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Breaking down the beef between Drake and Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar performs onstage. (Ollie Millington/Redferns)
Kendrick Lamar performs onstage. (Ollie Millington/Redferns)

Two of rap’s biggest stars are feuding.

Drake and Kendrick Lamar have been lobbing diss tracks back and forth for weeks.

What does this say about modern hip-hop culture?

Today, On Point: Breaking down the beef between Drake and Kendrick Lamar.

Guests

Alphonse Pierre, senior writer at Pitchfork.

Jacques Morel, freelance content creator and producer. Former senior correspondent at Genius.

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Two of Rap’s biggest stars have beef.

KENDRICK LAMAR: (MUSIC) They not like us. They not like us. They not like us. They not like us. They not like us. They not like us. 

CHAKRABARTI: This is the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 right now. It’s Kendrick Lamar’s latest diss track called “Not Like Us,” and it’s a takedown of another giant in hip hop, Drake.

For the past couple of months, Drake and Kendrick have been firing songs back and forth, and it’s been a wild ride. There have been AI generated voices of Tupac and Snoop Dogg, accusations of plastic surgery, debates over Blackness, and allegations of domestic violence. And the world captivated.

(MONTAGE FROM SOCIAL MEDIA)

SPEAKER 1: Are we witnessing the greatest rap beef in real time? Yeah, nothing like this, right?

SPEAKER 2: I mean, this is nothing like for the sport of hip hop, but this is like the greatest battle ever.

SPEAKER 3: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna be breaking this down today. Drake just responded to everybody.

SPEAKER 4: When Drake dropped, I thought Kendrick was in for a long weekend. I had just ironed some clothes. I’m going outside.

SPEAKER 5: Kendrick is going verse for verse, bar for bar.

SPEAKER 6: Hoo hoo, boy!

SPEAKER 7: He dropped what, three songs? He dropped four songs, I think, yeah. Okay, I only heard like, I think maybe two or three of them, but that was like pretty like — he called out Adonis.

SPEAKER 8: Has Drake had a nose job?

SPEAKER 9: Rick Ross going at Drake saying that Drake had a nose job and saying Drake had an ab surgery, right? BBL or something. Yeah, he was like, but so he said that Drake got sculpted to have the six pack.

SPEAKER 9: Everyone’s on Kendrick’s side right now. Even Rick Ross, bro. Who diss Rick Ross? Nah, for real.

SPEAKER 10: I’m just a diehard Drake fan. I’m not gonna lie.

SPEAKER 11: Your first number one, I had to put it in your hand. Ahhh!

SPEAKER 12: Kendrick said that Drake has a secret daughter.

SPEAKER 13: There is something so sinister about that man’s nature.

SPEAKER 14: Drake literally got caught hiding a child in a previous battle that already happened once.

SPEAKER 15: The last line of Euphoria. “If you take it there, I’m taking it further. And that’s something you don’t want to do.” I mean, whether it’s true or not, it’s a good lie.

SPEAKER 16: It’s a great lie.

SPEAKER 17: They looking at you. Mhm.

CHAKRABARTI: It appears the beef, at least the public firing songs back and forth part, has cooled for now. But their feud is an entree to better understanding the cultural and commercial complexities of America’s most influential modern music genre.

And that’s what we’re going to do today, starting with Alphonse Pierre. He’s a staff writer at Pitchfork. Alphonse, welcome to On Point.

ALPHONSE PIERRE: Thank you for having me. Excited to talk about the biggest, darkest, most uncomfortable rap beef in a long time.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh yeah. I gotta get something out of my system, before we really dive in here. For On Point listeners who think we don’t look at all our social media, we do.

And for that small portion of public radio listeners who are like, why are you talking about this? The rest of the world is burning. Who cares about hip hop? I’m just going to say we cannot call ourselves public radio if we don’t serve all of the public. So haters gonna hate, but we’re going to talk about Kendrick and Drake today.

