Music

Even If Drake Loses the Kendrick Lamar Battle, Here’s Why He Already Won the War

Earlier this month, WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes defeated the company’s undisputed champion, Roman Reigns, at WrestleMania XL, snapping his streak of 1316 days with the belt. The son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes usurped Reigns and his infamous faction, The Bloodline, with much-needed help from John Cena, The Undertaker, and Seth “Freakin” Rollins. A few weeks later, we find ourselves potentially on the brink of a similar situation in the rap world, with Kendrick and friends looking to topple hip-hop’s big, bad wolf in Drake.

Drake, considered in some eyes the Roman Reigns of the rap game because of his sheer commercial dominance and unrelenting success over an extended period, is backed into a corner. Despite having his version of The Bloodline with Team OVO fighting alongside him, Drake now must combat the likes of Lamar, Rick Ross, Future, Metro Boomin, A$AP Rocky, The Weeknd, and more to walk out of this battle unscathed. Though the numbers appear staggering, don’t sleep on Drake –  as he may have very well entered a win-win situation. 

Drake’s first attempt at fire came on Saturday (Apr. 13), when “Push Ups” arrived via DJ Akademiks, after being initially leaked on the internet. The song starts with a DJ Whoo Kid drop, a call-back to the 2000s mixtape scene, and finds Drake seething. With no remorse, Drake aims at Kendrick’s physical limitations, calling him a “pipsqueak” and claiming he wears a “size 7” shoe. Drake later named Lamar’s wife Whitney in a clever double-entendre while referencing Whitney Houston’s role in the 1992 film The Bodyguard. He even taunts Lamar’s superstar status by saying that SZA, 21 Savage and Travis Scott hold more weight than he currently does in the music business. While “Push Ups” is an excellent first-round crack at Lamar, it won’t be the final blow to what will likely be a long, grueling slugfest.

Because of his hitmaking prowess and indomitable run on the charts, it’s easy to vilify Drake. He has 13 No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, second to Jay-Z on the rap side. He has the most Hot 100 hits of all time, with 329. His Midas Touch periodically birthed careers, with features he lent to Migos, ILoveMakonnen, BlocBoy JB, and most recently, 4batz, all of which helped score those artists their first crossover hits. On a mainstream level, he is unf–kwitable, and has been since his 2010 debut album Thank Me Later

That’s not to say Drake is unreachable. In May 2018, Pusha T managed to get his claws deep inside the 6 God and walk away champion in their battle of the words. But, in retrospect, Drake’s star continued to gleam, as he’s scored five No. 1 since – including one right after the feud in that June’s Scorpion, which also included three Hot 100-toppers with “God’s Plan,” “Nice For What” and “In My Feelings.” His tiff with Pusha proved that whatever losses he suffered from the battle had no immediate effect on his commercial prowess.  The phones still still rang, and people clamored for features. The aftershock of the skirmish did very little to kill Drake’s overall momentum. 

Even “Duppy Freestyle,” Drake’s initial burst at Pusha, was a praiseworthy record: Not only did Drake send missiles at Push regarding his skill set (“You’re not even top five as far as your label talent goes”), but he questioned his credibility as an alleged one-time drug lord (“You act like you sold drugs for Escobar in the ‘80s.”) Despite his pop titan status, he proved that he could spar and get down in the trenches when needed. Many forget that Drake is also battle-tested over the course of his career in rap beef: He went head-to-head with Pusha, Meek Mill and Common, while Lamar is entering unfamiliar territory. Battling is playing into Drake’s hands and is his arena, and he thrives when competition arrives at his doorstep. 

What makes this situation even more interesting is the number of people colliding with Drake simultaneously. Kendrick’s lyrical assault on Metro Boomin and Future’s “Like That” ignited this chaotic blaze between Drake and seemingly all of his former collaborators, with Rick Ross, A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd all jumping in after Lamar’s torrid diss to throw shade at the OVO captain. Even J. Cole, an apparent ally who caught a stray during Lamar’s callous retort against “The Big 3,” retreated from the battlefield after apologizing to Lamar at Dreamville Fest earlier this month. To make matters worse, following his apology, J. Cole yanked his comeback song  “7 Minute Drill” off streaming services – and even made a cameo on Metro Boomin and Future’s We Still Don’t Like You this past Friday (Apr. 11). 

On “Push Ups,” Drake notes the challenges he’s facing, aware that he’s outnumbered, rapping: “What the fuck is this, a 20-v-1, n—a?” First, Ross pledged his allegiance to Team Metro & Kendrick when he filmed himself playing “Like That” on social media upon its release. Drake caught wind and fired back on “Push Ups,” rapping: “Can’t believe he jumpin’ in, this n—a turnin’ fifty/ Every song that made it on the chart, he got from Drizzy.” Since then, Ross has issued his shots on “Champagne Moments,” and used social media fodder to call out Drake, whether about his alleged nose job or abs. 

Same with The Weeknd, who got his punches in on Metro and Future’s We Still Don’t Trust You, singing on “All To Myself”: “They could never diss my brothers, baby/ When they got leaks in they operation/ I thank God that I never signed my life away/ And we never do the big talk/ They shooters makin’ TikToks.” As for Rocky, he dished out his subliminals on “Show of Hands,” where he boasted about allegedly taking Rihanna away from Drake: “N—as in they feelings over women, what, you hurt or somethin”/ I smash before you birthed, son, Flacko hit it first, son.”

This many people attacking one person speaks volumes about Drake’s power and authority in the rap game. The last person who had the industry come after him in such a wide-ranging assault was arguably 50 Cent, who was also hip-hop’s top dog in 2005 when he chose violence on “Piggy Bank,” going after New York rivals Ja Rule, Jadakiss, Fat Joe and Nas. Though the cards are stacked against him, from a storyline perspective, a win against Lamar and his calvary can propel Drake even further in the rap stratosphere: Because Lamar is being deemed as the rap boogeyman that nobody is willing to grapple with, taming him will be  considered an upset by itself. 

Now, knowing that Lamar and friends are rallying together to attack Drake, this earns him a rare amount of public sympathy and makes him look like the underdog for the first time in well over a decade – even though he’s still the biggest star in the entire battle. And if he loses, people will go back to the fact that it took everyone to take down Drake, a la Avengers: Endgame, when an army of superheroes was needed to defeat Thanos. 

In reality, the biggest trump card Drake holds is that he’s already gifted each of his foes a key earl win in some form. He brought Kendrick and Rocky on tour with him for his Club Paradise Tour in 2012. Ross’ highest-charting records on the Hot 100 came courtesy of a Drake feature. Even Future received the Drake stimulus package at the start of his career when Drizzy hopped on the “Tony Montana (Remix),” while Metro’s first two top 20 Hot 100 records had Drake featured on the songs (“Tuesday” and “Jumpman”). As for The Weeknd, Drake featured him on Take Care, where he brought him into a bigger audience with songs like “Crew Love,” “Over My Dead Body,” and “The Ride.” Hence, Drake can argue that any win for Team Kendrick is also a win for him, since none of these guys would likely be at the levels they currently are if not for his early assists. 

The wrestling world has a new champ, but hip-hop’s own title belt is unlikely to change hands anytime soon. While Roman’s empire ended at WrestleMania XL, it’s safe to say Drake’s story will continue on well after his hip-hop civil war.

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