Drake and Kendrick Lamar feud explained: How rap’s biggest beef is good for the culture

Drake and Kendrick Lamar feud explained: How rap’s biggest beef is good for the culture
  • PublishedApril 23, 2024

It’s the face-off that’s ignited the rap world, and put the genre back at the top of the charts after an off year.

Drake, the most commercially successful hip hop artist of his generation, has just dropped two diss tracks aimed at Kendrick Lamar, arguably the genre’s most critically revered artist (and the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize).

The resurgence of Drake and Lamar’s long-running feud started when Lamar dropped a pointed verse on his chart-topping single Like That.

Drake fired back at Lamar this weekend, with the release of Push Ups, which leaked online before its official release on Friday (April 19), and Taylor Made Freestyle.

After nearly a decade-long cold war, a nuclear play-off between two of hip hop’s biggest competitors is underway. And it’s dragged in everyone from pop A-listers Taylor Swift and The Weeknd, to AI constructions of 2Pac and Snoop Dogg.

But how did we get here? Why is it such a big deal? And could this be the best thing for the careers of everyone involved?

Here’s all the answers to get you up to speed on a rivalry that shows no signs of shrinking in size or significance.

How did this beef begin?

Back in 2011, Canadian child-star-turned-rapper Aubrey Graham aka Drake (known for multi-platinum hits including Hotline Bling and One Dance) gave up-and-comer Lamar a platform on his blockbuster second album, Take Care, and made him the opener for a subsequent 2012 tour. They also joined forces for A$AP Rocky’s 2012 fan favourite F**kin’ Problems.

In 2013, following the breakthrough success of his major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d City, Lamar recorded a guest verse on Big Sean’s track Control, where he called out Drake among the biggest rappers of the day.

“‘I got love for you all/But I’m trying to murder you n****s,” he declared, in a moment that up-ended the rap game.

At the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards, Lamar memorably claimed his Control verse had “tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pyjama clothes.”

Relations between Drake and Lamar have remained icy ever since, but never severe. The pair seemed content to subliminally snipe at each other, whether at public appearances or in song.

However, things have escalated drastically in recent months, and the turning point stemmed not from Drake or Lamar, but from a gesture of unity from J. Cole.

What did J. Cole say that sparked this whole thing?

Mentored by Jay-Z and seen as a peer of Lamar’s (in terms of technical skill and an artsier approach to his craft), J. Cole featured on Drake’s latest album, For All the Dogs, on a track called First Person Shooter.

Released on October 31, the song debuted atop the US singles chart (Drake’s 13th number one, Cole’s first), and saw J. Cole contemplating who the “big three” of the current rap era might be:

Love when they argue [who] the hardest MC
Is it K-Dot [Kendrick]? Is it Aubrey [Drake]? Or me?
We the big three, like we started a league.

Despite being intended as a loving gesture, Lamar obviously didn’t like what he heard.

How did Kendrick Lamar respond?

On March 22, producer Metro Boomin and rapper Future (both previous collaborators of Drake’s) released We Don’t Trust You — the first in a pair of collaborative albums.

The record’s most explosive moment was on Like That, which featured a surprise verse from an uncredited Kendrick Lamar. It was an aggressively targeted response to First Person Shooter and J. Cole, who, to this point, nobody thought Lamar had an issue with.

“Motherf**k the big three, n****/It’s just big me,” he furiously declared among several other layered lyrical shots, including describing himself as Prince to Drake’s Michael Jackson.

The verse not only set the internet ablaze with chatter but saw Like That debut at number one on the US charts. The track even managed to keep songs from Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter from reaching the top spot the following week, and has now spent three weeks in pole position.

In the wake of the Like That bombshell, everyone wondered when Drake would fire back. Aside from some testy stage banter on tour, the first real response came not from Drake but Cole.

J. Cole enters (then swiftly exits) the fight

On April 5, two weeks after Like That, J. Cole dropped a surprise mixtape, Might Delete Later (remember that title).

He replied to Kendrick’s verse on a track called 7 Minute Drill.

“They say that somebody dissin’,” Cole raps before critiquing Kendrick Lamar’s discography and comparing it to The Simpsons’ drop-off in quality over many years.

Your third s*** [album] was massive and that was your prime
I was trailin’ right behind and I just now hit mine.

His most controversial fighting words? “Your second s*** [album] put n****s to sleep, but they gassed it.”

Many questioned Cole’s dismissal of Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly – one of the most critically revered albums of the 21st century.

Less than two days later however, Cole walked back his comments.

Speaking on stage at his own Dreamville festival in North Carolina on April 7, he called 7 Minute Drill “the lamest shit I ever did in my f**king life” and explained how he felt conflicted recording a response to begin with.

“I know how I feel about my peers, these two n****s that I just been blessed to even stand beside in this game [Drake and Kendrick Lamar], let alone… chase they greatness, right? So, I felt conflicted ’cause I’m like, ‘bruh, I know I don’t really feel no way.’ But the world wanna see blood!”

Cole bowed out of the fight and – true to his word on stage – later removed 7 Minute Drill from music streaming platforms. But when he exited the ring, Drake was finally ready to step in.

