The Kendrick-Drake feud shows how technology is changing rap battles | TechCrunch (2024)

Kendrick Lamar won the most tech-savvy rap battle to date

It seems we’re all in agreement: Kendrick Lamar defeated Drake in one of the most engrossing rap battles of the decade. To add insult to injury, Drake also threw himself into legal hot water when he deepfaked the late rapper Tupac.

The tension between Lamar and Drake goes back decades, but this latest flare-up began last fall when J. Cole dropped a song calling Drake, Lamar and himself the “Big Three” in rap. This March, Lamar finally responded, rejecting Cole’s assertion with a scathing verse that dissed him and Drake. The battle ignited, and soon, a legion of other hip-hop artists jumped in, releasing music and taking their sides against Drake.

The weeks-long dispute escalated into one of the most intense rap battles of the digital era. There were side battles (between Chris Brown and Quavo) and white flags (J. Cole apologized to Lamar and deleted his diss response to the rapper). Meanwhile, social media-created campaigns and giveaways against Drake, and support for diss tracks against him appeared in everything from Japanese rap to Indian classical dance.

The feud has also sparked a conversation about technology’s increased role in rap beefs, in addition to how and when AI should be used in music.

A pivotal moment came on the track “Taylor Made,” where Drake attempted to diss Lamar using AI vocals from Snoop Dogg and Tupac, a rap icon who was killed decades ago. Drake did not get permission from Tupac’s estate to use the late rapper’s vocals and was threatened with a lawsuit unless he removed the track. Even though Drake took it down, his decision to use AI vocals promoted discussion among music lovers and techies alike.

(Lamar and Drake could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.)

Rap battles have turned chronically online

An artist like Tupac, who died in 1996, couldn’t have imagined that artificial intelligence could emulate his voice so convincingly that one of the most popular rappers of the moment would insert it into a song. He also couldn’t have understood how the nature of the social internet would shape the future of music, where “every stream is a vote.”

In the early aughts, rappers had to funnel their diss tracks through radio, releasing physical albums and mixtapes while giving interviews throughout the years of a feud. Responding to a diss could take days at the most, whereas today, it could take mere seconds.

Lamar released a diss response to Drake within 20 minutes of Drake dropping his track against Lamar. Lamar insinuated there were leaks in Drake’s camp that made it possible for him to drop so fast, and that’s a diss in itself. Before the internet was so ubiquitous, that speed would have been impossible.

Drake’s response to his feud with Meek Mill nearly 10 years ago saw him release two songs within four days. But Lamar dropped four songs within five days during this battle, including two in one day. Nobody had to rush out to buy CDs or pull over their cars to listen to the radio, as one founder recalled doing during Jay-Z’s infamous feud with Nas. Instead, tracks were quickly dropped on YouTube, shared on Twitter, and then streamed on Spotify en loop.

The speed of these releases does have its downsides: In another viral moment, Lamar confused actor Haley Joel Osment and televangelist Joel Osteen in his lyrics.

Fans have also called Drake “chronically online” during the rap battle, since their real-time posts about the raps seemed to influence him. Some fans accused him of referencing popular tweets and memes people made about him during the feud, then passing them off as his own thoughts and rapping about them. Numerous people online commented that it felt like Drake was writing his responses specifically for his fans to hear, rather than to respond to Lamar. That nearly instantaneous feedback loop stood in stark contrast to Lamar’s raps, which were poignant in their attacks solely against Drake.

This battle is also perhaps the first time such beef has expanded to tech platforms on a wide scale. Lamar fans used Google Maps to virtually vandalize Drake’s mansion, renaming it “Owned by Kendrick.” Streamers pulled long hours on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and Kick, waiting to see if they could be among the first to react to a newly dropped song.

Anthony Fantano, a popular music YouTuber, published no less than six different live reaction videos responding to Drake’s and Lamar’s songs dropped over the last two weeks. These kinds of reaction videos became so popular that creators are saying that Lamar (or his team) removed copyright restrictions from these songs, meaning they can profit from their videos. This move alone could give more meaning to the role of hip-hop reaction pundit.