So Alphonse, first of all, let’s go through a timeline of some of these diss tracks in this public feud. But for those people who say, why are we doing this? Let’s educate them a little bit about who Kendrick Lamar and Drake are. Let’s start with Kendrick, the Pulitzer Prize winning hip hop God, practically.

PIERRE: Yeah, they’re both two of the biggest rappers of the 21st century, you could argue probably ever. Kendrick is on one side known as like a rapper’s rapper, very album oriented, has a lot of accomplishments under his belt, from Grammys to the Pulitzer, and he’s this respected figure in rap.

While when you talk about Drake, he is the popular hit maker, the one that is every summer, there’s a Drake song that soundtracks the season. If I went to my grandmother and asked her, name a rapper, if she said Drake, I wouldn’t be surprised. And so they’ve always been pitted against each other in that way.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so we’ve got like the commercial side of hip hop and rap, and the cultural side. That’s one of the things that actually makes this so fascinating to me.

So let’s get to the music here and we’re gonna start with a clip from the song “First Person shooter.” This is by Drake and J. Cole. It was released in October of 2023. And then we’re gonna hear “Like That” by Kendrick Lamar, Metro Boomin, and Future, which came out in March of this year.

(MUSIC)

J. COLE: (Rapping) Love when they argue the hardest MC. Is it K. Dot? Is it Aubrey or me? We the big three like we started a league. But right now I feel like Muhammad Ali.

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) Lost too many soldiers not to play it safe. If he walk around with that stick, it ain’t Andre 3K. Think I won’t drop the location? I still got PTSD. (BLEEP) the big three, (BLEEP) it’s just big me. (BLEEP) Bum!

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So Alphonse, tell us what’s going on there, and I think specifically the phrase the big three that Kendrick Lamar had in his track.

What’s the significance of these two songs?

PIERRE: Yes. “First Person Shooter” is a song from Drake’s album last year, from the album “For All the Dogs.” And it’s a song with Drake and J. Cole, and on that song, J. Cole compliments Kendrick by saying that him, Drake, and Kendrick are the big three of hip hop. And then on that, which was on an album by Future and Metro Boomin, a big rapper producer duo from March, Kendrick responds to that line in a negative way saying that, “There is no big three, it is just me alone at the top.”

And everything started from there.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so tell me a little bit more, why would Kendrick Lamar respond to that way to being lumped in with the other two?

PIERRE: Yeah, that is the funny part about it. Is that when most people first heard it, it was confusing, because what J. Cole was saying was complimentary, but it ends up going back almost a decade. Before we were talking about how Drake and Kendrick Lamar have always been pitted against each other, always in some sort of like Cold War competition with each other. And this seems like it all has escalated and built to this moment.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So then a month, actually less than a month after Kendrick’s verse on “Like That,” Drake responds, right? With not one, but two songs. One’s called “Push Ups” and the other, “Taylor Made Freestyle.” And we’ve got clips from both of those.

(MUSIC)

DRAKE: (RAPPING) Maroon 5 need a verse you better make it witty. Then we need a verse for the Swifties. Top say drop, you’d better drop and give him 50.

DRAKE: (Rapping) Dot, I know you in that NY apartment strugglin’ right now, I know it. In the notepad doing lyrical gymnastics, my boy, you better have a (BLEEP) quintuple entendre on that (BLEEP). (BLEEP) I don’t even understand, like.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, Alphonse, it’s getting heavy when the Swifties get dragged in here. So what’s going on?

PIERRE: They’re somewhat silly, these songs. One of Drake’s main points on “Push Ups” is that Kendrick is short. And also, “Taylor Made Freestyle” has this weird use of artificial intelligence. By recreating Tupac’s voice and also Snoop Dogg, who is very much alive, and using them as a way to get at Kendrick Lamar.

And so they’re both, like, light troll jobs by Drake, almost him laughing at Kendrick and saying to him that I do not take this as seriously as you do.

