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A diss track or diss song is a song intended to disrespect people. While musical parodies and attacks have always existed, the trend became increasingly common in the hip hop genre fueled by the hip hop rivalry phenomenon.
The earliest example of music which could be construed as a diss track was Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which was written in 1880 to commemorate Russia's defense against Napoleonic invasion. The use of a battery of cannons in the climax of the piece is considered a mockery of the retreating French forces whose own artillery was used against them. This is the first recorded instance of the use of weapons as an instrument--a motif which extends to the use of firearms as instruments in contemporary hip hop diss tracks.
An early example of a diss track was "You Keep Her" (1962) by Joe Tex. He wrote the song after his wife left him for famous soul singer James Brown, who then broke up with her and wrote Tex a letter saying he could have her back. Tex refused and ridiculed this offer in his song.
Another example of a diss track occurred in Jamaica. After Lee "Scratch" Perry left producer Coxsone Dodd he released a track called "Run for Cover" (1967) poking a joke at him. Perry in particular has a long history of releasing diss tracks directed at former musical collaborators. The musical single "People Funny Boy" (1968) attacked his former boss Joe Gibbs by adding sounds of a crying baby into the mix. In response Gibbs himself released a track called "People Grudgeful" (1968). Perry's "Evil Tongues" (1978) was aimed at The Congos and "Judgement Inna Babylon" (1984) and "Satan Kicked the Bucket" (1988) at Chris Blackwell. Perry also attacked Michael Jackson (with whom he never worked together) on the track "Freaky Michael" (2010).
John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" (1971) from his album Imagine is another prototypical example of a diss track. Lennon had the impression that the song "Too Many People" from Paul McCartney's Ram (1970) was a dig at him, something Paul later admitted. Lennon thought that other songs on the album, such as "3 Legs," contained similar attacks, and the back cover of Ram, showing one stag beetle mounting another, has been described by McCartney as indicative of how he felt treated by the other members of The Beatles. As a result Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" indirectly mocked Paul's musicianship. While Paul is never mentioned in the song, the many references make clear he is the target, particularly in the lyrics "The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you've gone you're just another day", the first lyric being a reference to The Beatles' 1965 song "Yesterday".
Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Small Axe" (1973), from their album Burnin', was a hidden diss at record producers Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid. They owned all the power in the Jamaican music industry and thus were the "big tree" that musicians would have to cooperate to cut down.
In 1980 Wild Man Fischer wrote a song called "Frank", which was aimed at his former record producer Frank Zappa, who enabled him to record his debut album An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (1969) but afterwards broke all contact when the mentally disturbed Fischer threw a bottle at Zappa's infant daughter and missed.Dr. Demento once played "Frank" when Zappa was a guest on his show and to his amazement Zappa turned absolutely livid with anger when he heard it, even threatening the radio host to never ever play this song again on the air.
Among the best-known diss tracks are: