Music

What Will the Commercial Success of ‘Not Like Us’ Mean for Kendrick Lamar’s Career — Or Drake’s?

No story in music this year has been more all-consuming than the ongoing beef between superstar rappers Drake and Kendrick Lamar (and a whole lot of supporting characters) — and this week, on the chart dated May 18, the Billboard Hot 100 properly reflects the drama’s cultural dominance.

Three songs from the two feuding artists hit the chart’s top 10 this week, led by Lamar’s No. 1-debuting “Not Like Us” and also including Kendrick Lamar’s “Euphoria” (No. 3) and Drake’s “Family Matters” (No. 7) — while a fourth, Lamar’s “Meet the Grahams,” bows just outside the region at No. 12. The entrance of “Not Like Us” has been particularly explosive, as the climactic diss cut tops the chart with just five full days of consumption to its credit for the tracking week (ending May 9), still amassing over 70 million official on-demand U.S. streams for the period, according to Luminate.

What contributed to “Not Like Us” being such a runaway hit? And what does its success mean for both its performer and its subject moving forward? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. “Not Like Us” posts historic streaming numbers on its way to a Hot 100 No. 1 debut — already Lamar’s second this year from this extended beef alone — while already burrowing its way deep into pop culture. Is this already the biggest diss track you can remember from your lifetime? 

Kyle Denis: Easily. The only two that come relatively close are Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon” and Remy Ma’s “Shether,” but the cultural imapct and legacy of those songs far outweigh their commercial success. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Drake’s own “Back to Back” — I fondly remember yelling, “Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?” all summer ‘15.  

Angel Diaz: The only other diss track with this kind of impact was Nas’ “Ether.” That was such a seismic shift in the game, the song’s title became a verb that’s still used 20-something years later. Mustard’s production and the chorus will stand the test of time. Expect to hear “they not like us” a bunch during the college football and basketball seasons.

Carl Lamarre: I’m old enough to have experienced Jay-Z vs. Nas and 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule in real time — but this particular feud has the advantage over those because of the advent of social media. Watching these records fall from the sky and instantly seeing real-time reactions amplified the pressure and momentum of this battle. Fans were huddling around this social media bonfire, clamoring for more, exchanging thoughts and conspiracies in such a short time — and it all climaxed with the ecstatic response to Kendrick’s death blow. Even in past beefs Drake had with Meek and Pusha, neither opponent was as big as Kung Fu Kenny, and certainly neither had a record as big as “Not Like Us.”  

Jason Lipshutz: Quantitatively, probably! Diss tracks didn’t tend to top the Hot 100 prior to 2024, a.k.a. The Year of Beef Cuts, and “Not Like Us” starts with far bigger streams than Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hiss” or Future and Metro Boomin’s “Like That” (although time will tell whether “Not Like Us” can stick as long at No. 1 as Kendrick’s three-week chart-topping opening diss). In terms of its stature, however, we’ll need some time to see how “Not Like Us” endures as a standalone single, removed from the context of this Kendrick-Drake diss deluge. Maybe “Not Like Us” gets lumped into the multi-track back-and-forth historically, or maybe it will stand on its own as Lamar’s pop smash with the sharpest edges. Too early to tell for me, but signs point toward “Not Like Us” separating itself from the other recent Kendrick (and Drake) songs commercially.

Andrew Unterberger: Absolutely — that is, unless you expand beyond hip-hop and consider Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” one of the only songs this decade (beef or no) to approximate Lamar’s breakaway momentum here. And honestly, even then, “Not Like Us” might still have the advantage.

2. Obviously there had already been no shortage of memorable and massively consumed back and forth musical moments from this feud, dating back to the first chart-topping blast with “Like That” a month and a half ago. What about “Not Like Us,” either in its content or its timing, do you think was the biggest factor in it hitting an even-higher commercial level than this feud had previously reached? 

Kyle Denis: If you’re looking for a perfect storm, “Not Like Us” is it. The timing of the drop was perfect. Kendrick was able to capture the zeitgeist before the “let’s move on” takes started pouring in, and he was also able to quickly build on the momentum of his other culture-shifting diss tracks. You couple that with Mustard’s infectious string-laden beat, a K.Dot cadence that leans more into his West Coast bag than most of his recent output, and a bevy of quotables that double as damning disses – you’ve got a winner. 

I think the key difference with “Not Like Us” is that Kendrick made an anthem that people could rally around. Obviously, the West Coast was always going to eat this song up, but by using “Not Like Us” to draw an “us vs. them” line in the sand between Drake and his fans and the rest of hip-hop culture, Kendrick forced people to pick a side and stand tall in that decision. “Not Like Us” rejects ambivalence, either you’re on Kendrick’s side and what he stands for or you’re on the side deemed “certified pedophiles.” Of course, it also helped that Drake didn’t deliver a pop-facing, anthemic hit of his own, leaving room for Kendrick to swoop in and beat him at his own game. 

