Drake and Kendrick Lamar Is the Last Great Rap Beef. Thank God. (2024)

Editor’s note: This piece was published about an hour before Kendrick dropped another Drake diss—“Not Like Us”—his fourth in four days and third in 36 hours. We can assume it won’t be his last—in fact, he raps on the latest track: “How many stocks do I really have in stock? / One, two, three, four, five, plus five,” so that means we may be getting 10 … total? Ten more? You have to admire this level of dedication to pettiness, even if it’s running our copy editors and production team ragged.

Rap isn’t the NBA. There’s no Anthony Edwards or Jamal Murray capable of sending our washed stars to Cancun. Bronny’s biggest opps are bored NBA writers and the ESPN ticker tape. Meanwhile, Adonis has witnessed two generational MCs scold his father for his child-raising abilities while taking buzz saws to his family tree before the age of 7. Commercial hip-hop—like most of the modern music industry—has become too fat, old, neutered, and niche to launch a new household name and thus more desperate and existentially bloody. This is what happens when the old guard becomes the only guard.

In 2024, with Kanye solely devoted to harvesting Ty Dolla $ign’s life force, only two rappers are capable of hoarding this much cultural real estate. Over the past month, Beyoncé dropped a country record, Quavo and Chris Brown are beefing over who terrorizes women more, and Taylor Swift tried to drive her DeLorean to the 1830s (apparently without all the slavery). Yet all of these moments pale in comparison to what unfolded Friday night when two members of rap’s “Big Three” finally unleashed their Trinity test.

After weeks of threatening theoretical nukes, Drake finally donned the Oppenheimer hat with “Family Matters.” On the seering, seven-minute diss track Aubrey says that Kendrick assaulted his wife, while Kendrick’s close friend and label cofounder Dave Free sired a child with her. Seeing the mushroom cloud from Lucali’s, Kenny S. Truman said “bet” and immediately dropped a bomb on Drake’s head with the deranged and highly cursed “Meet the Grahams.” The top-level notes are brutal: In Kendrick’s telling, Drake is hiding another child and is the head of a Toronto child sex-trafficking ring. Meanwhile, Drake says that Kendrick hired a crisis-management team to hide the fact he physically abused his partner. If you’re asking why two of the biggest pop stars of their generation are debasing themselves in a bossip beef—all of the details of which, as of press time, have not been verified—while throwing women and kids on the front line, in the words of Kendrick: “I’ma get back to that, for the record.”

In terms of size, scale, and capital, we’re witnessing the last rap beef of this magnitude. And while too much critical ink is wasted on the monoculture—or lack thereof—it bears mentioning there will never be another rapper that occupies the same cultural space as Drake or Kendrick. There probably won’t even be another J. Cole. (Some subscribe to the belief that Jermaine belongs in the same conversation as Drake and Kendrick … I don’t.) As hip-hop becomes more diffuse and hyper-regional, Drake and Kendrick represent the last artists popular enough to suck up this much oxygen, even as the quality of their music has dipped to the point of feeling irrelevant next to their all-consuming celebrity.

The shenanigans started in March, when Future and Metro Boomin dropped their first of two albums this year, We Don’t Trust You. The main headline from it was Kendrick finally emerging from the therapy haze of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers with a feature on “Like That,” in which Kendrick proceeds to do to Drake what the Canadian has done to his peers and well-endowed exes: turn a barn-burning diss into an inescapable smash hit. “Like That” spent five weeks atop the Hot 100, becoming Kendrick’s longest-running no. 1 in the process. It wasn’t long before an emboldened Metro Hoffa unionized the aging vets of the blog era against Big Drake and OVO industries. A$AP Rocky, the Weekend, Kanye, and Rick Ross happily jumped in.

J. Cole was the first to take the Kendrick bait on the underbaked “7 Minute Drill.” Over two rushed and wonky beats, hip-hop’s resident laundry man got high off the fumes of his overhyped feature run and claimed he wasn’t that jealous of Kendrick before mentioning that 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly is trash. But just days later, Jermaine decided to Summer Jam–screen himself at his annual hometown festival by admitting to a crowd of thousands that he was tossing and turning at night over the entire debacle. After (prolly) letting Nas and the general public down once again, Cole smartly ceded his time and the floor to the Big Two.

