Stories Behind the Diss Tracks: Memorable Hip-Hop Feuds

Since hip-hop came on the music scene, feuding and diss tracks have been as central to the genre as the lyrics. Sometimes they transcend the songs and result in real-life violence, but more often than not, they stay on the album and social media. These feuds can come from countless sources of inspiration.

Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G. / Ice Cube / Kanye West, Jay-Z / Cardi B, Nicki Minaj.

Source: Getty Images

Conflict has stemmed from coast battles, personal digs, performance on the music charts, and even strategic marketing schemes, to name a few. And they certainly don’t mince words when they shade each other. Though typically resolved through songs, social media has forever changed how hip-hop feuds play out.

Changes to Modern Feuding

From the beginning of hip-hop, issues were hashed out over albums. But today, it looks more like a diss track here and some angry subtweets there. Even with the changes in modern battles, the vast majority of feuds have done wonders for the success and legacy of many of hip-hop’s iconic rappers.

Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., and Puff Daddy battle on stage.

Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The most talked-about rivalries, like The Notorious B.I.G. vs. Tupac or East Coast vs. West Coast, dominate the feud discussion. While they might be the most iconic ones, we wanted to focus on some of the other memorable hip-hop beefs, whether they ended in collaboration or were never resolved.

N.W.A. vs. Ice Cube

If we’re going to talk about rap feuds, we have to discuss what some say is the best diss track in the history of rap music: “No Vaseline” by Ice Cube. N.W.A. was the first gangsta rap group to find mainstream fame when they got together in 1987.

N.W.A. band portrait.

Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Ice Cube, and DJ Ren focused on lyrical content about their realities growing up in Compton, California, in the ’80s and ’90. In 1988, N.W.A. released their influential record Straight Outta Compton, which went triple platinum. They started having internal tensions a year after releasing the album.

Royalty Disputes and Unflattering Jabs

Ice Cube had written most of the group’s lyrics and thought that he deserved more money for his contributions to the group. He and the group’s manager, Jerry Heller, already had a rocky relationship, so the royalty discussion did little to mend that. Ice Cube decided to leave the group to pursue solo projects.

Ice Cub performs on stage.

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N.W.A. put out another album after Ice Cube left which included numerous unflattering references to Ice Cube in their lyrics. This cemented the feud between Ice Cube and his former group, with Ice Cube being referred to as a Benedict Arnold-esque traitor for leaving them.

The Most Iconic Diss Track

Ice Cube’s response to being called a traitor by people he used to be incredibly close to was to absolutely destroy them with a diss track of his own. “No Vaseline” was a single off Ice Cube’s solo album, Death Certificate. The song took direct jabs at every single member of N.W.A., including their manager, Jerry Heller.

A studio portrait of Ice Cube.

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It essentially acted as the be-all and end-all when it came to diss tracks between the two parties. Members of N.W.A. and Ice Cube eventually reconciled, but the song launched Ice Cube’s solo career and became one of the great diss tracks of all time.

Nas vs. Jay-Z

New York is a big city with countless musicians, but it almost wasn’t big enough to hold the beef between rap legends Nas and Jay-Z. When The Notorious B.I.G. was killed in 1997, Jay-Z and Nas were considered the top options to take over as the East Coast’s rapper.

A portrait of Nas / A picture of Jay Z.

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The tension between these two rappers started back in 1996 as both men were entering the beginnings of their solo careers. Apparently, Nas had agreed to appear on one of Jay-Z’s tracks but never showed up to the recording studio.

Reaching the Boiling Point

The next month, Nas released his second album and included lyrics that were directed at Jay-Z. Jay-Z some time to respond, but his response started a pattern of back-and-forth for the following few years. Jay-Z even had the guts to record a song that used a sample from one of Nas’ tracks!

Rappers Jay-Z and Nas perform onstage.

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Up until that point, their disses were one or two lines in a song, but things came to a head with Jay-Z’s 2001 song, “Takeover.” This diss track delivered blow after blow and attacked almost everything about Nas.

