Many of the ten best rap battles have murky origins, with followers and spectators swearing up and down that the other guy started it for this or that reason. No one can know for sure but the two sides involved, but in the end, it doesn’t matter: With few exceptions, each beef produced memorable diss tracks that live on in hip hop infamy.
- Jay-Z vs. Nas. Both artists are certified hip hop legends, and the beef is officially squashed, but for a hot minute, all of hip hop stared as two heavyweights aimed for the chin. While there was no clear consensus, general opinion seems to swing in Nas’ favor after “Ether” from his 2001 release “Stillmatic.”
- Eminem vs. Canibus. Em has owned Canibus on every diss track. And, the disses between these two are plentiful, starting back in Marshall’s 1999 debut, “The Slim Shady LP.” Canibus revived this rap battle in 2009 for reasons that remain unknown.
- Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J. Based on everything the two said in interviews and the diss tracks themselves, this rap battle was never really personal and mostly in good fun. The disses weren’t nearly as vicious as other rap battles, but the lyrics were tight and tended to hit their marks. The winner? LL by a mile.
- Eminem vs. Benzino. When Em criticized The Source for giving “The Marshall Mathers LP” a mere two out of five mics, Benzino attacked. And attacked. After issuing two diss tracks, Shady released a mixtape crushing Benzino across the mug. Benzino would try to strike back but was no match for Marshall’s skills.
- 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. Want an example of a rap battle that ended a career? Look no further than 50 Cent and Ja Rule. As the two feuded during the first half of the last decade, it became clear very quickly that 50 had the upper hand. He made Ja look like a punk, a “studio gangster.” Ja’s sales and following all but died off shortly thereafter.
- Common vs. Westside Connection. Westside Connection read between the lines of Common’s 1995 “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and were sure he dissed the West Coast. Enter “Westside Slaughterhouse,” a single they rushed in response. Common took his time with a reply, resulting in “The B**ch in Yoo,” a swift kick right up Connection’s backside.
- Ice Cube vs. N.W.A. When Ice Cube left N.W.A. after money disputes, relations with his former group were less than milk and cupcakes. After lobbying disses back and forth, N.W.A. broke up, Dr. Dre worked with Cube again while he, Eazy-E, and MC Ren all dissed one another any chance they got. Where it concerns Ice Cube and N.W.A., however, Cube was the clear winner.
- Eazy-E vs. Dr. Dre. It was a shame two godfathers of hardcore hip hop beefed the way these two did, but at least it made for great theater. One of the best rap battles ever, Dre would have the last laugh as he went on to produce Snoop Dogg, help form Death Row Records and drop one of the sickest hip hop albums of all time in “The Chronic.”
- Canibus vs. LL Cool J. When Canibus asked to borrow the mic tattoo on LL’s arm in “5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” LL couldn’t help but take it personally and diss him later in the song. Canibus, catching the slight, released “Second Round K.O.” While LL loyalists claim he redeemed himself with “Jack the Ripper,” the truth is Canibus drowned LL in one of the best rap battles ever.
- The Notorious B.I.G. vs. 2Pac. How can anything ever top this beef? Two friends, both hip hop kings of their time, who have a falling out and proceed to beef feud with a venom that was unmatched up to that time. Biggie tried to take the high road by not responding to 2Pac’s constant barrage, and it hurt him. While he made up some ground later with memorable diss tracks, 2Pac had already won most of the war. Unfortunately, however, neither artist lived long enough to squash the best rap battle of all time.
What Others Are Reading Right Now.
Acting, comedy and strong spirits converge in Speakeasy. When host Paul F. Tompkins interviews entertainers—Key and Peele, Alison Brie, Rob Delaney, Zach Galifianakis—about all sor …
25 Enlightening Quotes About Being a Gentleman
What’s your definition of a perfect gent? LL Cool J, Lea Michele, Andy Samberg and friends weigh in.