Since then, Drake and Kendrick have traded six records back and forth of varying degrees of quality and lucidity. Drake called Kendrick a short, hobbit-sized cuck, so Lamar lobbed back that Toronto’s finest has his braids pulled too tight and isn’t allowed to say the N-word anymore. One man desecrated Tupac’s grave with AI, while the other pissed all over a timestamp record while reportedly getting fed information from Roy Woods and OB O’Brien. “Push-Ups” and “Taylor Made” bled into “Euphoria” and “6:16 in L.A.” But after Friday’s squabble, all of them have been rendered inconsequential. To continue with the nuclear analogy: With “Meet the Grahams” and “Family Matters,” the Doomsday Machine has been activated, so maybe it’s best to hide underground. (J. Cole certainly agrees.)

If this all sounds exhausting, it should. Drake is 37 and Kendrick is about to be. Both these men have kids and families they could be tending to, but instead we’re treated to a beef that started over essentially nothing—if we’re to believe Kendrick, over Drake and Cole linking up in “First Person Shooter” and invoking the idea of a rap “Big Three.” But not a single song released since “Like That” lives up to the expectations each of these men stoked through their years-long Cold War. Nothing measures up to the base-level quality of “Control,” “Back to Back,” or “Stay Schemin.” Instead, we’re treated to two aging rappers squabbling over … who’s cornier? Or maybe it’s about who is or isn’t Kobe? Or even who should be able to buy Tupac’s ring at Sotheby’s for a million dollars?

Even the beef’s most damaging revelations are disingenuous at best—and outright craven at the worst. Drake’s faux-outrage over the account of Kendrick’s treatment of his partner doesn’t mean much when Drake was cosigning Chris Brown’s gang ties a few bars earlier and was caping for Tory Lanez to be freed a few months ago. Similarly, if Kendrick is so concerned with sexual assault and protecting young women from the OVO compound, why did he spend his last album crying about cancel culture and propping up Kodak Black?

Drake and Kendrick don’t have the politics to be doing all this. Is Drake wrong that Kendrick, “always rappin’ like you ’bout to get the slaves freed?” Not really. But also Drake stands for nothing and has never committed an interesting political thought to record in his life. And if Kendrick knows incriminating information about Drake, why has he withheld it until it was this advantageous? As with most hip-hop beefs, we’ve ended up where we were always destined to—men using women, wives, baby mothers, parents, and children in increasingly gross and depraved ways to satisfy their rabid egos.

The microaggressions, subliminals, and shots that got us to this moment date back to a time when GQ still had enough juice to terrorize rappers into dressing like Williamsburg hipsters. What person under 30 even recalls that Drake invited peers like Kendrick, Rocky, Cole, and Meek to open for him on tour in 2012 and then spent the next decade treating the aforementioned like his sons for taking him up on the offer? How many people still remember all the blog mainstays Kendrick shot at on 2013’s “Control”? If Drake is still upset because Compton’s resident good kid threatened to “tuck him into his pajamas clothes” during a BET cypher, there’s no helping my man. The only entities profiting from this scuffle are Universal Music Group, the Joe Budden extended podcast universe, a bunch of teenage streamers I refuse to Google, and the collection of rap publications that haven’t been nuked by private equity firms.

The most straightforward and generous read of this entire beef is that Drake and Kendrick are rappers lost to time. They’re formalists in a genre that’s moved past the tradition. They came up in a time when cosigns were necessary (Lil Wayne, Dr. Dre), radio runs were crucial, and albums still mattered. Drake belongs to a long lineage of rappers turned pop stars (e.g., LL Cool J, Nelly, 50 Cent), while Kendrick is marketed as a conscious alternative (e.g., Nas, pre-MAGA Kanye, Tupac). Even the duo would love you to believe this is Michael Jackson vs. Prince—numbers vs. “real” art.