CHAKRABARTI: Huh. Okay, but we’re going to get to in a little bit why you say this is one of the darkest feuds and beefs in a while. But here’s how Kendrick fires back with two tracks of his own, one called “Euphoria” and the other “6:16 in L.A.” And here’s a couple of moments from each of those.

(MUSIC)

KENDRICK LAMAR: (RAPPING) This ain’t been about critics, not about gimmicks, not about who the greatest. It’s always been about love and hate. Now, let me say I’m the biggest hater. I hate the way that you walk, the way that you talk. I hate the way that you dress. I hate the way that you sneak diss. If I catch flight, it’s gon’ be direct.

KENDRICK LAMAR: (RAPPING) Have you ever thought that OVO is working for me? Fake bully, I hate bullies. You must be a terrible person. Everyone inside your team is whispering that you deserve it. Can’t Toosie slide up outta this one, it’s just gon’ resurface. Every dog gotta have his day, now live in your purpose.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, Alphonse, so this seems to be taking it up a notch, because first of all, OVO that we just heard, Kendrick Lamar referencing, that’s Drake’s company, right?

PIERRE: It is. That’s his company, label, clothing brand, the umbrella of which all Drake music exists.

CHAKRABARTI: And Kendrick Lamar is saying there, have you ever thought, OVO is working for me.

PIERRE: Yes, and this is where the beef shifts and takes on this psychological theatrical bent. Because throughout “Euphoria,” and “6:16 in L.A.,” Kendrick starts to poke at Drake and starts to get at his authenticity, which is One of the things that, in rap, one of the things that means most to you as a rapper are your words and how you present yourself.

People want to believe the character that you are. And one of the opening lines on Euphoria is where Kendrick is talking about you’re not a rap artist, you’re a scam artist with the hopes of being accepted. Tommy Hilfiger stood out, but FUBU had never been your collection. And FUBU was one of those clothing brands in the early 2000s that if you’re of a certain age and a Black kid, you probably owned.

It was called “For Us, By Us.” And just that line alone is Kendrick saying that you are not one of us. You are not like us. And that is getting at this insecurity that Drake has always had as a biracial man from Canada coming to rap, very American rap music.

CHAKRABARTI: Uh-huh. Okay. That is such an important point.

And so we’re gonna hold that thought. Because I wanna come back to it. But let’s get through some of the tracks here, as the back and forth keeps going. Drake hits back with “Family Matters” and the allegations get even darker.

DRAKE: K-Dot (BLEEP) is only hittin’ hard when Baby Keem put his pen to it Ross callin’ me the white boy and the (BLEEP) kind of got a ring to it ‘Cause all these rappers wavin’ white flags while the whole (BLEEP) club sing to it. (FADE OUT)

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so Drake lists, he hears the racial reference in Kendrick’s tracks and responds.

PIERRE: Yeah, and this is where it escalates even more, and while Kendrick was trying to tell us that Drake is an actor, Drake is telling us that Kendrick is not who you think he is either. And so there’s this line where he’s talking about, you just act like an activist but it’s make-believe. Attacking this sort of projection that Kendrick is like this very socially aware, socially conscious rapper, and that it’s a facade.

And then at the end, there’s this sort of bombshell that Drake uses against Kendrick of where he says that you have been physically violent toward your wife. And this is when the beef really starts to take a turn, as it starts to become more about them trying to get ‘Oh my god’ moments based on who is hurting women.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Alphonse, I’m so grateful that you’ve been taking us through song by song in terms of how this beef has been playing out. There’s one more that I want to play. Because it comes right after, I think just the following day after Drake’s release, Kendrick releases “Meet the Grahams” and “Not Like Us.”

Dear Adonis, I’m sorry that that man is your father. Let me be honest, it takes a man to be a man, your dad is not responsive. // Certified Lover Boy? Certified pedophiles. Wop, wop, wop, wop, wop! Dot, (BLEEP) ’em up.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, Alphonse, this is in definitely dark territory now.