Drake hits back at Kendrick, and everyone else

On April 13, a track leaked online that some speculated was AI-generated, before industry figures confirmed what we know now is true: Push Ups is Drake’s diss track back at Lamar.

Officially released on April 19, the track savages Lamar’s height (we’ll save you a Google: Drake stands at 6’22”/1.82 metres to Kendrick’s 5’6”/1.65m).

“How the f**k you been steppin’ with a size seven men’s on?” Drake raps, and later refers to Lamar as a “midget” and “pipsqueak”. The single artwork is also a reference to shoe size.

Additionally, Drake shuts down Lamar’s “it’s just big me” claim: “Pipsqueak, pipe down/You ain’t in no big three/SZA got you wiped down/Travis got you wiped down/[21] Savage got you wiped down.”

He also picks up Lamar’s Prince versus Michael Jackson analogy, and flips it to remind us that MJ was the King of Pop: “What’s a prince to a king? He a son.”

Lamar isn’t Drake’s only target, though. “What the f**k is this, a 20-v-1?’ he raps.

He spits back at Future (“I could never be nobody number one fan/Your first number one, I had to put in your hand”), Metro Boomin (“Shut your ho ass up and make some drums”), The Weeknd (belittling his management and dominance in Toronto) and former collaborator Rick Ross.

“Can’t believe he jumpin’ in, this n**** turnin’ 50/Every song that made it on the chart, he got from Drizzy.”

Ross, who’s frequently teamed up with Drake over the years, did not take that lightly. He swiftly jumped in the booth and dropped his own diss track on April 15, called Champagne Moments.

Among a torrent of “white boy” insults at Drake (who is mixed-race), Ross accuses him of getting a nose job and using ghostwriters (an allegation that’s followed him for many years).

Ross also kept up an unrelenting series of attacks on social media around the release of the track, tagging each post with #BBLDrizzy – referring to the cosmetic procedure and Drake’s nickname.

Drake further taunts Kendrick via his mentors

On April 19, within hours of releasing Push Ups, Drake shared another diss on X, titled Taylor Made Freestyle.

Drake mocks Lamar by accusing him of not responding to Push Ups because of Taylor Swift’s rollout of The Tortured Poets Department.

“Now we gotta wait a f***ing week/’cause Taylor Swift is your new top/And if you ’bout to drop, she gotta approve.”

More incendiary, however, is Drake using AI voice filters to taunt Lamar via verses made to sound like two of his spiritual forebears: Tupac “2Pac” Shakur and Snoop Dogg.

In the opening verse, the artificial 2Pac goads Lamar into firing back at Drake.

“Kendrick, we need ya, the West Coast saviour/Engraving your name in some hip-hop history,”‘ the voice raps.

It’s an evocation intended to cut deep; Lamar has been outspoken about the late 2Pac being his idol. To Pimp a Butterfly closes with Kendrick staging a conversation with the late Shakur via archival audio from the Californian rapper.

The second AI-generated verse uses the voice of Snoop Dogg, the west coast rap legend who, in 2011, gave a speech at LA’s House of Blues where he formally passed the torch to a visibly emotional Lamar.

But this AI Snoop questions Lamar’s street credentials: “I know you never been to jail or wore jumpsuits and shower shoes/Never shot nobody, never stabbed nobody…”

He also “urges” Kendrick not to let their city down: “World is watching this chess game, but are you out of moves?”

What happens next?

Well, the next logical step is for Lamar to respond with his own diss track. Purists will swear black and blue he’s capable of rapping circles around Drake, and, of course, Drizzy diehards believe the opposite.

The reality is, we’re dealing with two music titans coming at this with very different approaches. They’re in the same sporting arena but playing completely different ball games.

Drake is a blockbuster artist driven by success, and no amount of critical or cultural blowback seems to affect his success. Lamar, on the other hand, has built his identity on seemingly prioritising artistry over popularity.

Ultimately, this beef blowing up is the best thing that could’ve happened to both artists. And don’t be surprised if they’ll want to drag this out as much as possible.

Even Drake’s biggest admirers would admit he’s been in a holding pattern on recent releases, dropping lengthy “photo dump” projects to continue his dominance of playlists and charts rather than focusing on fully realised artistic statements.

The strategy is clearly working: He hasn’t left the public consciousness or the pointy end of the US charts for more than a decade.

By contrast, Lamar’s fans will argue that good things take time. Lamar is much more picky about his output, taking longer between albums and making his guest spots more rare. He’s arguably the tortoise to Drake’s hare, ultimately playing the long game.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’d be like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé going toe-to-toe: They’re both superstars with unique strengths that don’t necessarily compare or align.

Besides, competitively bragging and trading insults has been part of rap’s DNA since the birth of hip hop. Rap beef culture is a time-honoured tradition, a space where artists, regardless of their profile or identity, can operate in the same arena and flex their skills.

Drake versus Kendrick is the match-up people have been dreaming of for years, and, whatever happens next, one thing’s for sure: This is good for the culture.

It’s an aggressive rallying cry to the wider rap world to up their game.

As I previously wrote when Lamar topped triple j’s Hottest 100 with what was his first-ever solo US number one, HUMBLE.: “It’s a ‘cruel to be kind’ pep talk, calling out rappers to get back to the business of honing their craft, to be their best. He’s hating the players for the love of the game.”


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