Ether Slang and Going Too Far

Nas responded in kind with the record “Ether.” The opening line, “F**k Jay-Z” proved to be a shift in their rivalry; they were now releasing full songs directly hating on their other. Both songs took the hip-hop world by storm.

Nas’s album cover.

Source: Pinterest

And “ether” even became slang for one artist asserting their supremacy over another through diss tracks. Jay-Z’s response, “Supa Ugly,” was considered to have gone too far, and he was pressured to apologize. After these two songs, the artists continued to shoot shots at each other for several years.

Public Displays of a Truce and Friendship

The beef between the two rappers only seemed to help each of their careers. In 2005, nearly a decade after the start of their feud, Nas and Jay-Z appeared together on stage and declared that their beef was over.

Nas and Jay-Z appear together on stage.

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One year after their performance and truce, Nas ended his contract with Columbia Records and joined Def Jam Records, which was headed by Jay-Z. This surprised fans; not only were they not going to come for each other, but they were actively going to work together.

Working Together on Collaborative Projects

For Nas’ first album with Def Jam−Hip-Hop is Dead−Jay-Z joined him on the song “Black Republican.” This cemented their truce, proving that it wasn’t simply a publicity stunt and serving as their first collaborative project. Since this project, the two friends have appeared several additional songs together.

Nas and Jay-Z shake hands during an event.

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In 2018, Nas and Jay-Z each released an album within a week of each other, which sparked internet rumors that their feud was reignited. Their most recent collaboration came in April 2021, with the release of DJ Khaled’s song, “Sorry Not Sorry.”

Jay-Z vs. Kanye West

Jay-Z wasn’t only involved in one feud; he also had a personal beef with his “little brother,” Kanye West. This hip-hop feud is interesting because the two artists had a deep friendship and collaborative relationship before any beef got between the two of them.

Kanye West and Jay-Z speak on stage.

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Their relationship started in the late ’90s when Kanye was brought onto Jay-Z’s producing team at Roc-A-Fella Records. In 2007, Kanye laid out his feelings about their brotherly relationship in the song “Big Brother,” which spoke about how much he saw Jay-Z as a mentor and idol.

Brotherly Love and Successful Collaborations

“Big Brother” was Jay-Z approved, despite the fact that it also alluded to the fact that the two genuinely fight like brothers. After working on each other’s records and featuring on each other’s songs, the two rappers decided to do the ultimate team project: a collaborative album.

Jay-Z and Kanye West speak on stage.

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In 2011, Watch the Throne was released and became a massively successful record all over the world. Kanye would later go on to reflect on that project as an ode to what Jay-Z had done for him and his career.

Left at the Altar… by the Best Man

Their relationship was stronger than ever with the success of the album and subsequent world tour. But in 2014, things started to shift in the opposite direction. Kanye married Kim Kardashian and was supposed to have Jay-Z there as his best man.

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian attend an event.

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Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce didn’t end up attending the wedding. Kanye was incredibly hurt by their absence, though unaware that their reason for not attending was related to their own marital issues. The two rappers never directly talked about the wedding issue.

Public Rants Fueled by Emotions

The lack of communication became a cloud that hung over Kanye’s head. Then, in 2016, Kanye’s wife Kim was robbed at gunpoint in Paris. After the family returned from France and Kanye left for his Saint Pablo tour, he started having long rants about Jay-Z on stage.

Kanye West performs on stage.

Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images

He talked about how upset he was that Jay-Z didn’t come to the wedding, that he didn’t contact Kanye after the news of Kim’s robbery was made public, and how their children don’t really spend any time together.

“Kill Jay Z” Lyrics

Soon after one rant, Kanye was checked into a mental hospital and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Jay-Z responded to the content of Kanye’s rants with three songs on his 2017 album 4:44.

A still from the music video Kill Jay Z.

Source: Billboard

The song “Kill Jay Z” claims that Jay-Z gave Kanye the money for his tour and that in return, Kanye only did a 20-minute set. The wording of those bars hurt Kanye because he thought that Jay-Z made it sound like he owed him more for just the money in a controlling way.

Crossing a Line by Mentioning Families

Up until this point in time, Kanye had built himself a reputation of calling people out publicly and saying whatever was on his mind. This wasn’t the first time, and he had done it to Jay-Z in the past.