AI has entered the chat

The Kendrick-Drake feud is also the first mainstream rap battle to use AI.

Artists across genres are reckoning with the coexisting threat and potential of this technology. Some have embraced AI as an opportunity: The art pop duo Yacht trained an AI on 14 years of their music to create the record “Chain Tripping” in 2019; Holly Herndon and Grimes have both developed tools for other artists to generate AI deepfakes using their voices. Other artists like Billie Eilish, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry have protested against the use of AI to undermine human creativity.

Consent is a primary concern in artists’ debates about AI-generated music. Artists care so much about what their peers are doing because the use of AI implicates them all — unbeknown to them, their music might be used to train an AI model that another artist is using to supplement their music.

While Herndon is at the forefront of musical experimentation with AI, she also advocates for artists to retain control over their work. She uses AI in her art, but she is also a founder of Spawning, a startup that creates tools for artists that help them remove their work from popular AI training datasets. Meanwhile, chillwave musician Washed Out just released a controversial music video made entirely using Open AI’s Sora, a text-to-video model that has not yet been released to the public.

Tupac’s estate would argue that Drake crossed a line because he didn’t have consent to emulate the late rapper. But Rich Fortune, the co-founder of AI-powered social planning app Hangtight, said it was it creative that Drake was one of the first artists to use AI in a song, especially on a diss track. Fortune says, “There aren’t any rules in a battle.”

“If there were any time to see what the reaction would be, it would be now because punches aren’t pulled when at war,” he continued. He thinks that more artists will now seek to use AI vocals since Drake, one of the biggest artists in the world, effectively sanctioned its use.

In fact, one diss track against Drake in this feud used AI-generated work, and has since turned into a meme against him. Producer Metro Boomin took an AI song called “BBL Drizzy” and sampled it onto a track that has become one of the rallying cries against the rapper.

Meanwhile, artists as big as Beyoncé have taken a stance against the increasing presence of AI. In one of the few public comments she’s made about her genre-bending album “Cowboy Carter,” Beyoncé said: “The more I see the world evolving, the more I felt a deeper connection to purity. With artificial intelligence and digital filters and programming, I wanted to go back to real instruments.”

Fortune said the biggest hurdle now for artists who want to use AI is just getting permission. Living artists might not be so keen to be AI replicated, but the estates of late musicians might be. The problem there is that many old-school artists who have died, like Tupac, can’t consent to being mimicked because AI-generated music was not a technology conceived before their deaths.

“I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, but it’s the direction we’re headed,” Fortune said about using the work of late musicians. At the very least, he said, it opens up a new revenue source for the estates of the artists who don’t mind them being artificially reincarnated.

The Kendrick-Drake feud also unveiled another point about AI: Its potential ability to emulate artists with a less unique style. Luke Bailey, the founder of the fintech Neon Money Club, said Drake’s more recent music lacks depth. That, paired with the allegations that Drake was so directly and deliberately drawing inspiration from what he saw on the internet, raises the concern that he is doing something that an AI bot could one day do.

“There are two types of musicians: One who can play what someone tells her or him to play and one who can create something original from scratch,” Bailey said. “AI is the former at this stage in its development.”

Bailey is right. Large language models (LLMs), the type of artificial intelligence that powers most deepfake tools, are inherently uncreative. These models synthesize gigantic swaths of data and then respond to a user-generated prompt by predicting the most likely response.

But the most celebrated music often takes the opposite approach: Just look at Kendrick Lamar, a rapper whose bars are so complex that he remains the only non-classical and jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize. He’s often regarded as one of the foremost thinkers in music and is known for his commentary on race and politics. AI right now lacks the cultural nuance to form its own thoughts on society, not to mention something as nuanced as race.

“[AI] can’t copy Kendrick’s depth, only his voice,” Bailey said, adding that fans have heard pretty convincing AI-generated Drake songs in the past. “AI doesn’t have any potent bars yet.”