PIERRE: It definitely is. Just listen to those ominous brooding piano keys on “Meet the Grahams.”

Kendrick sounds like Hannibal Lecter or something like that. And that song takes an even darker turn because it is Kendrick speaking to, figuratively speaking to Drake’s child, Drake’s mom and dad, and Drake’s maybe imaginary daughter, we don’t know or not, and telling them that their father, their son is a fraud and not just a fraud, but a predator, a sexual predator and a lurker.

Like he has this one line where it says him and Weinstein should get [expletive] up in the cell for the rest of their life. And then on “Not Like Us,” which sounds like the complete opposite of “Meet the Grahams.” Because it’s this really bright LA party song, but on that song, he straight up says, “Certified lover boy, certified pedophile,” a spin on Drake’s album from a couple years ago called “Certified Lover Boy.”

And then there’s this line on that song where he says, “Trying to strike a chord, and it’s probably a minor,” some wordplay to talk about Drake, building up a rumor that Drake prefers young girls.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay this is, have any of those rumors been substantiated, or is it still just allegations about Drake?

PIERRE: None of them have been substantiated, they’re all allegations based on years of internet clips that have been floating around, but none of them have been substantiated.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, good. Because this is actually something, as you heard in the TikTok clips that we played earlier, and actually even some listeners who gave us feedback yesterday, a lot of people just take it as given.

So I just wanted to be sure that at this point in time there’s no sort of legal substantiation of that. Okay, Alphonse right now we’re having this conversation when it seems as if the heat’s cooled off on this? How did that happen?

PIERRE: After “Not Like Us,” Drake releases this song pretty soon after called “The Heart Part 6,” and it’s this really beaten down Drake, of where it’s basically six minutes of Drake saying that I am too rich to be a pedophile, which is a weird angle to take. And he mentions Epstein and Millie Bobby Brown, who he had been caught like texting with, like odd texts years ago. And at that moment, Drake bows out of the battle, and it died down from there, even though it could always come back.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Tell me, what do you think is really going on here? Because a cynical look, I’m always offering the voice of cynicism in every On Point hour that we do, and so the cynical side of me here says, Okay, these are two hugely successful hip hop artists. But maybe, they’re also not in their twenties anymore.

And so is part of this just a way to be once again, extremely relevant, sell a bunch of records have the attention of the world of hip hop acutely focused on them, that it’s not actually about that authenticity battle that you were talking about.

PIERRE: Yeah, that’s definitely a thought I’ve had.

These are two rappers who have been on top for so long, in a genre where that usually doesn’t happen. And they are two rappers that have basically accomplished everything there is to in rap. So in some ways, it seems like this beef is them chasing some sort of thrill, chasing some sort of new life, even though they are both extremely still popular. But a couple years ago, Kendrick’s last album, “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is this really dark, complicated album that I feel was extremely polarizing, especially compared to his earlier albums.

And Drake, who is still a big hit maker, has noticeably, the quality of his music has decreased over the years. And when a new Drake album comes out, many rap fans still listen to it, but there is the feeling of, Oh, it’s just another Drake album. So this does feel like a way for them to get some newfound steam.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so that’s actually a point that several of our listeners made when they shared their thoughts with us. So I’m going to quickly give them their say. This is Taryn Gaines from Austin, Texas. And Taryn had a very clear idea of who she thinks the winner of the beef is.

TARYN GAINES: Drake has lost, Kendrick has won. Sure, for marketing’s sake, for media and a little bit of capitalism, there’s going to be a push to milk it, but the hip hop heads know that it’s over. What we are all collectively feeling is that Drake is, he’s inauthentic in a way in which is disappointing to us, because I grew up on Drake.