Jay Z, daughter Blue Ivy Carter, and Beyonce attend an event.

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What made these rants different for Jay-Z, who responded to them in interviews, was that this time Kanye brought Jay-Z’s wife and children into it. Jay-Z felt that it was inappropriate to bring them into it publicly and knew that Kanye recognized that he had crossed a line.

Reunited and Burying Hatchets

The two weren’t seen in public for a couple of years following the Paris robbery, though they did take phone calls and text messages from one another. Kanye and Jay-Z finally reunited at Diddy’s 50th birthday party in 2019.

Kanye West and Jay-Z shake hands.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The reunion marked the first time that the rappers were pictured together, at a public event, in a number of years. Though there wasn’t a big public display like Nas and Jay-Z’s 2005 concert performance, there were other indications that Kanye and Jay-Z had buried the hatchet.

Back in the Studio Together

After Diddy’s party, fans waited to see what the smiling reunion photos meant if anything. Both artists kept fans on their toes with teasing talks of a follow-up album to Watch the Throne. Though there haven’t been official announcements regarding that project, the rappers have gotten back into the studio together.

Kanye West presents Donda on stage.

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In 2021, Kanye released his long-awaited album Donda. On the song “Jail,” Jay-Z spit a verse. On behalf of rap fans everywhere, fingers crossed that a Watch the Throne 2 is in the works!

Drake vs. Pusha T

Drake and Pusha T have one of the messier feuds that we’ve seen, especially since Drake grew up a huge Pusha T fan. A lot of history predated Drake’s direct involvement in the feud as the beef was initially between Pusha T’s rap group and Cash Money Records.

Pusha T attends an event / A portrait of Drake.

Photo by Shareif Ziyadat, Getty Images / Ethan Miller, Getty Images

When Drake signed on as a Cash Money artist, it was only a matter of time before he got pulled into the drama. Their first exchange of diss tracks was in 2011 when Pusha claimed that Drake used a ghostwriter.

Intense Back and Forth

Pusha T would push the narrative about Drake in almost all his diss tracks about the Toronto-based artist. For a couple of years, things seemed to simmer down, but in 2016, Pusha responded with “H.G.T.V. Freestyle,” which criticized Drake’s writing once again.

Pusha T performs on stage.

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

Drake’s release of “Two Birds, One Stone” in 2017 served as his return jab with lyrics calling into question Pusha T’s street credibility. In 2018, it was like an atomic bomb was dropped with the diss tracks that these artists released.

Petty Posts on Social Media

First, both Drake and Pusha T released music on the same day: Pusha’s Daytona album and Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle” diss track. Social media back and forth became a turning point in this feud as the rappers pettily tweeted and posted about each other.

A photo of Pusha's Daytona album / An cover image for Drake's

Source: Pinterest

This included an invoice from Drake for Pusha T’s recording company for “promotional assistance.” In May 2018, Pusha said that everything was on the table with this feud and his response song of “Story of Adidon” certainly felt like the most brutal blow of the entire feud.

The Brutality of “Story of Adidon”

First, the album artwork was a picture of Drake in blackface that came for the rapper’s character. Second, the lyrics came for Drake’s relationship with his dad, his biracial identity, his producer’s MS, and the fact that Drake was hiding a kid with a French porn star.

Drake's blackface photo.

Source: Pinterest

Drake confirmed the news about his son on his album Scorpion, which dropped later that month, but Pusha’s song was considered the winner of the entire feud. Since then, both parties have been quiet, but an official truce hasn’t been made known.

More Volatile Environment for Female Rappers

Vulnerability is not often seen in hip-hop. Rather, most rappers will say that they want to seal themselves as one of the best, and it’s hyper-competitive. It’s even tougher for female rappers when the mainstream says only one prominent female artist can exist at a time.

JT of City Girls attends an event.

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In the 2000s, the number of female rappers plummeted, so their space in pop culture also shrunk. This made it more competitive and painted these women as aggressively explosive. It played to the industry’s interest in perpetuating the idea that female rappers would fight for the top spot.