Angel Diaz: The content is almost secondary as to why people enjoy the song. There are those who have prayed for Drake’s downfall and there are others who doubted Kendrick’s ability to make a certified banger. The Compton rapper managed both in this instance. He tripled down on Drake’s rumored age-gap dating habits and used a culturally traditional West Coast sound to further dissect his foe’s overall character and place in rap music. No one expected Lamar to drop something as high energy as “Not Like Us” after the very dark and dramatic “Meet the Grahams” a day earlier.

Carl Lamarre: Kendrick playing chess and using Drake’s strengths against him. K. Dot’s approach in this battle was slow and methodical, like a horror film, and “Not Like Us” was the shocking climax nobody saw coming. He made a West Coast anthem with a DJ Mustard-produced beat that wasn’t only memorable because of the witty catchphrases (“69 God” and “OV-Hoe”), but it placed him out of his element. This knockout blow showcased Kendrick’s proper Gemini side and why we can’t rule out the unexpected when dealing with him. 

Jason Lipshutz: “Not Like Us” was released as both a knockout punch and celebration, capping off Kendrick’s speed-bag treatment of Drake’s reputation with his most immediate pop hook in years, a ton of quotable new takedowns and a springy club track courtesy of Mustard. If “Not Like Us” was released at the beginning or in the middle of the Kendrick-Drake back-and-forth, the song’s context changes — but Lamar positioned the track as a victory lap following “Like That,” “Euphoria,” “6:16 in LA” and “Meet the Grahams,” the majority of which were more academic in their personal eviscerations. So really, it was both content and timing that helped elevate “Not Like Us,” and eclipse Lamar’s other diss tracks on the charts.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s the beat and the hook. Lamar’s verses are also largely on point, but they were on “Meet the Grahams” and “Euphoria” too; what sets “Not Like Us” apart commercially is the same thing that initially put “Like That” over the top: It’s just an absolutely killer single by any measure. You could — and by now many doubt have — hear the song blaring out of a car window or in the background at a bar or even through supermarket speakers with no prior knowledge of the feud and think the same thing everyone else did the first time they heard it: “Wow this song rules.” Personally, I was sure from the first second that the strings entered in the intro that this was gonna be the biggest and longest-lasting song from this entire cultural moment.

3. A trio of other Drake-Kendrick Lamar songs from the feud also appear in this week’s top 15: Kendrick’s “Euphoria” (No. 3) and “Meet the Grahams” (No. 12) and Drake’s “Family Matters” (No. 7). Which of the three do you think will prove the most enduring beyond their first week of release and initial excitement over the back-and-forth? 

Kyle Denis: I don’t think any of the three songs end up enduring hits, but I’ll give the edge to “Euphoria,” which already has a slew of lines going viral on TikTok and boasts a more radio-ready tempo than “Meet the Grahams.” In that vein, “Grahams” is probably too incisive of a track to become a legitimate hit song, not to mention there’s no hook and it’s the slowest of the three tracks. As for “Family Matters,” it’s a really great track, but I don’t really see a world in which the loser of the beef still squeezes a hit single out of it. Then again, if anyone can do that, it’s Drake. 

Angel Diaz: “Family Matters” is the easier listen. Drake is good at that. But: I gave “Meet the Grahams” the car test over the weekend and it gave me chills. I almost wish Drake broke “Family Matters” up into three different songs. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to any of them on a regular basis and while the Toronto rapper’s song is a quality track, it just doesn’t hit the same after what transpired immediately after.

Carl Lamarre: Though “Meet the Grahams” was surgical and exuded Stephen King vibes, “Family Matters” is arguably Drake’s best record in years. From the beat switches to the myriad of flows he had on display, had that song dropped after “Grahams” or didn’t experience any disruption at its release, it could have given Drake “More Life” in this heavyweight match. 

Jason Lipshutz: Probably “Euphoria,” which has shown that it has legs on streaming platforms beyond the initial shock of hearing a no-holds-barred six-minute-plus Drake takedown upon its release. Think of “Euphoria” as the yin to the “Not Like Us’” yang, the more stream-of-consciousness version of Lamar’s rap theatrics compared to his radio-ready side — which has also proven to cater to a sizable audience over the past decade. I’d guess that clubs will continue to play “Not Like Us,” while wordplay obsessives will continue to pore over every word of “Euphoria,” in the coming weeks and months.

Andrew Unterberger: Can I vote for “Meet the Grams,” the viral mashup of the beat from “Meet the Grahams” with the vocal from Pusha T’s own Drake-toppling classic “The Story of Adidon”? It feels impossibly right, and I’ve already listened to it more than either of the tracks it’s formed from.

4. While Kendrick Lamar has already scored No. 1 songs and albums and been one of the consensus greatest rappers alive for over a decade already, this still feels like a new mainstream peak for him. What kind of impact, if any, do you see this recent success having on his career over the next few years? 

