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As 'Euphoria' takes the hip-hop world by storm, what makes a good diss track?


Rapper Kendrick Lamar released a single this week, but it wasn't a typical rollout. Lamar tweeted just a link to a track titled "Euphoria." And from the opening verses, fans knew exactly who it was about. It was about Drake.


KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) Know you a master manipulator and habitual liar, too. But don't tell no lie about me, and I won't tell truths about you.

MARTÍNEZ: It's the latest in a volley of diss tracks between the two. The song caused a short outage on Genius, the lyric website, as people clamored to analyze line after line. So it got us wondering, what makes a good diss track? Noah A. McGee writes about the entertainment world for The Root. So, Noah, I've always felt that the genesis of a good diss is a beef. So take us to the beginning of all this.

NOAH A MCGEE: Drake and Kendrick have been having a beef going on a little over a decade. Their career started off pretty cordial. Kendrick showed up on Drake's second album, "Take Care." Drake was on Kendrick's major label debut. But in 2013, Kendrick hopped on a song with Big Sean called "Control." And on his verse, he basically called out all of his rivals in the industry, saying, I can rap better than all you guys. And one of them was obviously Drake. And the relationship has kind of been rocky ever since. It's nothing to the level, I would say, of, like, Tupac, Biggie...


MCGEE: ...Something, you know, really violent or anything like that.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, not yet, right?

MCGEE: Not yet, and hopefully not.


MCGEE: And I don't assume it'll get to that level, but it's kind of to the point where it's like, these guys just simply don't like each other. And that's kind of the essence of what fans want in a beef. You know, they want two people not to like each other, just like, you know, any sports team. When you see a rival...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

MCGEE: ...Going against each other, you're like...

MARTÍNEZ: It's more fun, right?

MCGEE: ...I don't like this team.

MARTÍNEZ: It makes watching and listening more fun and everything.

MCGEE: Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: You know - and there have been, like, lots of battles in the past - Ice Cube and N.W.A, Tupac and Biggie. What goes into an iconic diss track?

MCGEE: I think first of all, the two artists have to be dope. You know, there's sometimes rap beefs, and the two artists are going at it. But it's not like, oh, these guys aren't at that level in terms of skill or popularity or respect for people to even care. Second of all, I think it also helps when these guys kind of have a history. You know, sometimes if it's kind of just come out of thin air, it's like, oh, OK. This seems, you know, manufactured to get some clout. But when there's some real history there, I think that's what people really care about.

MARTÍNEZ: Does it only matter that the lyrics are creative and sharp or does the music matter at all in a diss track?

MCGEE: I think there's multiple ways to do one, you know. And keeping it on the Drake and Kendrick side, diss song "Push Ups" - it's a great hit. It's a great dance song. It's catchy. You know, drop down and give me 50. That's a catchy thing to say.


DRAKE: (Rapping) Then we need a verse for the Swifties. Top say drop, you better drop and give them 50. Pipsqueak, pipe down. You ain't in no big three. SZA got you wiped down. Travis got you wiped down. Savage got you wiped down.

MCGEE: But I don't think that's necessarily a requirement for it to be a good diss song. I think, you know, beats matter. Production matters. But I also think, you know, first and foremost, lyrics matter.

MARTÍNEZ: The lyrics cut. That's what I want to know. Do the lyrics...

MCGEE: Exactly.


MCGEE: Do the lyrics cut? And do they mean something?

MARTÍNEZ: So, Noah, at the end of the day, is all this good for hip-hop?

MCGEE: I think it is, as long as it stays in hip-hop. I think people like to see their favorite artists spar over music. And this is essentially big because these are essentially two of the biggest rappers in the world right now. Drake, you know, churns out music a lot. He drops a album every year. But Kendrick, on the other hand, really takes time with his music. And in a lot of ways, these two people represent two different sides of hip-hop, and they're coming together in this kind of huge battle, which is making it really fascinating.

MARTÍNEZ: Love to hear the titans swinging at each other. That's Noah A. McGee, staff writer at The Root who covers music. Noah, thanks a lot.

MCGEE: Thank you.


LAMAR: (Rapping) I like Drake with the melodies. I don't like Drake when he act tough. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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