Foxy Brown vs. Lil’ Kim

Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown provide an intriguing background for a feud since the two grew up going to the same high school. After school, they both decided to follow their dreams of becoming rappers. Lil’ Kim joined the hip-hop group Junior M.A.F.I.A. while Foxy became a member of a rival group, The Firm.

A dated portrait of Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown.

Source: Pinterest

In 1995, both women were featured on the song “No One Else (Remix)” by Total. When they were announced on the same project, there were no hints that there was any bad blood between them.

Quick to Point Out Similarities

“No One Else (Remix)” remains the only project that features both rappers. The following year, Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim directly competed against each other when they released their debut solo albums, Ill Na Na and Hard Core, respectively.

A picture of Lil' Kim album / A photo of Foxy Brown album.

Source: Pinterest

With the tight competition that already existed for female artists in 1996, it didn’t help these two rappers that their release dates were within one week of each other. Media outlets and fans were quick to point out the similarities between the records and each artist’s album artwork.

Trivial Theories Behind the Feud

One theory about the feud’s start stemmed from both of them wearing the same outfit in their album artwork. The rumor suggested that they stopped speaking to each other over something small like the outfit actually belonged to one of them and the other one borrowed it.

A portrait of Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim.

Source: Tumblr

Whatever the reason, both albums featured some big-name featured artists and sold several million copies. In 1997, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown shared a cover on The Source magazine. The women confirmed that they were still friends despite being interviewed separately.

Efforts for Collaboration Crumble

That same year, Def Jam Records executives wanted to get the two rappers to make a collaborative album entitled Thelma and Louise. Both women turned down the offer, the first real sign that the two artists were no longer on good terms.

Lil' Kim attends an event / Foxy Brown poses for the press.

Photo by mark Peterson, Corbis, Getty Images / Jim Spellman, WireImage, Getty Images

Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim’s conflicting friend groups did little to help mend the artists’ relationship. In 1999, Foxy’s second album, Chyna Doll, had critics talking about how some of her lyrics seemed to be directed at Lil’ Kim. They even thought that Foxy sounded just like Lil’ Kim.

Direct Disses in Their Lyrics

Soon after, that same year, Lil’ Kim and Diddy were featured on Lil Cease’s song “Play Around” and responded with the line “Stop tryin’ to sound like her, too….” After publicly coming at Foxy, Lil’ Kim also included diss tracks and lyrics on Mobb Deep’s song “Quiet Storm (Remix)” and her second studio album, The Notorious K.I.M.

A photo of Lil' Kim / A portrait of Foxy Brown.

Photo by Paul Hawthorne, Getty Images / Source: Pinterest

Foxy responded ferociously with a verse on Capone-N-Noreaga’s single “Bang, Bang” that touched on Lil’ Kim and dared to touch on her mourning the loss of Notorious B.I.G.

Feud Moves From Lyrical to Physical

“Bang, Bang” was a fitting song title for Foxy’s response because that’s essentially what happened in real life. In February 2001, over twenty shots were fired outside of a New York radio station as Lil’ Kim and her group were leaving and encountered some of Foxy’s associates.

Lil' Kim enters Manhattan federal court.

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One of them, Efrain Ocasio, was shot and taken to the hospital. Lil’ Kim adamantly denied that she was part of the altercation. Despite Lil’ Kim’s original statement that she had no clue why this happened, it was found to be a response to Foxy’s diss.

Investigation Opens and a Truce Offer Is Refused

Foxy Brown was understandably shaken up by the whole ordeal. She claimed that she tried to meet with Lil’ Kim to bury the hatchet, apologize, and move on but was turned away. Police were called in, and their first reports showed Lil’ Kim wasn’t present during the shooting.

A photo of Lil' Kim leaving the federal court.

Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

After opening a more in-depth investigation, officers saw that Lil’ Kim had actually been sitting in her limo during the event and only left after those who were directly involved had gotten into the vehicle with her.

A Feud Left Unresolved

In March 2005, Lil’ Kim was found guilty of perjury and conspiracy for lying to investigators and a federal grand jury. She served her full sentence before her release from prison in July 2006. While Lil’ Kim was in prison, Foxy Brown was interviewed about the feud and simply talked about how their back-and-forth was what kept her motivated.