Kyle Denis: I think that almost totally depends on the style of music he chooses to make. He’s done the pop collabs successfully, he has scores of crossover hip-hop hits, he’s done the big-budget movie soundtrack thing flawlessly – when he wants to meet the mainstream where it’s at, he always wins. Even when he forces the mainstream to meet him where he’s at, as he did with 2022’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, he still pulls off Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits, worldwide arena tours and robust streaming and pure sales numbers. 

At the very least, these recent chart wins will likely line him up for a handsome streaming debut whenever he decides to drop a new LP. There’s also something to be said about this beef causing a generation of listeners who only experienced Mr. Morale in real time to go back and discover the Lamar albums they were too young to take in upon release. 

Angel Diaz: Word on the street is that he’s dropping a project this year, so it all depends on if this next album delivers. Jay and Nas dropped The Blueprint and Stillmatic, respectively, during their legendary beef, and both albums are considered classics — with the former widely thought of as an all-timer. If Kendrick drops another classic, the Best Rapper Alive title won’t be leaving Compton for the foreseeable future.

Carl Lamarre: Eyes will be on both Kendrick and Drake, and for obvious reasons. For Kendrick, it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll return to his 2017 bag, where DAMN proved to be his colossal mainstream win, etching out “HUMBLE” — his last solo Hot 100 chart-topper before “Not Like Us” — and his highest opening-week numbers on the Billboard 200 with 603,000 album equivalent units. The bigger question will be: With the battle behind him, can he make records without uttering The Boy’s name and still garner as much interest and attention within his music? 

Jason Lipshutz: It’s a great question, and it’s impossible to answer, considering how mercurial Kendrick has proven as a mainstream star over the course of his career. Could “Not Like Us” inspire a run of hard-edged pop singles that continues to flex his muscle on the charts and capture more of Drake’s territory? Will his next album completely eschew this beef, and follow the more insular streak of Mr. Morale? Maybe we simply don’t hear from Kendrick for multiple years after this, considering the extended break before that last album! Kendrick Lamar remains one of our most exciting superstars because of the inherent unpredictability of his artistry, so when prognosticating how this beef affects his future, the answer has to be: TBD.

Andrew Unterberger: I think his first-week ceiling should certainly be higher on his next full-length release than it would be otherwise following the commercially underwhelming (though by this point, fairly underrated) Mr. Morale. But whether he continues having smashes like this from here is entirely up to him; Kendrick has proven on numerous occasions throughout his run that he can produce crowd-pleasers when he wants, he’s just had different priorities a lot of the time. (Which, for the record, is also one of the reasons it hits so hard when he does give the people a proper banger or two.)

5. Meanwhile, Drake has taken perhaps the biggest blow of his career by finding himself the loser of the feud not just among hip-hop heads and tastemakers but among the general public — and on the charts specifically, where Drake rarely loses to anyone. What kind of lasting impact, if any, do you see this loss having on his commercial success moving forward? 

Kyle Denis: I think Drake may have a bit of a commercial dip in the coming months, but that’s truly nothing a danceable summer hit or two can’t fix. The real blow for Drake here is where he stands culturally. It’s cool to dunk on Drizzy again. When the No. 1 song in the country is calling you and your affiliates pedophiles and bastardizing the name of your record label, it’s clear that your public perception has drastically shifted. How does Drake regain his cool factor without the cultural/sonic philandering he’s been criticized for throughout this beef? That’s for him to figure out and for us to evaluate when the time comes. 

Angel Diaz: Fans have been turning on Drake since Views dropped in 2016. They’ve felt that he’s been in autopilot for far too long. Hopefully the turmoil he finds himself in today will motivate him to challenge himself. He did that with Honestly, Nevermind, but was criticized for not rapping enough and was goaded into releasing For All the Dogs by fans and pundits. I think he’ll be fine commercially in the long run, but this rap thing has never been just about sales. His image took a major blow culturally and that’s something I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to fix.

Carl Lamarre: Zero because soccer moms, teens, and college kids will continue to stream his music and buy his albums as long as he churns out “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling” caliber records. That fanbase was unaffected by Kendrick’s demolition derby and isn’t keen on Drake’s standing within The Culture. He’ll be OK if he can keep the mainstream American singing and dancing. 

Jason Lipshutz: Very little, actually! Drake’s reputation has taken a massive hit, but if he drops a new proper single or album in the near future, I’d still expect No. 1 debuts across the board. Real hip-hop fans might look less favorably upon Drake after his skirmish, but he also maintains an enormous base of pop listeners, and remains a giant streaming presence; in spite of the narrative of Kendrick’s lyrical K.O., a slightly weakened Drake is still a superstar.

Andrew Unterberger: At the beginning, I thought there was no way this feud would have any lasting impact on Drake’s commercial fortunes — now I’m not so sure. I do think the answer here is, in many ways, still largely up to Drake and how well he responds to the outcome here. Ironically, the most valuable lesson he can take away from all this is one implied by Kendrick himself on “Euphoria”: It’s time to focus on Drake With the Melodies and not on Tough-Acting Drake. The latter’s been too compromised; the former will always be welcome.

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