Like my undergrad career, that was the soundtrack to it. And then it got to be a point where it’s okay, but now who do you want to be? Do you want to be Jamaican? Are you this Jewish person? Are you Black? Are you white? Are you from Atlanta? Are you from Houston? Are you from Canada? What’s happening? What, who are you?

CHAKRABARTI: Taryn, we should have invited you to be a guest on today’s show. That was a good thought. Okay, here’s Adrian Brewer from the Virgin Islands. And Adrian says this beef is about more than just Drake versus Kendrick.

ADRIAN BREWER: I know this is a big rap battle, but I think this is the front lines of a culture war between real artists and the music industry.

On the real artist side, you have someone like Kendrick, and on the music industry side, you have their product, Drake.

CHAKRABARTI: Alright, so that was Adrian Brewer from the Virgin Islands. Alphonse, hang on here for just a second because I want to bring Jacques Morel into the conversation. He’s a freelance content creator and producer and former senior correspondent at Genius.

Jacques, welcome to the program.

JACQUES MOREL: Hey y’all, thanks for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So pick up where both Alphonse and our listeners left off. What do you think this feud, this beef is actually all about?

MOREL: Personally, I think this beef has just been something that has been brewing under the surface for about a decade now, and something that finally came to a head.

A more cynical read could be that Kendrick was a little out of the conversation over the last year, since he went on tour. He did the European leg of his “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” tour. And, but the two of them have been sending shots at each other for a long time.

I feel like folks are attaching this cultural significance of where Kendrick is coming at it from, is if he’s like carrying the banner of culture. But like when you look at the numbers, when you look at how big Drake’s tour was, Drake effectively was that culture in a way. And I just have a quick issue with the woman from Houston.

CHAKRABARTI: From Austin. Yeah, from Austin.

MOREL: From Austin. Yeah, apologies. The main thing is because a lot of people were like, There’s a big, there’s a big critique against Drake because he’s a Jamaican now. He’s British now, but I feel like a lot of those folks don’t understand Toronto. And while though I’m not from Toronto, I’ve spent a lot of time there.

I’ve [known] really a lot of good Toronto people, friends from Toronto and Toronto is just a very multicultural city where there are so many different, on the same block, you could have a Jamaican restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a British restaurant, like an Indian restaurant, the same block.

Drake, a lot of people from Toronto do dance in all these different cultures. So it isn’t too farfetched for Drake to be doing some UK drill. And then all of a sudden doing like a Jamaican song, I feel like American fans want people to be in like a particular box, but I feel like that criticism is more valid when it comes to Drake going to Atlanta, as compared to Drake kind of playing on the sounds of the diaspora, that Toronto is definitely fluent in.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, this is so interesting because, so this puts a different spin on, in 2024, what does authenticity actually mean in hip hop, right? Because hip hop is a very mature genre. It’s changed the world, essentially. But we’re talking about a half century since its founding as this cultural force.

So does authenticity today mean the same thing as it did in the early days of hip hop when it was coming from the true difficult experiences of Black Americans. And I want to hear both of you on that, but Alphonse, I’m going to turn to you first.

PIERRE: Yeah. It’s definitely something that has always been part of hip hop and it’s why both Kendrick and Drake are going so hard at this point.

But while I don’t think it has the same meaning as it once was, I do think it’s still important to the genre. And I do think it’s still something people think about and that’s why coming out of this beef I think both Drake and Kendrick will still be extremely popular. I think people will look at them differently.

CHAKRABARTI: Jacques. What do you think?

MOREL: Yeah, I agree with that. I think Kendrick has always had this like boogeyman ethos, like Kendrick has taken shots, metaphorically so, at a number of rappers going back to 2013’s “Control” where he sent shots at Drake. He sent shots at J. Cole, sent shots at Big Sean, and no one, Kendrick has was never really battle tested, and here was like the first time we were able to see Kendrick in a head to head. And he actually came out of it on top, but like something that Alphonse wrote in his piece, it’s like a Pyrrhic victory for Kendrick.