A photo of Lil' Kim inside a car.

Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

After she was released, Lil’ Kim simply stopped acknowledging Foxy. A performance together in 2013’s Summer Jam was rumored to happen, but Foxy claimed it lacked authenticity. Their feud remains unresolved.

Lil’ Kim vs. Nicki Minaj

After mainstream success and a handful of other feuds, Lil’ Kim built a reputation that she was territorial about female rappers entering her lane. Especially if they were remotely close to her music style or anything else. Enter Nicki Minaj.

Lil' Kim poses for the press / Nicki Minaj performs on stage.

Photo by Johnny Nunez, WireImage, Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

After a few mixtapes in the late 2000s, Nicki finally made her mainstream debut with 2010’s Pink Friday. Her debut album peaked at number one on the Billboard charts, but her success wasn’t without naysayers. Lil’ Kim was very quick to point out how similar Nicki’s image was to her own.

Pink Friday Against Black Friday

As one does in a conflict with another rapper, Nicki responded to these claims with “Roman’s Revenge,” a single that jabbed at Lil’ Kim. Never one to shy away from confrontation, Lil’ Kim released a mixtape called Black Friday, drawing a deliberate connection to Nicki’s album.

Nicki Minaj performs on stage / A picture of Lil' Kim.

Photo by Joseph Okpako, WireImage, Getty Images / Johnny Nunez, WireImage, Getty Images

The album artwork showed Lil’ Kim slicing Nicki’s head off with a sword, leaving no room for any misinterpretation. The interesting thing is that this is only when the feud came to a head because it had started building years earlier.

Slow Build to Full-Fledged Feud

When Nicki Minaj came on the music scene and released her Sucka Free mixtape in 2007, the album artwork was Nicki squatting in lingerie. Rumors that Nicki was copying Lil’ Kim started when they compared this album artwork with Lil’ Kim’s cover art for her 1996 album, Hardcore.

Nicki Minaj attends an event.

Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

After Nicki’s album release and Lil’ Kim’s mixtape response, the conflict continued back and forth, whether it was shade thrown on features or claims of who’s the better rapper during radio interviews. Unsurprisingly, each woman alleged that she was the superior artist.

Who Is the Queen Bee?

Over the next two years, both women would reference each other in responding diss tracks, and Lil’ Kim would use every opportunity to remind people that her nickname was Queen Bee for a reason. In 2013, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for a truce.

Lil' Kim attends an event.

Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Nicki admitted in an interview that she admires Lil’ Kim and her music. But when Nicki called herself the Queen during a verse of Beyoncé’s “Flawless (Remix),” it was clear that the feud wasn’t going away that easily.

Feud Finished, Possible Verzuz Battle

After that remix came out, Lil’ Kim spoke about Nicki Minaj’s use of “Queen” and calling her out by name. Lil’ Kim claimed that Nicki is super obsessed with her, which is why Nicki included “Queen Bee.”

Lil' Kim poses for the press.

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Then, Lil’ Kim criticized Nicki’s timing of using the nickname in a song with Beyoncé since the pop singer could’ve easily thought Nicki was talking about her. In 2018, Lil’ Kim squashed rumors that their beef was still relevant and, in 2021, said that she wanted to do a Verzuz battle with Nicki.

Nicki Minaj vs. Cardi B

Not every hip-hop feud results in physical altercations, and if it does, it’s very rare for it to happen at a big event. But Nicki Minaj and Cardi B are all about pushing boundaries, and we guess that means even if it’s outside of their music.

Nicki Minaj and Cardi B speak during an event.

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Like the other feuds that involve two women, Nicki and Cardi had the industry working against them when it came to the space for multiple successful female emcees. Loyal fanbases and social media just seemed to heighten the tension between them.

Comparisons, Rumors, and Speculation

2017 was the year that Cardi B found mainstream success with her single “Bodak Yellow,” and the comparisons to fellow rapper Nicki Minaj started. The comparisons were just the tip of the iceberg as hip-hop fans began speculating if there was beef between them.

