YouTube creators reinvented diss tracks to make millions

By Julia Alexander

YouTube diss tracks, and the ongoing, manufactured drama that fuel them, are the gift that keeps on giving for creators looking to remain relevant — and deepen their pockets.

Creators like Jake and Logan Paul, RiceGum, KSI and Wolfie have made careers getting into fights with one another, and creating high-quality diss tracks out of the wreckage. The one-upping game works. Some of the most popular tracks, including Jake Paul’s “It’s Everyday Bro”, Logan Paul’s “The Fall of Jake Paul”, and RiceGum’s “It’s Everynight Sis” have well over 150 million views.

Do the math, and you know why the trend is here to stay.

It’s impossible to say for certain how much someone like Jake Paul makes from each video. As one of YouTube’s most popular creators, however, we can safely assume he makes roughly $10 for every thousand views, or $10 CPM. Paul’s diss track “It’s Everyday Bro” racked up over 200 million views, which earns him around $2 million. This is on top of his daily vlogging, merchandise advertised in the video — and sold through his website — and being able to create a catalogue of songs he can then tour with around the country.

Diss tracks are a lucrative business and build industry prestige for the popular YouTubers (RiceGum and Alissa Violet went platinum with “It’s Everynight Sis”). That’s not what keeps people on their toes, waiting for the next track to drop, though. Like rap’s diss track heyday, it’s all about being a part of a culture and understanding its lore.

The key players of the new diss track era

Diss tracks aren’t new to YouTube, but there was an uptick of seemingly manufactured beef in 2017. Newcomers to YouTube, like Jake and Logan Paul, brought along millions of subscribers from their Vine days. They skyrocketed into success on YouTube, and that caught the attention of just about everyone. There was suddenly an explosion of attention focused on the Paul brothers and, most importantly, their friends.

Jake Paul’s YouTube career is tied into the launch of Team 10, a creator incubator he launched in 2017. Paul brought out some of his best friends from his Cleveland hometown to live in a mansion where they could hang out, and vlog together, every day. Paul reportedly got 10 percent of the profit from each Team 10 member, including from his pre-fame friends. There was one member in particular that created a whirlwind of controversy: Alissa Violet.

A beloved member of the Team 10, Violet was introduced to viewers as Jake’s on-and-off-again girlfriend. When she and Jake broke up, it led to months of drama — drama that was capitalized on by just about everyone involved.

Within the span of a few months, everyone from Jake and Logan Paul to RiceGum and Alissa Violet put out diss tracks calling one another out. Here’s approximately how well those videos did, assuming there was a baseline $10 CPM for each:

“It’s Everyday Bro”: 208 million views ($2.8 million)

“It’s Everynight Sis”: 151 million views ($1.5 million)

“The Fall of Jake Paul”: 195 million views (1$1.9 million)

“The Rise of the Pauls”: 66 million views ($660,000)

“Logang Sucks”: 22 million views ($220,000)

Everyone involved in the chain of diss tracks saw a viewership boost on their channel. Taking the pulse of the mass audience, they were the only YouTubers people talked about at the time.

This tactic worked, and continues to work. Youssef, the founder of Syft, which was the label behind RiceGum’s “It’s Everynight Sis,” told The Daily Beast everyone quickly learned that diss tracks meant virality, and major paydays.

“Drake’s diss track didn’t even go platinum, so it’s rewarding to see,” Youssef said. “Diss tracks and drama are key to growth and engagement on YouTube especially in terms of sharing and virality.”

It’s something RiceGum echoed while talking to The Daily Beast.

“I’m here trying to make videos to get views up and viewers like to watch this type of thing,” he said. “If no one enjoyed this content I wouldn’t make it. Long-term drama doesn’t do anything for your channel, but it just so happens if there’s a scandal under your name more people are likely to check you out.”

Every major name suddenly had beef and the skills to lay down diss tracks. Vloggers in the UK like W2S and KSI started feuding with each other; Bhad Bhabie and Zach Clayton got into it; Wolfie and Big Shaq went at each other’s throats; hell, Logan Paul even released a Santa diss track. On cue, the videos blew up, as did the drama surrounding each song. People watched daily vlogs, Instagram Stories and checked in on Twitter feeds to make sure they knew what was happening — all of it a ploy to raise views and sell merchandise.

