles on wax, it’s a disservice to the culture and artists’ development to forgo this traditional way of airing out problems. Take a note from Destiny’s Child and say a name — go to the booth, rap, and give us something more than back-and-forth jabs on social media.
Tatyana Jenene has been described as a “sharp and efficient music and entertainment journalist” with a formidable knowledge of current events, news, TV, films, music, and pop culture. However, she describes herself as the cross streets where DMX and Vanessa Williams meet. The Buffalo-born, Brooklyn-based writer earned her moniker “The Hip-Hop Homegirl” from a friend after an all-nighter where they debated music and gossiped about various rappers, telling her friend stories and tidbits about artists that weren’t widely known to the public. Her rap dreams were cut short while she was a Johnson C. Smith University student after her mother told her the family wasn’t paying for her to attend the prestigious HBCU to be a rapper. So, she settled for writing about them instead. Her mother is very proud of this decision.
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