Cardi B in Bodak Yellow.

Source: YouTube

It certainly didn’t help the rumor mill when Nicki used her verse on Katy Perry’s song “Swish, Swish” to allude to “silly rap beefs” and namedropped Cardi’s boyfriend (now husband), Offset. After the song’s May release, Cardi took to social media to vent her frustrations.

Social Media’s Effect on Their Relationship

Posting on social media would become a pattern of hers throughout her rise to fame. In the Instagram Live, Cardi talked about how maddening and fake it was that people she used to look up to were becoming her enemies.

Cardi B poses for the press.

Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage/Getty Images

Even though she didn’t directly namedrop her, those who saw the Live assumed that Cardi was speaking about Nicki. Their relationship was starting off rocky, but there was a small glimmer of hope! Nicki tweeted and congratulated Cardi on her single reaching number 1 on the Billboard charts.

Controversy Surrounding “MotorSport” by Migos

When Cardi responded with enthusiasm and excitement, fans thought they might’ve misread the signs. But the murkiness of the entire situation was made even more complicated with the release of “MotorSport,” a song from rap group Migos that featured both Nicki and Cardi.

A picture of Cardi B on Twitter / A photo of Nicki Minaj on Twitter.

Source: Twitter

Fans first thought something wasn’t right when both appeared in the video but never together. When asked about their collaboration in an interview, Cardi focused on the fact that Nicki’s verse was different than the one she showed Cardi before they started recording.

Fueled by the Internet

After the interview was aired, Nicki started subtweeting about how ungrateful Cardi was to be on a song with her. Right before the release of her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, in April 2018, Cardi was asked if there was beef between her and Nicki.

Nicki Minaj, Jeremy Scott, Cardi B attend an event.

Photo by Kevin Tachman/Getty Images

She said that she genuinely felt that it was fueled by the internet, and it wasn’t real. That same month, Nicki revealed how hurt she was by Cardi’s “MotorSport” interview comments and her inaction when rumors about a feud emerged on the internet.

Tensions Come to a Head

Nicki also explained that a scheduling conflict with her hairstylist was the actual reason they weren’t in the music video together. She said that Cardi’s comments came off unappreciative to be on a song together but she publicly dismissed the idea that they were feuding.

Nicki speaks on stage.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Fans and critics alike were surprised since the two seemed to continuously subtweet or subdiss about each other in songs. In September 2018, both Nicki Minaj and Cardi B attended New York Fashion Week and then the Harper’s Bazaar Icons party.

Escalation to Physical Violence

The two got into a screaming match when they saw each other, which escalated to physical violence, and included an attempted shoe-throwing. Security intervened, but not before Cardi came away with a large bump on her forehead.

A photo of Cardi B’s bump.

Source: YouTube

From the different versions of the altercation, people were saying that the bump came from either Nicki herself, Nicki’s friend Rah Ali, or an accidental elbow from event security. After going their own ways, Cardi returned to her social media platforms to explain why it escalated to violence.

Explanations Videos and Statements

Cardi B dedicated multiple videos to try and explain her side of the story to her fans. Cardi claimed that Nicki had been trying to interfere with Cardi’s music, income, and overall reputation. She also claimed that Nicki was saying that she was a bad mother.

Nicki Minaj attends an event / Cardi B poses for the press

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images / Sean Zanni, Patrick McMullan, Getty Images

In an interesting move, Nicki decided to respond right away and try to use her online fanbase to frame Cardi as the bad guy. A little over a month after the punches were thrown, Nicki took to Twitter to post a statement.

Twitter Truce and Subsequent Support

Nicki’s statement essentially spelled out a truce. She announced her intention to move forward. Though it’s unclear if the two rappers ever spoke to each other about the idea of an official conclusion, Cardi seemed to signal her agreement by reposting Nicki’s statement to her own Instagram page.

Nicki Minaj attends an event.

Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images/Getty Images

At least for now, it seems like these women want to put this chapter behind them and refocus people’s minds onto their music. Hopefully, an epic Cardi B-Nicki Minaj collaboration is on the horizon for hip-hop fans!