Hip-hop is naturally a competitive genre, with artists constantly vying to be crowned the “best” — dating back the genre’s early origins where battle rap earned lyricists street cred, and bragging rights to the onslaught of feuds throughout hip-hop’s history that gave the genre a hefty repertoire of classic diss tracks. But if these feuds taught rappers anything, it showed them that if they’re willing to talk the talk, they better have the bars to back up any claims they make.
Which brings us to Roxanne Shante. Back in the ’80s, then-15-year-old, Roxanne Shante, was thrust into hip-hop’s spotlight after responding to U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” with her own fiery hit “Roxanne’s Revenge,” which has long been praised as one of the first and greatest rap beefs. Now, Netflix is telling her story in its latest original film Roxanne, Roxanne slated for release on March 23.
Ahead of the bipoic’s debut, Billboard revisits the ’80s rap beefs that helped shaped hip-hop culture.
Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee ‘s Harlem World Freestyle Battle Rap (1981)
Aimed at: Each other
Background: Battle rap was designed to allow the boldest and best lyricists to go head-to-head with local rappers to prove their lyrical abilities and earn their stripes. In 1981, Busy Dee was performing at the Harlem World Club and allegedly stated that he’ll “take out any MC.” The bold statement didn’t sit well with the Treacherous Three’s Kool Moe Dee, who was in the crowd listening. Kool Moe Dee took the stage to challenge Busy Bee and unleashed his lyrical attack. In the video, Busy Bee can be heard telling Moe Dee to “shut up” repeatedly as Moe Dee continued his lyrical attack.
Quotables: “How can I take a title you ain’t got/ You’re not number one, you’re not even the best/ and you can’t win no real MC contest”
Roxanne Shante, “Roxanne’s Revenge” (1984)
Aimed at: U.T.F.O
Background: At just 15 years old, Roxanne Shante bounded onto the music scene, on a mission to prove that she can roll with the best of the best. Her first target? The Brooklyn-bred collective U.T.FO. She responded to the group’s song “Roxanne, Roxanne,” where the song’s fictional character Roxanne rebuffed all the advances the men made at her. Roxanne Shante saw this as an opportunity to hit back at the group’s record and recorded “Roxanne’s Revenge” on which she took on the role of the titular subject and called out each U.T.F.O member throughout the four-minute diss track.
Quotables: “Every time that he sees me, he says a rhyme/ But, see, compared to me it’s weak compared to mine/ A-every time I know that I am sayin’ somethin’ fresher/ In any category, I’m considered the best”
MC Lite, “10% Diss” (1988)
Aimed at: Antoinette
Background: MC Lyte wasn’t too fond of Antoinette jacking the beat for Audio Two’s “Top Billin” for her debut single “I Got An Attitude.” And Audio Two didn’t feel it was fair for them to address Antoinette so they recruited then-budding rapper MC Lyte to record an answer to Antoinette’s song and she did so with “10% Diss.”
“It was pretty easy—we just sat there and thought of the worst things we could possibly say about somebody,” Lyte recalled in the 2007 book Check The Technique. “It’s titled that because that’s only ten percent of what I could have said. I didn’t even know Antoinette. It was strictly a war on wax.”
Quotables: “The only way you learn, you have to be taught/ That if a beat is not for sale, then it can’t be bought/ When you leave the mic, you claim it’s smoking/ Unlike Rakim, you are a joke”
Salt-N-Pepa, “The Show Stoppa” (1985)
Aimed at: Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick
Background: As aspiring rappers looking to make a name for themselves (and escape their jobs at Sears), Salt-N-Pepa decided to call out the hottest duo in hip-hop, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. While Salt-N-Pepa’s response to Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” didn’t actually stir up a riff with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, the risky move helped put the group on hip-hop’s radar. Over gritty scratches and a pounding drum, the light-hearted track finds Salt-N-Pepa dishing out jokes about Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s appearance and they even sampled the pair’s 1985 single “La Di Da Di.” In an old interview with Rolling Stone, Salt-N-Pepa admitted that they were nervous after rumors began to swirl that the men were preparing a follow-up diss record, although it never materialized.