Because personally, as I’m looking at it, I feel like Kendrick had to really dive into some dark places in order to win this battle, in the same way that Drake had to, too. So I feel both of these artists will survive this, I think Drake will forever carry this scarlet letter around with him, and Kendrick will take it, will carry it as like someone that won, but I feel like really knowledgeable and in tune listeners will also look at Kendrick a little, Oh wow, you really went real dark there.

CHAKRABARTI: So this question of authenticity, let me turn it a little bit. Because Alphonse, as you mentioned earlier, when we were going through track by track, how the beef was evolving, Kendrick Lamar really takes a straight shot at Drake about being biracial, right? Drake is the son of a Black American father and a white Canadian mother.

Can you explain to me the significance of that? Because it really does sound like Kendrick is saying you’re just not Black enough to be the kind of, central force in hip hop that you are.

Is that really still that important of a designation?

PIERRE: It’s definitely something that people think about all the time because of how many artists in the past have come from outside of the culture and used hip hop as a steppingstone into something more. While Drake hasn’t done that, he’s been a rapper through and through, it’s definitely something that Drake has worked like tirelessly the last decade or so to build. He has built this sort of like personality, this character that has been all about how authentic that he is.

And so for Kendrick to poke at that, is just like shattering everything Drake has been building.

CHAKRABARTI: And Jacques, what do you think?

MOREL: Yeah. It’s a perfect angle, if we could look at this in boxing terms and the person you’re boxing at, is that it doesn’t take shots of the body. You’re going to keep sending shots of the body. I personally believe that Drake having an African American father, that means he’s Black. And I want to almost put on my social justice has here and be like, Hey, we can’t discount someone’s Blackness based on their cultural upbringings, because then that would mean so many different things.

And it also plays into the idea that certain quote-unquote, stereotypical, I think, Black things only make you Black. So I took issue with that, but in terms of a jousting sense, as these two artists are going at each other, that is 100% something that, you know, Drake has left open and that Kendrick Lamar pokes and Rick Ross poked before him.

And now other people have been poking, too. You know, you could really look at Drake’s career. You could really look at, if you do the research on him, you can see the way he was doing interviews when he was 15, 16. His father leaving his life around five or six years old, but he spent summers in Memphis. So it’s like for people to say that he is not African American culturally.

If he spent, he has an African American father who he spent as much time as he possibly could with, how does that discount his upbringing? And I also feel like it’s very much … like I said, I come from a place where I’ve spent time in Toronto.

I have a lot of friends in Toronto, I just know that like, they, if you’re from Canada, you have a very good view of American culture, so for people to act like you can’t also take it on when you are also African American, one part of it is like I think people are just like excited to dance around it, Drake’s metaphorical graveyard, but yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. The other thing I’m thinking about is Kendrick Lamar is from Compton and racial activism has been a major part of not just his career, but his life. An easy example is that his song is one of the anthems of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And in fact, it was for his truly lyrical descriptions and the way he captures the life he lived growing up in Compton is one of the things that the Pulitzer Committee pointed to specifically, to say, this is why he’s reached the heights of particular form of American artistry.

And I wonder how much that is actually playing into this. Because Kendrick grew up in a place which is one of the cradles of great West Coast rap. And perhaps he feels like a even stronger sense of ownership over what hip hop is, because of that.

PIERRE: He definitely does. One of the points he makes to Drake is that I am the culture.

The culture is on my side. They are not on your side. And even though the sort of more political and social aspects of the pedestal Kendrick has been put on over the years is something that he’s been pushing back against. Like on his album, “Damn,” from several years ago. There is this song called “XXX” where he basically admits to being a hypocrite and on “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” is an album that definitely seeks out controversy in the way that he wants to point out, that I am more complicated and more human than you project on me. Then you think of me. And so yeah that has definitely been a thing that Kendrick has wrestled with and also used as a defense in this beef.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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