“Every day my main goal is just trying to grow my brand,” RiceGum told The Daily Beast. “Whether in the next five years if acting or music can help me grow, then I’m open. The acting scene is super intriguing, I may dabble. I’m a platinum recording artist now, it’s doesn’t seem that way, but wherever life takes me in the next 5 years then shit, I’ll be there.”

The intricacies of YouTube lore

The trend of cash-in diss tracks continues to boom, but as the songs mature, so does the lore behind each line.

Jake Paul, Deji and KSI are the three latest creators to drop diss tracks, and the timing isn’t coincidental. All three, alongside Logan Paul, are slated to box one another on Aug. 25 in an event they’ve hyped through their own channels for nearly eight months. Diss tracks were essential to amplify the drama — reminding people to pay $10 to stream the fight and pick up last-minute merchandise — before the match began.

Deji and KSI’s tracks are most impressive for one very specific reason: they demand understanding references to year old drama.

Here are a couple of bars from Deji’s diss track aimed at Jake Paul:

Come to think of it, you’re pretty dumb

Using the N-word, you’re just scum

It’s crazy, I have a list of all the bad shit you’ve done

For example, you’re a liar to your own fans

You hang around a fat twat who sprays cans

Controlling, manipulative and dropped by Disney

And allegedly abusive to women

You racist prick

You sheltered bitch

Calling your own fan a terrorist is just sick

And your brother seems to like strange forests

And he’s fucking all the girls you bring through

What sounds like random gibberish is actually YouTube mythmaking, with an understanding of celebrity beef required to decode each individual reference — not unlike traditional rap diss tracks. Deji references a clip of Jake Paul using the N-word while rapping that landed the YouTuber in controversy; well-known allegations about the way he treated his ex-girlfriend, Alissa Violet; his Disney firing in the wake of public misbehavior involving Team 10; a racist terrorist joke Paul made while talking to a fan from Kazakhstan; and ends the track with a referential joke to Logan Paul’s popular diss track, where he referenced sleeping with Alissa Violet after she and Jake broke up.

That’s a lot of information to take in, and only those who kept up with each new development would understand what Deji is referencing. Each diss track becomes a sense of pride for the creator’s biggest stans. They’ve invested time in knowing everything about their favorite YouTuber, subscribed to all their social media channels and are ready to defend said person at any given moment. Listening to a diss track, and deconstructing it line-by-line, mentally ticking off each reference understood, proves the adoration and dedication is real.

Being a proponent of YouTube culture means investing time — and sometimes money, if your favorite creator has a line of merchandise — into following that creator’s career. That means watching daily videos, and any other videos they may appear in. Diss tracks feel like a reward for paying attention. The songs are mostly garbage, but that doesn’t matter — it’s not about music. Everything is about tribalistic support.

Take this GIF from “Rise of the Pauls,” which celebrates Jake and Logan’s self-proclaimed success over other prominent YouTube creators. The message is clear: we fought, and we won. You’re either with the Paul brothers or in the losing camp. None of that is actually true, but a combination of team alignment and parasocial relationships make it seem that way. It’s a reward for keeping up with YouTube drama, understanding all the references and supporting a specific creator.

YouTube GIF
A GIF insulting PewDiePie, Ethan Klein, Keemstar and RiceGum, some of Jake and Logan Paul’s most prominent critics.
Julia Alexander/Polygon

KSI’s recent video is the epitome of lore-based diss tracks, attacking Logan and Jake Paul, and using a plethora of references that only the most tuned in YouTube vlogging fans will understand. KSI appears as Thanos, the main villain in Avengers: Infinity War, and uses the nefarious imagery to make an even more pointed statement with his guise: his diss track was elaborate, and reminded everyone that he would destroy Logan Paul in their boxing match.

KSI’s diss track took a YouTube staple to a new level. The production quality is incredibly high, and elevates the type of videos his competition should be working on in their own time.

Diss tracks aren’t going anywhere. Music production has never been more democratized; anyone with talent, interest and access to mixing software and a microphone can create a track. Video production has also never been more democratized. Anyone with a phone and editing software can create videos, and upload them to YouTube for anyone to find.

As long as YouTube creators can make thousands, if not millions, of dollars through diss tracks — and keep themselves relevant in the process — the passive-aggressive musical trope will stick around as the industry around it changes.