Perhaps that’s why the beef feels so toothless. Drake and Kendrick aren’t fighting the same war; they’re two grown men arguing past one another because there’s no one left to challenge. One views dominance—via streaming numbers and celebrity—as inextricable from the art, while the other envisions himself as a purist responsible for upholding a grand tradition. And yet, each rapper has ended up in a similar place.

There’s very little compelling about two men who signed to major labels in their 20s debating who got extorted when the most obvious answer is both. Drake mocking Kendrick for his cringeworthy Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 features doesn’t mean much when he was spitting water-carrying lyrics like “Taylor Swift the only nigg* that I ever rated” a year ago and starring in Apple commercials with the pop star. Similarly, can Kendrick really talk about Drake running to Yachty (the recovering “King of the Teens”) for swag, when he found his own nepo-version of the Atlanta rapper in Baby Keem?

At the time of publication, Kendrick is in the lead in this battle, even if that distinction feels hollow. Drake has dropped 13 projects in 13 years, compared to Kendrick’s six. Of course when Cornrow Kenneth descends from his Pulitzer perch to wrestle in the mud with the other aging degenerates it’s going to mean more. But Kendrick is also beating his rival in a way that would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago.

When Drake triumphed over Meek Mill in 2015 it was because he understood the internet better than any of his peers. Meme culture was new and novel. The impact of “Hotline Bling” and the dancing Drake GIF apocalypse was still months away. Meek was having an argument about authenticity when his own label boss triumphed over 50 Cent years priors despite being outed as a correctional officer. A ghostwriter reveal and an alleged incident in which a T.I. associate pissed on Drake’s leg should’ve been enough for the Philadelphia rapper to eke out a win, but Meek wasn’t ready to accept that the internet (and by extension the nerds) won.

Almost eight years later, Kendrick has rendered Drake’s biggest advantage obsolete. The meme economy got a reality TV show host elected to the White House and almost toppled American democracy in the process. Our relationship in 2024 to hyper-online celebrities is no longer cute and interesting. It’s not just that Kendrick has been funnier—“is it the braids?” is an all-timer—it’s that he’s less accessible than Drake. Unless you have the comedic timing of Rick Ross, taunting another man over IG stories is never going to be as cool as someone who refuses to use the internet. The quality of the most recent diss tracks became irrelevant the minute Kendrick outmaneuvered Drake by releasing “Meet the Grahams” about an hour after “Family Matters” dropped. (And especially after Drake was left deflecting Kendrick’s “hiding another child” accusations on Instagram instead of taking a victory lap for his own track.)

Barring a RICO case or something even more horrific—and potentially verifiable—coming to light, nothing released in the past two months will help or hinder either man’s legacy. Unless Drake and Kendrick are half as sick, perverted, abusive, and morally repugnant as these records claim, the most likely outcome is that UMG will cut both a massive check for the streaming boom this animosity fueled. But this is a post-truth beef. Kendrick stans will believe that Drake has a kindergarten class of unclaimed sons and daughters because it’s funny and convenient. And unless a more reputable source than The OVO Post finds that Kendrick does have a history of physically assaulting women, the chances of it impacting his sales and critical stature are practically nonexistent.

Cover-art Ozempic receipts aside, most of the scars from this tantrum will be reserved for the family and friends who have now been immortalized in rushed and harried songs that have already begun to lose their luster. And the only rapper who has sustained real damage thus far did it to himself, and his stans are still convinced rap’s Charlie Brown will kick the football next time. But Drake and Kendrick aren’t held to the same standard as other artists. They aren’t just the most popular rappers of their generation—one could argue they’re among the most consequential musicians of the 21st century. A Canadian child actor and Tupac’s shortest stan went from the Zippyshare trenches to the last remaining superstars of a genre that’s going the way of rock. The perch seems lonely—two rappers bold enough to use their government names unable to connect with the only other person in the world who could relate. Call it poetic justice.

Drake and Kendrick Lamar Is the Last Great Rap Beef. Thank God. (2024)
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