Who fired the first musical shot?


The tradition of dissing, also called dozens or ‘playing the dozens‘, goes back to the earliest days of African-American culture, if not before. The very first written citation of an African-American song in English, published in 1830, is a song of this type: Round the Corn, Sally, in which the enslaved female singer is described as dissing every member of a picnic party in skillful rhyme.

Up until very recent times, you could find rap’s closest antecedent, toasting (or improvising spoken poetry, without a beat), in Southern roadhouses, and toasting often featured dissing and call-outs. For a sample of American toasting (along with a mind-blowing collection of other African American roots music traditions collected in the early 70s), you might want to view Alan Lomax’s film, Land Where the Blues Began.

It’s not quite what you asked, because you’re looking for specific call-outs, but at least in African-American music the idea of it goes way, way back. You’ll certainly find examples in the pop world , but I thought you’d want to know that it is deeply rooted in traditional oral culture.


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