Quotables: “He wore plastic Bally’s and a booty Gucci suit/Cracked a little smile and showed a fake gold tooth/ Was he cute? Negative, he was a dupe/ Instead of Polo he wore Brute”
Boogie Down Productions, “South Bronx” (1986)
Aimed at: Juice Crew
Background: The Bronx, has long been dubbed the birthplace of hip-hop. So when MC Shan of the Queensbridge-based group Juice Crew released “The Bridge” with lines that suggested that their hometown Queensbridge birthed hip-hop, the Bronx-bred Boogie Down Productions took those claims personal and issued their own response in the form of the track “South Bronx.” KRS-One wasted no time addressing MC Shan on “South Bronx” and reminded him of all the early hip-hop pioneers like Fred “DJ Red Alert” Crute, DJ Chuck Chillout, Grandmaster Flash, and more who contributed to the rise of the genre.
Quotables: “You couldn’t bring out your set with no hip-hop/ Because the pistols would go/ So why don’t you wise up, show all the people in the place that you are wack/ Instead of tryna take out LL, you need to take your homeboys off the crack”
Kool Moe Dee, “How Ya Like Me Now” (1987)
Aimed at: LL Cool J
Background: Since his debut, LL Cool J exuded confidence that came off braggadocios to his counterparts, namely, Kool Moe Dee. The Treacherous Three rapper made clear his dislike for young Cool J, who Dee claimed stole his flow, and wanted to show LL who’s the “best.” The feud between Dee and Cool J began with “How Ya Like Me Now” where Dee called LL “a punk” and “thief,” and warned him to “Never touch another mic.” On the cover for Dee’s album of the same name, LL Cool J’s trademark Kangol hat is crushed underneath a truck as Dee flaunts his jewelry and smiles to add more ammo to the already-ignited feud.
Quotables: “A sucker rapper that I know I’ll serve/ Run around town sayin’ he is the best/ Is that a test?/ I’m not impressed/ Get real, you’re nothing but a toy/ Don’t ya know I’ll serve that boy?”
LL Cool J, “Jack The Ripper” (1987)
Aimed at: Kool Moe Dee
Background: Following Kool Moe Dee’s vicious attack on the young rapper with “How Ya Like Me Now,” LL Cool J wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Cool J returned with “Jack The Ripper” to prove his skills. “‘How You Like Me Now’ punk? You living foul/ Here’s what my game is, kill is what my aim is/ A washed up rapper needs a wash-up,” LL raps and likens himself to the serial killer Jack The Ripper.
Quotables: “I’m a beast on the microphone, a night stalker/ A killing machine, a savage street talker/ Jason with an axe, but I put it on wax/ To eradicate the suckers who thought I had relaxed”
Boogie Down Productions, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)
Aimed at: Juice Crew
Background: As the finale for the ongoing saga that was The Bridge Wars, KRS-One delivered “The Bridge Is Over.” The diss track neatly wrapped up the feud with MC Shan and Juice Crew with scorching lines hurled at Roxanne Shante, Shan, Marly Marl and Mr. Magic, over a classic boom-bap beat with a reggae flavor peppered throughout. Just as he did in previous response tracks, KRS-One continued to remind Juice Crew that The Bronx is responsible for hip-hop’s beginnings. Shante addressed One on “Have A Nice Day” while still in the midst of the “Roxanne Wars” spawned by her early hit “Roxanne’s Revenge.”
Quotables: “Manhattan keeps on making it, Brooklyn keeps on taking it/ Bronx keeps creating it, and Queens keeps on faking it”
Roxanne Shante, “Have A Nice Day” (1987)
Aimed at: Boogie Down Productions
Background: After the back and forth between KRS-One and Juice Crew’s MC Shan, Roxanne Shante added her own response to the ongoing Bridge Wars with “Have A Nice Day,” aimed directly at KRS-One after One’s vicious diss in “The Bridge Is Over.” At this point, Shante had proven she could go up against some of the most respected rappers and showed off her lyrical abilities as she compared her status to Madonna, who had already become a pop music star thanks to her hit “Like a Virgin” among others. She called out the Bronx-based “featherweight crew” for their attack and warned that BDP shout “step back, peasants, popping all that junk/ Or else BDP will stand for Broken Down Punks.”
Quotables: “Now I’m not out to diss the whole Boogie Down/Just a featherweight crew from that part of town/ You made a little record and then you start fronting/ Tried to diss the Juice Crew but ain’t hurt nothing/ Now KRS-ONE, you should go on vacation/ With that name sounding like a wack radio station/ And as for Scott La Rock, you should be ashamed/ When T La Rock said “It’s Yours”, he didn’t mean his name”