AI music generators could be a boon for artists — but also problematic
The Kendrick-Drake feud shows how technology is changing rap battles | TechCrunch (2024)

FAQs

How did Drake impact rap? ›

He helped expand the thematic vocabulary available to rappers by embracing lyrical themes of loneliness and vulnerability –a departure from the bravado and fearlessness that had in some ways come to characterized rap lyrics in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

How did Kendrick Lamar change the music industry? ›

Often regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, he is the only musician outside of the classical and jazz genres to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. His inclusion of social commentary and political criticism in his songwriting has influenced a rise in social conscience within his generation.

What inspired Kendrick Lamar to start rapping? ›

Lamar explained that Tupac's music was more than just words. “Tupac inspired me just the simple way of how he put his words together,” Lamar said.

Why is Kendrick called KDot? ›

The "K" in Kdot represents his birth name, Kendrick, while the "dot" signifies his desire to make a mark in the music industry.

Is Drake the most successful rapper? ›

Drake. As well as shipping millions of physical copies of his albums, Drake is also the most successful artist in music history in terms of digital sales. To date, he's sold an incredible 188 million singles.

Who is Drake's Favourite rapper? ›

Under Hush's post, which displayed old mixtapes the rapper was featured on, Drake left a comment revealing his coveted five. “My top 5 is Biggie, Hov, Wayne, Young Tony, and 3000 since nobody asked,” he wrote. Young Tony earned his stripes as a thriving MC for the Canadian rap group Deep Pockets in the 2000s.

Who inspired Kendrick Lamar? ›

The city of Compton runs strong through K. Dot—it even forms the backdrop to his 2012 breakthrough album—and the vintage gangsta rap sounds of Snoop, Dr. Dre, and DJ Quik are present and correct in his music.

What did Kendrick Lamar do to change the world? ›

On To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick rapped about the oppression and exploitation of Black people and culture by the hands of the United States. He brought cinematic visuals to main stages around the world, documenting the ongoing struggles of Black Americans.

Why is Kendrick Lamar a genius? ›

Lamar is a prodigiously gifted lyricist and performer who consistently makes bold aesthetic choices. He deploys lacerating wordplay, nearly frantic in its motion yet piercing in its lucidity.

How old was Kendrick when he blew up? ›

dude was 25 when he blew up, that's actually pretty old in the rap game, how long had he been at it before he actually blew up like he did?

What type of rap is Kendrick Lamar? ›

Kendrick Lamar
Musical career
GenresHip hop West Coast hip hop progressive rap jazz rap
InstrumentsVocals
LabelsPGLang Top Dawg Aftermath Interscope
15 more rows

What rappers did Kendrick influence? ›

I'm starting to branch out to a lot more artists and I've noticed that there are a lot of rappers who take much influence from Kendrick including Saba, Logic, Smino, Isaiah Rashad, Mick Jenkins, JID, Boogie, Reason, and I'm sure there are a lot more.

Who is the big 3 in rap? ›

The big 3. Within the rap genre, people have argued to the death to decide who the top contenders are of this generation. The consensus is that Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole are the top 3 rappers to be considered for this title, and I broke down the argument that could be made for each.

Why does Kendrick wear a crown of thorns? ›

“Imperfection is beautiful,” he said, adding that he wears his crown of thorns as a reminder: “They judge you, they judge Christ.” Kendrick made those words a repeated refrain in the song, which ended with a statement of support for women shellshocked by the rollback of abortion rights in the US just days earlier.

Why is Drake important to hip hop? ›

Aubrey Drake Graham (born October 24, 1986), known mononymously as Drake, is a Canadian rapper, singer and actor. An influential figure in contemporary popular music, he has been credited with popularizing R&B sensibilities in hip hop artists.

What was the influence of Drake? ›

Drake's entry into the music world was significantly molded by hip-hop legends like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne. Each artist, with their unique style, left an indelible mark on Drake's approach to music.

What did Drake do that is important? ›

A prominent figure in popular music, Drake is credited for popularizing the Toronto sound.

How did the music of Drake change the world? ›

Through his innovative sound, Drake has brought an exciting dimension to hip-hop that combines softer melodic sounds with more aggressive production elements. This distinctive sound has influenced many other artists who strive to recreate what he accomplished making him a true pioneer in rap music.

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