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The Kendrick Lamar/Drake Beef, Explained

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Update 4/13: Three weeks later, we finally have a Drake response. Early this morning a song leaked to the internet through means that are still unclear, but after initial debate about whether it was real or an A.I.-constructed Drake facsimile, consensus on the internet landed on it being legit, before Drake sent the final version (with a much better beat) to DJ Akademiks to premiere on his livestream.

For about four minutes, over a dark and brooding beat that apparently originally sampled Junior Mafia's “Get Money," Drake fires off shots, disses and rebuttals to all the artists who have been coming at him since “Like That” dropped: “What the hell is this, a 20 v 1, n-gga?”

Drake, blessedly, doesn't resort to any sneak disses that rely on fans to connect the dots; names are named. He chides Rick Ross for jumping in when “every song that made it on the chart he got from Drizzy,” alleges The Weeknd's right-hand-man Cash is “spending all his bread out here trickin” and he tells Metro to “shut your bitch ass up and make some drums.” He even appears to send a stray at Ja Morant for weighing in, rapping “Shout out to the hooper that be busting out the griddy/I know why you mad, I ain't even tripping.” Curiously, Future does not get called out by name but Drake does respond directly to a bar on the “We Don't Trust You” title track, saying “I can never be another n-gga No. 1 fan/Your first No. 1 I had to put it in your hands.” (There's also a line referencing the Rolling Loud stage where Metro and Future first teased “Like That,” where Drake says shit might change “if your BM kiss and tell.” He doesn't go further but do remember the other person on that stage with them for that moment was none other than Travis Scott, who has two kids with Kylie Jenner…)

But the majority of the track's ire is reserved for Kendrick Lamar. Drake has several sophomoric bars attacking his smaller stature, calling him a “pipsqueak” that he had to “hike down to” to for this reply, and a so-called big stepper that “wears size 7 mens.” The main angle Drake takes though is on Kendrick's business relationship with his former label TDE and its founder Top Dawg, alleging that Top took a lion's share of Kendrick's profits and made him do lame pop collabs for money: “Maroon 5 need a verse you better make it witty/Then we need a verse for the Swifties/Top say ‘drop,’ you better drop and give him 50.” (The push-up theme plays off the jokes fans have been making about Kendrick being war ready because he posts workouts on Instagram.)

Drake goes on to declare a more accurate “Big Three” would place 21 Savage, Travis Scott or even SZA ahead of Kendrick before resolving later that the Big Three is just him twice and, presumably, J. Cole. Cole gets a stray reference here too, with Drake dismissing the adulation Cole gave toward Kendrick and the “Like That” verse at his Dreamville Festival last weekend: “I don't care what Cole think, that Dot shit was weak as fuck.”

Drake ends the song daring Kendrick to drop the nuclear diss he's reportedly sitting on or “shut your mouth,” alleging that Kendrick has had one for “four years” and still hasn't pushed the button. As direct as this Drake song is, the last few bars imply it's just a move to get Kendrick to reply, at which point Drake has more information ready to weaponize.

But the blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Kendrick's partner Whitney ("I'll be with some bodyguards like Whitney") suggests Drake may not be considering the way his last high profile beef turned out. In 2018 when he rapped to Pusha T that his crew would “let it ring on him like Virginia Williams,” Pusha took the name-drop of his then fiancé as an excuse to take the gloves off and reveal intimate details about Drake's own family. Is Drake intentionally baiting Kendrick to take it to a similar level so he can hit back even harder, or is he once again underestimating his opponent? Either way, it's only going to get more interesting from here.

Original story appears below.

It’s been a minute since we've had a good ol’ fashioned rap beef, but Kendrick Lamar just firmly and decidedly thawed his Cold War with Drake all the way out—not with a spicy Instagram Live or tweets, but with straight bars. To quote prime Jigga-era Jay-Z, “the summer’s bout to get hot.”

Future and Metro Boomin’s decade-in-the-making new album We Don’t Trust You was already one of the most feverishly anticipated rap releases in some time, and on the song “Like That,” Kendrick delivers on that Christmas Eve energy with a guest verse that may as well be a “Control” sequel. But whereas that name-naming 2013 landmark was ultimately rooted in the spirit of competition, this time the gloves are off and the love is done.

