Home News The Drake-Kendrick Lamar Rap Beef Is Burning Out

The Drake-Kendrick Lamar Rap Beef Is Burning Out


When USC professor and hip-hop scholar Todd Boyd remembers hearing Tupac Shakur’s scathing diss track “Hit ‘Em Up,” he knew one thing: “This is not going to end well.”

The West Coast anthem was released in June 1996 and Shakur viciously took aim at his East Coast rivals, including the Notorious B.I.G. with claims — through strikingly chosen words — that he slept with Biggie’s wife, R&B singer Faith Evans.

The rap war escalated to new heights, and three months later Shakur was shot to death in Las Vegas, with some wondering (though apparently incorrectly) whether the beef had anything to with it. And a few months after that, Biggie was shot dead in Los Angeles though his killer never apprehended.

Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s current rap beef has Boyd reflecting on the past. 

“This can’t end well. It can’t. The possibility of it going wrong is very high,” the author of Rapper’s Deluxe: How Hip Hop Made the World tells The Hollywood Reporter. “To accuse someone of being guilty of domestic violence [or] accuse someone of being a pedophile — the culture we live in now, this is not a good look. If you’re just saying it for a rhyme? That’s reckless. You can easily get off track in the interest of trying to spit a cool bar.”

“At a certain point, somebody’s going to say something and it’s not going to be treated as a line of battle rap — it’s going to be taken personally,” Boyd continues. “We’ve already seen it: Even though we don’t know what the circumstances were, [there’s] Drake’s security guard being shot at Drake’s house. It’s hard not to think that this doesn’t have something to do with it.”

Rap beefs are an essential part of hip-hop culture, friendly competition if you will. But the recent battle between two of the genre’s top performers has turned dark and ugly, and Boyd wonders: “How far are we willing to go to win a rap battle?”

It all began in 2013 when Lamar — who formerly collaborated with Drake and opened for him on tour — sent shots to 11 of his contemporaries through his guest verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” He called himself “the king of New York” and “the king of the coast,” and his targets included Drake, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Pusha T and others.

The feud resurfaced this March when Lamar targeted Drake and J. Cole on “Like That,” a response to Cole after he said on last October’s “First Person Shooter” that the rappers were the “big three” in hip-hop. Cole replied but later deleted his diss track and issued a public apology to Lamar. But Drake didn’t hold back, releasing “Push Ups” — where he mentioned Lamar’s longtime partner and fiancée Whitney Alford — as well as “Taylor Made Freestyle” in April. Lamar quickly replied with “Euphoria” on and “6:16 in LA.” 

But Drake rebutted with “Family Matters” and made things extremely personal. He accused Lamar of abusing Alford and claimed the father of one of their children was in fact Dave Free, Lamar’s close friend and creative partner. Less than an hour later, Lamar hit back with “Meet the Grahams” and accused Drake of being a sexual predator, sex trafficking and fathering a secret child. Lamar didn’t end there: the next day he dropped “Not Like Us” and called Drake a pedophile and accused him of appropriating Black culture. The upbeat DJ Mustard-produced track set streaming records and spectators crowned Lamar the winner of the battle as a result.

“I definitely get that ‘I want to be the best’ [attitude] because hip-hop’s been that from day one. But I don’t know if this particular battle is really proving who’s the best versus who can throw the most allegations and try to inflict the most personal or mental health harm to the other person,” says Big Tigger, veteran hip-hop personality and Audacy V-103 radio host.  

“It’s like watching a train wreck,” Tigger continues. “The evolution of this is more akin to reality TV. Everyone lives to bring up the receipts. They want to expose someone. That’s exactly what this is all about.” Questlove shared Tigger’s sentiment in an Instagram post: “Nobody won the war. This wasn’t about skill. This was a wrestling match level mudslinging and takedown by any means necessary — women & children (& actual facts) be damned. Same audience wanting blood will soon put up ‘rip’ posts like they weren’t part of the problem. Hip Hop Is Truly Dead.” 

Joycelyn Wilson, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech who teaches a course on Lamar’s music, explained that the beef “went too far because Drake took it too far. He brought up the mother of [Kendrick’s] children and then questioned whether or not those were his children — from a person who keeps his children and the mothers of them in the dark.”

The hurled accusations have split fans and the accusations are heavy. But Aaron Smith, an assistant professor of Africology and African American studies at Temple University, notes that Lamar got ahead of his own story, unlike Drake.

“[Kendrick] said [Whitney] left him. He said it was because of abuse and trauma. The irony is the person who said Whitney’s gone first, the person who alluded to different types of abuse based on different levels of trauma was Kendrick Lamar on Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. So the most information we’ve had was because Kendrick did one of the most vulnerable albums,” he says. “Talking about LGBTQIA identity, talking about child molestation and trauma, talking about his mother’s trauma, being abused — there’s no album like this. So you can’t out Kendrick when Kendrick just won Grammys telling you all his family business.”

Smith adds: “The only person accusing Kendrick Lamar is Drake. The whole world’s been accusing Drake for years.”

Despite being one of the top-charting artists since releasing mixtapes in the late 2010s, Drake’s behavior with young women has been questioned over the years, and Lamar’s lyrical assessment has brought more attention to the Canadian performer’s conduct. 

In 2010, a 23-year-old Drake danced and kissed the neck of a female fan onstage. After he asks her age — she reveals she’s 17 — he says, “I can’t go to jail yet, man. Seventeen, why do you look like that? You thick. Look at this.” The rapper’s friendships with Billie Eilish and Millie Bobby Brown, before they were both 18, have also been scrutinized. And Drake, who is biracial, has been called out as a performer who wears his Blackness as a costume and steals styles and sounds from his peers. As Wilson puts in: “Drake gave Kendrick Lamar the hammer to hit him over the head with and Kendrick clobbered him with it.”

“We don’t really know who Drake is, besides the son of a Jewish mother and an African-American father that lives in Memphis. We don’t know much about how he came up. We don’t know what traumas he’s experienced, and not at the level that Kendrick does. We don’t know how authentic his stories are because of how he’s always critiqued for having ghostwriters,” she says.

Wilson calls it the “Vanilla Ice-ing of Drake along cultural politics.”

“Where Kendrick was masterful was he exploited the cultural authenticity that’s there. It’s like, ‘We don’t mind that you are Jewish and Black. Anybody can participate in this culture, but the thing that you have to do is be authentic to yourself. And what Kendrick has brought to the forefront is questions around [Drake’s] authenticity. That was the nail in the coffin — drawing a distinction between the colleague collaborator and the colonizing cultural appropriator. “

Rap beefs have ended on good terms in the past: just look at Nas and Jay-Z. But when those titans traded words through song form, social media didn’t exist. Jay-Z released “Takeover” in Sept. 2001 and Nas responded three months later with “Ether,” one of the most regarded diss tracks of all-time.

That couldn’t happen today, and social media has severely influenced this current hip-hop war. 

“We live in an era of viral moments. I think with this situation, the quality of some of the music being dropped probably wasn’t as thorough as it could have been had more time been taken. I don’t know that having to come out so quickly is good,” Boyd says. When he thinks of past tracks like “Ether,” he explains: “In some ways they’re great because you had to wait and take your time and compose it in such a way it wasn’t immediate.”

It’s why Boyd says “when I talk about the great rap battles of the past, I don’t include ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ in that, and the reason is the way that ended.”

“I can’t look at that as just a song. I can’t look at that song as just a cool song because it had real life implications,” he says. “There are rules to the game. Talking shit, that’s part of the culture. By no means am I dismissing that. It doesn’t have to be something that ends in violence, but it can.”

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