YouTube Diss Tracks and the Rap Game

We’ve come a long way from the days of east coast – west coast rivalry; Tupac hurling witty bars at Biggie through and the latter lobbing back at equal nuance and full force. Diss tracks have since then evolved from the impassioned and spiteful back-and-forths between rappers over skills and copyright issues. Now they’ve essentially taken a life of their own, earning free publicity for the rappers involved and —  in some cases — catapulting the careers for the participants.

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The east coast – west coast rivalry of the ’90’s seemed to have set a precedent for feuding, and its ubiquitous presence in modern day hip hop. Perhaps some can recall the Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj beef, or the competition for the best insult song that Eminem’s “Bagpipes from Baghdad” sparked.

These incidents made the news — not only hip hop news outlets, but the nightly rounds of celebrity gossip outlets. Diss tracks have continued permeating the mainstream hip hop community in more recent times as well: Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma are still in the middle of their fracas, and Taylor Swift has just potentially fanned the flames of Kanye’s fury by releasing a track surreptitiously targeting him on his mother’s death date.

When looking at most of the recent diss tracks, one can see that those participating in them mutually benefitted. No matter who won or lost the battle, the participants got became better known — though perhaps notorious would be a better descriptor.

This was perhaps the mindset that led to the current YouTube diss track culture. The piecemeal progression of diss tracks as publicity stunts has even spilled outside of the professional rap market, expanding into the pastiche of YouTube videos decorating the trending pages of the video sharing platform.

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RiceGum, the self-proclaimed pioneer of the YouTube diss track trend, has arguably earned most of his fame from this. In an elaborate scheme with FouseyTUBE, the two colluded to create a fake online beef, complete with their own matched diss tracks. At the end, the two admitted that they had faked the whole thing in order to show fans how easy it was to fake online feuds and manipulate drama channels.

Around the same time, the notorious Paul brothers’ diss track war blew up, garnering them millions of subscribers. Then, famed English FIFA YouTubers KSI and the Sidemen, were exchanging diss tracks loaded with insults.

Many viewers have been quick to call foul — some speculate about Ricegum’s often conveniently timed disses, and the views he gets from the videos. Many more have accused KSI and the Sidemen of fabricating conflict to regain the much-sought after state of relevancy.

Some enjoy seeing YouTubers exchange diss tracks; seeing the entertainment value of two non-rappers insulting each other’s appearance, status, and bids for relevancy. Others have been quick to renounce them, heralding these diss tracks as the denigration of modern-day hip hop, or just overdone and annoying. So the question is, should these YouTube diss tracks be considered an issue for the hip hop community?

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We as the audience can only speculate on the authenticity of YouTube feuds and resultant diss tracks. Beyond this, we can debate about diss tracks and their place in the current hip hop community and how good or bad they are within their current standing.

Beneath the shiny veneer of mainstream YouTubers, there seems to be a darker undercurrent of online feuding — perhaps more similar in spirit to the original diss songs of the ’90’s. A continued exchange of diss tracks through the video sharing platform has erupted in gang violence and death in one English community. One could argue that these types of diss tracks are similar in nature to the diss tracks of old, exchanged between the east coast and west coast, begging the same kind of factional sentiments and tragic endings. Nonetheless, the debate regarding other YouTube diss tracks still remains.

The argument that these YouTube diss tracks made by non-rappers are almost a mockery of hip hop can be warranted. After all, these back and forth disses are a far cry from Nicki’s and Eminem’s skill-wise and mood-wise. Even if they weren’t intended to be serious, one could still argue that perhaps the participants shouldn’t be earning profit off of their efforts; gaining YouTube revenue and fame.

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We don’t know the intentions of the diss track creators — only they know they do. Maybe the feuding is real, or perhaps they’re all fabricated for attention. The same goes for mainstream rap beef in the present era; we can’t say for sure whether something is falsified as a publicity stunt or if there is genuine animosity between the two perpetrators. And admittedly, it could be argued that it is antithetical to the rebellious spirit of hip hop that diss tracks have now become a YouTube trend.

Needless to say, this may be a moot point considering the fact that the mainstream music industry may have beaten these well-known YouTubers straight to the punch. This trend, although often debated, is for now — at least — is an inescapable part of the current viewing culture. Until the movers and shakers of the platform stall the music videos, and the drama channels stop covering them as news, we may just have to kick our feet up and relax to settle in for the long haul.

(Genius Lyrics, YouTube, Rolling Stone, Hip Hop DX, Complex, Images via Instagram, YouTube)

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