Kendrick sets the tone early, declaring that he’s “choosing violence” and it’s time for an opponent to “prove that he’s a problem.” And though no names are officially named, a reference to Drake’s song “First Person Shooter” and the album it lives on, For All the Dogs, means we have to consider this something more than a subliminal. On “FPS” Drake brags about taking Michael Jackson’s mantle for having the most Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 songs, going as far as to hit the “Beat It” steps with a sequined glove in the video. Here, Kendrick finally, formally casts himself as direct opposition, ending his verse with a haymaker referencing MJ’s own longtime Cold War enemy: “Prince outlived Mike Jack.” Sheesh.

Kendrick and Drake have a complicated history, with over 10 years' worth of static. As fanfare around Kendrick Lamar grew, Drake was quick to embrace him, giving Kendrick his own interlude on his 2011 album Take Care and bringing him along for the subsequent Club Paradise tour (which also included J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Waka Flocka Flame, and others.) But even on that song, “Buried Alive,” tension was in the air, with Kendrick recounting his thoughts while receiving game during a meeting with Drake—then the more established in the industry at that point—and admitting to being irritated by Drake's success.

Nevertheless they linked up for the excellent “Poetic Justice” on Kendrick’s seminal good kid, M.a.a.d. City album—but the collaborative vibes stopped a year later, after Drake was one of the many peers Kendrick named in his timeline-stopping, call-to-arms verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” A month or two after that moment, Drake dropped Nothing Was the Same, and in an interview with Elliott Wilson, slickly managed to give Kendrick his props while dismissing the verse at the same time. Fast forward a month, to a cypher at the 2013 BET Hip-Hop Awards where Kendrick Lamar rapped “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped ‘Control’/and tucked the sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.” Two months later: Drake hops on a remix to Future’s titanic “Sh!t” and ends his verse with “Fuckn-ggas, gon be fuckn-ggas/that’s why we never gave a fuck/when a fuckn-gga switched up.”

A little over 10 years later, a Future song sampling Three 6 Mafia (whose influence continues to have a stranglehold on the game) is once again the stage for a response. The decade in between has been rife with subliminals, references that could be reasonably taken as warning shots but easily disavowed as harmless if either artist was asked. A spicy allusion to rappers using ghostwriters just months before that whole scandal broke out here. A charged “I put him on MY tour” reminder there. “The Language,” “Element,” “Deep Water,” “100”—all reasonably diss canon but never made official. (To say nothing of Kendrick and his cousin Baby Keem’s “The Hillbillies” conspicuously aping Drake’s “Sticky” flow, or Drake saying he can't be like “one of those guys” who only drops albums every three to five years when announcing For All the Dogs.) NFL star Marcellus Wiley once claimed he bore witness to one of the rappers taking it there when asked about the situation during an ESPN SportsNation interview, but cooler heads prevailed, the rapper's team had the interview buried and to this day we don't know which of the two it was.

In the midst of playing United States vs. Soviet Union, though, both rappers maintained a close relationship with Germany, i.e. J. Cole. Kendrick and Cole have yet to make a rap forum dream a reality with their long-alluded-to collab album (we’ll always have this, though) but stayed in communication on wax in other ways, like Kendrick handling hook duty on Cole’s “Under the Sun” or that time they did a beat swap and freestyle over each other’s songs on Black Friday. Cole and Drake, meanwhile, have always been upfront about maintaining a real friendship outside of rap, but finally doubled down on that on wax with not one but two collaborations last year (their first songs together in 10 years) and Cole joining Drake’s nationwide tour for several dates.

In another interview with Wilson, this time alongside Brian “B.Dot” Miller at the tail end of the last decade, Drake mused that the next 10 years would be the time for him, Kendrick and Cole really show and prove who’s built to last. Cole made the subtext plain on a 2021 freestyle over Drake’s then-new song “Pipe Down,” rapping “Some people say that I'm running third, they threw the bronze at me/Behind Drake and Dot, yeah, them n-ggas is superstars to me.” He leans into it even harder in his verse on Drake’s “First Person Shooter” with “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.”

On “Like That,” Kendrick is feeling a lot less kumbaya, rapping “Motherfuck the Big Three, it’s just Big Me.” Between that and dismissively observing that “n-ggas cliquin up” earlier in the verse, some could argue that the song also functions as a J. Cole diss as well as Drake. But you could just as easily say the same about Cole’s recent statements that he’s out to prove he’s the best, as he preps his long-awaited album The Fall Off, a Black Album-esque manifesto he’s crafting to ostensibly end all debate. After all, that Big Three line on “First Person Shooter” does end with Cole declaring himself Muhammed Ali, a sentiment he's been doubling down on in one stellar verse after another for the last few years. He clarified in an interview with Lil Yachty that he never once awarded himself the bronze medal, just merely acknowledged that it was a rampant perception. So in theory, the new Kendrick lines could be received by Cole as the same spirit of competition that he’s been preaching.

