Music

Kendrick Lamar and Drake Just Showed Us the Future of Rap Beef

We just witnessed an unprecedented weekend in rap music, with five diss songs and a snippet keeping us away from our friends, our families, and (most importantly) our playoff games.

Drake started things off on Friday night by dropping “Family Matters,” a 7:36-long collection of mini-songs accompanied by a video allegedly featuring the good kid, m.A.A.d city van being crushed — with Drake and his crew also apparently flashing both Pharrell’s (supposedly melted-down) jewelry and a new G-Unit spinner chain in the clip, because the Rap Game Sinister Six had him out here talkin’ like he’s 50. He also posted a snippet dissing Kenny and Rocky over the “Buried Alive Interlude” beat on his Instagram. Then, about a half hour later, Kendrick Lamar took things straight to hell (over creepy Alchemist production) on “Meet the Grahams.” 

The next night, while we all tried to watch Anthony Edwards do his thing against the Nuggets with “Meet the Grahams” still marinating in our brains, the Compton rapper followed that diabolical entry in the feud with the DJ Mustard-assisted West Coast party anthem “Not Like Us.” We thought it may have been over after that, ‘cause Drizzy took a beat — but he got right back in the booth and responded with “The Heart Part 6” on Sunday night. As a rap fan I was excited, but as a rap journalist I was fighting the air like Tre in Boyz n the Hood. We’ve never experienced anything like this before. 

While we’ve seen artists go back and forth on wax throughout the years — there were the Roxanne Wars between Roxanne Shanté and U.T.F.O., MC Shan vs. KRS-One, Ice Cube vs N.W.A., Jay-Z vs. Nas, and Ja Rule vs. 50 Cent, to name just a handful of the most notable examples — they all mostly adhered to traditional album and single release schedules. What’s really made this battle different from previous ones is the speed at which two of the genre’s biggest and most important stars have responded to each other.

When this thing started, fans were getting antsy because Kendrick took over two weeks to respond to Drake’s “Push Ups.” Drake himself even got tired of waiting, following “Push Ups” with “Taylor Made Freestyle” a week later — to troll Lamar and try to peer-pressure him into finishing what he started with the verse heard ’round the world on “Like That.” This is something Drake himself has been through before: When Meek sent a tweet in 2015 about Drake allegedly using ghostwriters, the Canadian rapper responded with “Charged Up” on his Beats 1 OVO SOUND radio show about a week later. And when Meek didn’t respond to that, he dropped “Back to Back” on his head just a few days after and that was that. The Philly MC never fully recovered from that feud. An overlooked part of the Meek feud is that it set the social-media-era standard for how long rappers now have to respond to a diss record. Kendrick beat Drake at his own game. 

Since Lamar released “Euphoria” about a week ago, he’s put out three records — including an immediately certified bop in “Not Like Us” — with speculation that there’s still more left in the chamber. Kendrick essentially told Drake and the rest of the rap world, “Don’t let me do it to you, dunny, because I’ll over do it.” 

At first, there was a lot of talk about time limits and rappers being on the clock as the hip-hop community waited with bated breath for Kendrick to respond. Older fans, such as myself, wanted him to take his time. We were used to watching these things play out over months, if not years. But that’s the thing about the old days — they the old days. These are different times. I admit, even I wondered what was taking Kenny so long as the days went by before “euphoria” dropped out of thin air. Those weeks felt like an eternity. By contrast, Rick Ross wasted no time responding to the jabs directed at him in “Push Ups”: The Miami boss released “Champagne Moments” a couple of hours after the song “leaked” online. Nowadays, if you get dissed in a song, you better find a booth, open a laptop, and get to rapping ASAP. The mob will expect nothing less.  

Speaking of the mob: Social media now plays a massive role in how these battles play out. With each release, Rap Twitter (and Instagram) was sent into a frenzy the likes of which we haven’t seen since the pre-COVID days. There have been many memorable moments on those godforsaken apps, but this past week was special. Jokes and analysis have been flying all over social media. Uma Thurman offered up her Kill Bill suit to Drake. Rick Ross was updating us between every diss, with an X user comparing him to a YouTube commercial. Diss records were being played during professional sporting events. The NBA on TNT crew played some during NBA Playoff broadcasts. “Not Like Us” was played as walk-up music at a Dodgers game. And Stephen A. Smith signed off First Take on Monday morning by telling them both to stop because it’s getting too personal.  

No other genre has this power. 

The more you listen to “The Heart Part 6,” the more Drake sounds defeated. He mentions his war jacket, rapping, “I am a war general, seasoned in preparation/ My jacket is covered in medals, honor and decoration” and ends the track with a rant saying Lamar would be a more worthy adversary if this whole thing were about facts, which in truth, rap beef has never really been about. If “Not Like Us” was “Ether” 2.0, then “The Heart Part 6” is essentially “Blueprint 3.” By the time the latter came around, Jay had already lost the battle to Nas — but they were still fighting the war, as the two continued to sub each other on various songs until they squashed the beef on stage in 2005 during Jay’s “I Declare War” tour. 

It’s still too early for this beef to get squashed, and maybe it never totally will. This one got personal and very weird in the blink of an eye, the wounds are still fresh, the accusations still have a stench in the air. However, Drake vs. Kendrick will be remembered as the defining rap battle of the streaming era, and the most important one since Jay-Z and Nas went to war to kick off the new millennium. 

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