Music & Musicians

2024 has been the year of the diss track

On Friday night, Drake dropped “Family Matters” and Kendrick Lamar dropped “meet the grahams,” the latest tracks in their ongoing feud

Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
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The diss track, a crucial tool in hip-hop culture for hashing out rivalries, is having a year.

Many of the biggest names in rap — from Kendrick Lamar and Drake to Megan Thee Stallion — have put out tracks in recent months hurling lyrical jabs at fellow artists, with most sparking an online frenzy to decipher the digs.

On Friday, Lamar and Drake dropped their latest takedowns of each other, with the former releasing “6:16 in LA” and “meet the grahams” and the latter sharing “Family Matters.” The two have exchanged blows for over a month. In total, at least 19 diss tracks have been released this year alone, according to an NBC News tally.

Some music experts said this moment showcases how social media has shaped the way rappers handle beef, and how their fans fuel the drama.

Tia Tyree, a professor of communication studies at Howard University, said diss tracks are instrumental for artists to assert their dominance or claim the top spot in the genre.

“Nothing is off-limits in a rap battle,” said Tyree, who teaches courses on hip-hop. “Everything is on the table. Because what you want is lyrical superiority and you want the crown. You want to leave no doubt that you have won.”

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Web connecting different singers to the other artists they've mentioned negatively in their songs.

Rap beef was previously filtered through radio stations and record labels, according to Tyree. Fans would wait for diss tracks to get squeezed into radio programming or released on CDs — if they were released at all.Now, “social media allows us to hear that the second it’s literally completed,” said Tyree. “We can share clips of it. We can commentate. We can add comments on social media posts. So what’s really making this a different moment in hip-hop history is the ability for us to really get it almost simultaneously as a culture.”

After every diss drop, fans pick sides. Social media has allowed them to give their feedback in real time and share what kind of low blows they think rappers should incorporate into their disses and responses. They argue about which artist is better and who had the deepest lyrical lashings.

But the rise of stan culture — which refers to the dedication of certain artists’ most fervent fans — has made choosing a winner difficult, if not impossible, according to Pablo Hawkins, a popular TikTok music and culture critic.

“I don’t think there’s a winner or loser, because at the end of the day there is a battle just on social media,” Hawkins said. “You can’t even battle for the dominant form of opinion anymore because for everything you say, someone’s going to have a counter-reaction.”Hawkins said die-hard fans will defend their favorite artists regardless of the quality of a diss track.

“No one’s actually evaluating this from a fair starting point,” Hawkins said. “Everyone’s taking this as how deep are they into their fandom of either person.”

Diss tracks have been fueling fan wars for months. The frenzy of 2024 kicked off in January when Megan Thee Stallion prompted viral fan speculation with her song “Hiss.” Many thought she was referencing fellow rapper Nicki Minaj’s husband, Kenneth Petty, with the line: “These h--- don’t be mad at Megan/ These h--- mad at Megan’s Law.”

Petty is a registered sex offender in the state of California. Megan’s Law is a federal law that requires convicted sex offenders to register with the state and provide their information to the community.

After “Hiss” was released, Minaj began posting relentlessly on X and Instagram. She attacked Megan and shared posts from her supportive fans, known colloquially as “Barbz.” She then dropped her own diss track, “Big Foot.” The first verse opens by mentioning Megan directly, as well as her “Megan’s Law” line. Barbz reportedly doxxed people who criticized Minaj and “Big Foot,” according to Time.

But rap fans didn’t think that Megan was only dissing Minaj. Many believed she was dissing Drake with the line: “Cosplay gangsters, fake-a-- accents/ Posted in another [N-word] hood like a bad b----.” Two months later, several other big hip-hop artists found themselves entangled in a back-and-forth with the Canadian rapper.

Lamar teamed up with rapper Future and producer Metro Boomin on the track “Like That” on March 22. In a guest verse, Lamar took shots at J. Cole and Drake, responding to a line in Cole and Drake’s song “First Person Shooter.” In that song, Cole had deemed himself, Drake and Lamar as the “Big Three” of rap music.

Lamar’s verse blew up online, and fans immediately called on Cole and Drake to respond. Cole released a response track called “7 Minute Drill,” in which he criticized some of Lamar’s discography. Cole eventually took the diss off of streaming, calling it “the lamest s---” he’s ever done.

Since then, Drake and Lamar have each released several diss tracks aimed at each other. Lamar’s track “euphoria,” which dropped Tuesday, echoed some of the same criticisms mentioned in Megan’s “Hiss,” bringing this year of disses full circle.The volume of diss tracks is a welcome change for fans, many of whom have felt that rappers have been spending too much time going back and forth online and not enough making actual music.

“Instead of having to respond in a public manner to public disrespect through a song, you can just hop on Twitter, say it real quick and then leave it in the dust,” said Hawkins, the critic. “And I think that has taken away from us having really good rap beef.”

Hawkins also said diss tracks haven’t been landing as hard in recent years because it’s gotten more difficult to surprise people with new dirt. People now have more access to information than ever because of the internet, they said.

“It’s so much harder to find out genuinely new info without someone [from an artist’s team] leaking the information,” they said.When artists do claim to have damning information on each other, the beef can turn from fun to unsettling. Throughout the history of hip-hop, diss tracks have had some shocking blows — from Tupac taunting Prodigy for having sickle cell anemia on “Hit ‘Em Up” to Pusha T exposing Drake for hiding the existence of his child in “The Story of Adidon.”

But some listeners online appeared uneasy about the accusations mentioned in Drake’s “Family Matters” and Lamar’s “meet the grahams.” Several social media users felt like Black women were being used as punchlines in the beef.

The dueling songs came out after Lamar had warned Drake in “euphoria” that he could escalate the beef: “We ain’t gotta get personal/ This a friendly fade/ You should keep it that way.”

“As a society, I think we’re in a space right now where people are holding musicians, music artists, to this moral standard,” Hawkins said.

Music experts said diss tracks will remain a staple in hip-hop in the years to come. The songs fuel fan fascination and help artists gain attention — which translates to more streams.

“Rap beefs mean money,” Tyree said. “Because those streams make money.”

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