Diss tracks are a chance for YouTube stars to air their grievances with other internet celebrities, a musical accompaniment to the drama between rich and glamorous personalities. Much of the content they post on their vlogs is supposed to give viewers a peek into their seemingly tempestuous personal lives. They prefer to let their fights play out in front of their millions of young fans, like storylines on Bravo. Infusing these squabbles with music often does wonders for viewership, but the flashy production values and ridiculous lyrics occasionally downplay disturbing subject matter.
The elaborate music videos for these tracks are often wildly successful, racking up tens of millions of views. Some have even charted on the Billboard Hot 100, a weekly record chart of singles that takes three factors into account: radio play, sales, and streaming. The list began including YouTube plays in the streaming category in 2013; when YouTube stars chart on Billboard, it’s because their throngs of young fans keep clicking play.
Logan and Jake Paul, brothers who helm two massively successful channels, are likely the best known YouTube diss track rappers, with 16 million and 13 million subscribers, respectively. Logan, the older of the two, recently faced widespread scorn from the YouTube community and beyond after he posted footage of a hanging victim in Japan’s suicide forest. (The platform removed him from its “Google Preferred” program for premium advertisers, canceled his YouTube Red film, and temporarily suspended ads on his videos.) Jake is also no stranger to controversy: He’s landed in the news for obnoxiously disturbing his neighbors and throwing out the N-word in a freestyle rap.
Perhaps the most famous YouTube diss track is Jake Paul’s “It’s Everyday Bro,” which has the YouTube star trumpeting his successes as a (now former) Disney Channel star over a trap beat. He notes, while brandishing his Rolex in a Lamborghini, that he and the cast of actors on his vlog known as the “Team 10 crew” are racking up money and views on YouTube. “It’s Everyday Bro” was wildly popular. It peaked at the No. 94 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and rose to No. 2 on iTunes. It has more than 180 million views on YouTube. The track gained enough traction that Gucci Mane even hopped on the remix.
YouTube diss tracks are often just whimsical and funny, and the disputes they evince are usually fake. Logan Paul released a “Santa Diss Track” in December, and he and his brother traded musical barbs over the summer that looked like they were largely in good fun. Yet, the conflicts that spawn other diss tracks sometimes do seem real and darker than petty reality show drama.
For example, Jake Paul’s “It’s Everyday Bro” isn’t just an ode to viral success and conspicuous consumption. It’s also widely seen as a veiled attack on his ex-girlfriend, YouTube star Alissa Violet. The two had a painfully public breakup that led to Paul kicking her out of the Team 10 house and predicting that “she’s gonna make up a ton of stuff.” Several verses in “It’s Everyday Bro” refer to the conflict between the two:
This is Team 10, bitch, who the hell are flippin’ you?
And you know I kick them out if they ain’t with the crew
Yeah, I’m talking about you, you beggin’ for attention
Talking shit on Twitter too but you still hit my phone last night
It was 4:52 and I got the text to prove
And all the recordings too, don’t make me tell them the truth
While the lyrics portray their falling out as harmlessly inane, Violet came out with a video eight days after the track’s release in May accusing Paul of emotional abuse while they were together. In response to “It’s Everyday Bro,” Violet and another prominent YouTuber who goes by “RiceGum” released a diss track titled “Its EveryNight Sis.” The song has more than 130 million YouTube views and debuted at No. 80 on Billboard. In the video, the two internet stars frolic in flowy Gucci robes while ridiculing Paul’s sexual competence and accusing him of soliciting prostitutes.
Then, in August, Alissa further alleged that Paul had physically attacked her on multiple occasions by spitting on her, throwing her phone, and dragging her down stairs during disagreements. One of her videos purports to show the resulting scars. (This came after her boyfriend was accused of assaulting Paul’s assistant. Paul subsequently denied the allegations of abuse.)
Bryan Le, the YouTuber better known as RiceGum, who has more than 9 million subscribers, is among the more prolific and aggressive diss track rappers on YouTube. He’s become so popular on the platform that he even starred in a Super Bowl ad this year for Monster headphones alongside Iggy Azalea.
One of his most questionable songs is an April release titled “I Didn’t Hit Her (TheGabbieShow Diss Track),” which has garnered more than 42 million views and is his third most popular upload. On its surface, the track itself is standard fare for the genre. It takes its beat from Drake’s trap-heavy “Portland” and features RiceGum in a spacious, ivory-white apartment on the day after an implied three-way with two models. He frolics through his morning routine while rapping about his wealth, as evidenced by the “ice [diamonds] on my wrist,” his $2,000 sweater, the requisite Lamborghini, and a gag in which he pretends to speak into a stack of cash like a phone. Yet these scenes of carefree luxury belie the darker subject matter of the song: the flashy music video is RiceGum’s response to assault allegations against him from another YouTuber.
Last March, Gabbie Hanna, of “The Gabbie Show” fame, claimed that she and RiceGum had gotten into an argument at a party. The spat allegedly turned violent: She accused him of grabbing her arm, twisting it, hitting her, and holding her down so that he could snatch and smash her phone. She later posted a video purportedly showing the resulting bruises and scratches. There doesn’t appear to have been any sort of official investigation confirming or disputing the account. RiceGum’s diss track response to the incident offers a peek into how such conflicts are being settled in this cyberspace.
RiceGum degrades Gabbie throughout “I Didn’t Hit Her (TheGabbieShow Diss Track)” by making fun of her “big nose” and repeatedly slamming her for being a liar. Here is a sampling of the lines addressing the allegations:
Made it seem like I beat her ass,
I ain’t lay a finger on that bitch at all.
Showing all those scratches on you, but I really think those are stretch marks.
Got these hoes mad like a feminist when you just assume they gender.
He also admits that he did break her phone but uses that assault as an opportunity to gloat about his nimbleness, comparing himself to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. You can watch the entire video here:
(RiceGum didn’t respond to Slate’s Facebook message and emails requesting comment.)
It’s possible that some of these conflicts are staged for the sake of engrossing more young followers and that the perturbing accusations of assault are all part of a storyline. It’s also possible that these YouTube stars are actually addressing abuse with well-produced music videos.
YouTube has of late come under scrutiny for a myriad of problematic videos that it hosts on its site, like those espousing conspiracy theories about school shootings or targeting children by perverting popular cartoons. It would be difficult to make the case that objectionable diss track videos deserve the same level of moderation from the platform, though YouTube does seem to be thinking of ways to improve the quality of the content it hosts.
In a February interview, YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl said, “We’re thinking very deeply every single day now, on how do we create the right incentives and disincentives for creators to do the right thing on YouTube. That means a lot of different things. That means do the right thing for advertisers, do the right thing for their users, for the platform organically, and not chase sensationalism; not chase views for the sake of views, and not chase drama for the sake of views—and not use drama at our expense for the sake of views.”
Polygon, Vox Media’s gaming site, lists diss tracks among the symptoms of a YouTube culture and payment structure that incentivizes this “drama.” Sensationalist content, like dangerous and abusive prank videos, heightens a creator’s popularity and earning potential through mere shock value. Grievous personal conflicts that deserve careful adjudication have become fodder for content creators, and their young fans are watching with rapt attention.