The 10 Best Rap Battles in Hip-Hop History

Jay Z Performs on 106 & Park with Nas, Pharrell and Timbaland - November 8, 2006
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Rap thrives on competition. Since the beginning of time, humans have always measured their worth against other humans. Rap is no different. It's customary for MCs to sharpen their battling skills by throwing darts at other rappers on the way to the top.​

You strike fear in your enemy's camp and gain acclaim by firing verbal missiles, subliminal or blatant.

Canibus tested his strength against LL Cool J. Nas and Jay Z went pound for pound for a decade. Biggie and 2Pac exchanged blows until their final days on earth.

Beef is part of the game.

In honor of the great rap battle gladiators of our time, let's look back the 10 best battles rap has witnessed and the winner of each duel.

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Eminem vs. Benzino/The Source

Eminem at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards
Eminem accepts the Best Rap Video award at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. WireImage / Getty Images

This is probably the most absurd of all the battles on this list, considering that Eminem launched his rap career on the pages of The Source. The hip-hop bible featured him in its 'Unsigned Hype' column back in March 1998. But the honeymoon ended after Source co-founder Raymond "Benzino" Scott started hurling disses at Eminem on wax and through the magazine. While Slim Shady had no music rag to throw back at Benzino, he had something Benzino lacked: rap skills. Shady clapped back with a brigade of insults, including standouts "Nail in the Coffin" and "The Sauce." As the beef progressed, The Source lost its readership and alienated advertisers. Benzino's rap aspirations took a nosedive, while Eminem's career flourished.

Winner: Eminem

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Eazy-E vs. Dr. Dre

Dr Dre during 1993 MTV Movie Awards
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After a nasty breakup, ex-NWA cohorts Eazy-E and Dr. Dre traded insults non-stop. Dre was about to seal the deal with "Dre’s Day," but Eazy-E fought back with "Real Muthaf--kin' Gs." Eazy attacked Dre and Snoop, calling them studio gangstas who never truly witnessed the harsh realities of the 'hood. As if that wasn't enough, he devoted plenty of airtime to Dre's past as a member of the electro-pop group World Class Wrecking Cru', ridiculing Dre's fashion faux pas. “Damn it’s a trip how a n---a can go so quick from wearing lipstick to smoking on chronic at picnics," he quipped. Eazy threw in a pic of Dre dressed in pumps and mascara to boot. (Imagine if Eazy-E had access to Photoshop in 1992.)

Winner: Dr. Dre

of 10

Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee

Photo of Kool Moe Dee
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No discussion of rap's best battles is complete without mentioning the historic showdown between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee. The year is 1981 and every rap lyric ends with the phrase "in the place to be." Two fearless emcees take the stage and, in an 8 Mile-style contest, go on to pioneer what we now know as battle rap.

Busy Bee entertained the audience with crowd-pleasing raps, but Moe Dee would eventually make mincemeat out of him with some mean rhymes.

Winner: Kool Moe Dee

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Boogie Down Productions vs. Juice Crew

Boogie Down Productions Live In Concert
KRS-ONE of Boogie Down Productions, performs at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois on July 01, 1988. Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

As is often the case in hip-hop, this historic beef was all about bragging rights. It pitted two New York boroughs against each another. KRS-One instigated the beef after claiming that MC Shan's song "The Juice" wrongly credited Queensbridge, instead of South Bronx, as hip-hop's birthplace. Consequently, BDP took Shan and co to the cleaners with the raw dis "South Bronx." Shan struck back with "Kill That Noise," thus setting up BDP for the classic "The Bridge is Over," which delivered the final blow to Shan's rap career.
Winner: BDP 

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Common vs. Westside Connection

Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

History teaches us that one way to draw the ire of a fellow rapper is to publicly indict them for hip-hop's demise. It worked for Soulja Boy and Ice T in 2009, just as it worked for Common and Westside Connection in 1995. This feud stemmed from Common's lyrics on "I Used to Love H.E.R.," which Ice Cube claimed was a subliminal dis to the west coast. Cue "Westside Slaughterhouse," a vicious attack on Common, replete with the grimiest rap video ever made. Common locked himself in a studio with Pete Rock and proceeded to hand Westside Connection a lyrical beatdown on "The B*tch in Yoo."

Winner: Common

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Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J

Photo of LL Cool J
David Corio / Getty Images

Kool Moe claimed that Cool J stole his style and decided to teach a 19-year old MC named LL Cool J a lesson. He gave LL a lyrical whiplash in the form of "How Ya Like Me Now." Cool J fired back with the instant gem "To Da Breakadawn." Kool Moe Dee wouldn't let LL have the final word, so he struck again with "Let's Go." LL hit him even harder with "Jack the Ripper," in which he ridiculed Moe Dee's trademark Star Trek shades. By the time Moe Dee returned with "Death Blow," Cool J had already hung the "L" on his neck and rocked his bells.

Winner: LL Cool J 

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Canibus vs LL Cool J


Bo Borbye Pedersen from Copenhagen, Denmark [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Canibus is famous for battling himself on wax, but he truly earned his stripes when he squared off with the Bigger and Deffer LL Cool J (in his prime, mind you). The odds were heavily stacked against 'Bis until he unleashed "Second Round KO," alongside a trash-talking Mike Tyson. That lyrical uppercut is something like a blueprint for some of today's top rhyme pugilists.

Winner: Canibus

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Ice Cube vs. N.W.A.

Ice Cube Performs In Minnesota, 1992
Jim Steinfeldt / Getty Images

Eazy-E and NWA's management rubbed Ice Cube the wrong way and then had the nerve to dis the group's best lyricist on "100 Miles & Runnin'." Cube initiated a flame-throwing match with his former allies and came out somehow unscathed. With "No Vaseline," Ice Cube single-handedly annihilated an entire group. A rare feat which has never been replicated.

Winner: Ice Cube

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2Pac vs. Biggie

Tupac and Biggie Performance At The Palladium NYC
2Pac and Biggie share the stage at The Palladium in New York in 1993, before the beef. Al Pereira / Getty Images

The battle between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. was unique in so many ways. Interestingly, Pac's tactic was the antithesis of Big's approach. Not one to bite his tongue, Pac kept his insults as explicit and aggressive as possible. (Who could forget "Hit 'Em Up"'s opening lines "That's why I f---ked your wife, you fat muthaf---a"?) Biggie, on the other hand, stung Pac with subliminal disses, often delivered in a poised manner. This was arguably the most influential hip-hop feud ever. It affected entire regions, wrecked relationships, and changed lives forever.​

Winner: Tie

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Jay Z vs. Nas

Nas in Concert
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Before the Def Jam deal. Before the Power 105 lovefest. Before the collaborations, Nas and Jay Z were die-hard rivals. There are many theories on why Jay Z and Nas suddenly found themselves embroiled in one of the most memorable feuds in music history. Was Nas jealous of Jay’s commercial exploits? Did Jay dis Nas' baby mama on "Is That Your Chick”? The two New York giants traded insults for years and came short of challenging each other to a lyrical duel on HBO. The quest for supremacy gave rise to two of the best battle rap songs in hip-hop history: Jay-Z's "Takeover" and Nas' "Ether." Thanks to Kanye's hard-hitting drums, "Takeover" was musically superior to "Ether," but Nas gets the slight lyrical edge.

Winner: Nas