But we’ve gone hundreds of words without returning to the duo who delivered this moment: Future, the fourth face on that 2010s Rap Mount Rushmore, and Metro Boomin, the superproducer he’s made some of his most potent music with. There’s a deeper layer to Kendrick choosing a Future and Metro album as the stage to finally go at Drake: Metro has seemingly had his own problems with the 6ix God. Late last year he posted and subsequently deleted a tweet about his acclaimed album Heroes and Villains continuing to lose awards to Drake (and frequent Metro collaborator 21 Savage’s) album Her Loss. During a livestream not long after, Drake hilariously referenced “the non-believers, the underachievers, the tweet-and-deleters,” adding “you guys make me sick to my stomach, fam.” Despite trading a few more subliminal potshots across Twitter and IG, Metro downplayed any beef, saying that the issue was “not deep at all.”

Still, when eagle-eyed fans took note of Metro unfollowing Drake on Instagram—the definitive 21st century signpost of an un-amicable split—ahead of the album’s release, it didn’t take a hip-hop scholar to assume that, as Kendrick would declare, “it’s up.” And for those wondering how a producer-rapper beef would even reasonably play out, Metro makes it clear by serving up a new creative peak on “Like That,” with an obscenely screwface-inducing beat sampling Three 6 Mafia’s “Who the Crunkest” (which itself sampled 80s rap duo Rodney O and Joe Cooley), alongside Eazy-E's classic “Eazy Duz It” as well as a splash of “Ridin Spinners.” In effect Kendrick and Metro are following playbooks beloved by the likes of Jay-Z before them, or even Drake with “Back to Back,” in dissing your opponent on a song that’s an undeniable banger whether people know the context or not.

But why would Future, who has approximately 30 (thirty) collaborations with Drake, including the 2015 collab album What a Time to Be Alive and two fairly recent tracks on Future’s last solo album, cede airtime on his new project to a noted Drake enemy? No one knows for sure at press time, but it’s possible they have issues of their own. Despite their prolific collaborations, their relationship has had its rough moments from day one. Recall 2011, when an ascendant Future got an assist from Drake remixing the former’s “Tony Montana,” only to publicly bemoan Drake refusing to do a video. And while they toured together in 2016, who can forget that time in 2013 when Future was briefly, allegedly booted off of Drake’s tour for less-than-flattering comments about his music in an interview.

Factor in the name of the album, and Future’s rap on the intro about someone who’s his number one fan despite sneak dissing him on the side, and you don’t need that big of a tinfoil hat to make the leap. Any opinions on the current status of Future and Drake’s relationship is all baseless conjecture for now, but what is irrefutable is that rap beef is geopolitics. One would imagine Drake, who on the chorus of a recent track cheekily wonders what Pluto (Future) would do in a certain romantic situation (answer: not safe for work), wouldn’t simply shrug at one of his most frequent collaborators releasing a project with space reserved for direct shots at him. (That would be like 21 Savage letting Pusha T hop on a track.)

It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds, but while it’s understandably taking up a lot of oxygen on the timeline right now, one thing we shouldn’t lose sight of is that We Don’t Trust You is, quite simply, incredible. Sure, beef is cool but so is Future reverting to some of his most historically depraved peaks earlier on the track—do not listen closely if you don’t want to hear specifics of the X-rated scenario that may absolve him of one of his 20 carat rings. He’s blacking out mostly everywhere else on the album even harder; 2022’s I Never Liked You is a great album, but We Don’t Trust You arrives immediately battling for an even higher spot in his storied discography. The same can be said for Metro’s beats; I yelled just as loudly as I did at Kendrick on “Like That” later on at the surprise Rick Ross verse as he glides on the soulful, escalating beat for “Everyday Hustle”... only for the beat to morph a third time as Future returns to take the reins.

Metro’s been talking this album up for the better part of a year, directly acknowledging the high standard set by his and Future’s past work as a unit. They’ve cleared that bar and then some, shaking the rap game up in the process, securing a top slot for a summer outside and any Best Of lists. Silencing all doubters with the music, casting oneself as a step ahead of the competition: it’s energy the late, great Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy would appreciate, which is perhaps why the album is peppered with gripping soundbites from some of his past interviews.

New beef and a handful of great mainstream rap records all before Easter? I thought it was a drought.

Originally Appeared on GQ