Why Drake Would Beat Kendrick In A Beef
In my (humble) opinion, Drake is the best artist/entertainer/human–meme in the game right now. (Notice I didn’t say best rapper. That distinct honor goes to the one and only Young Thug.) I can’t imagine him, at this point in his career, doing any wrong. He’s released 3 classics (again, humble opinion) and out-performs anyone he does a song with. In 2014, he didn’t even drop an album and he still controlled radio charts with just his loose songs. He’s galvanized the popularity of Kendrick Lamar, iLoveMakonnen, Future, Migos, and countless others (Ramriddlz up next, I hope). A cursory Instagram video from the self-proclaimed “6 God” can spark angry Earl Sweatshirt tweets, seemingly endless editorials, and a few thousand DatPiff downloads. Whether he’s an opportunist, shallow pop-star or a genius, revolutionary pop-star is in the eye of the beholder.
This summer, however, the seemingly sturdy foundations of Drake’s musical kingdom faced a minor earthquake. Once collaborator and friend Meek Mill started a mainly Twitter-based “beef” with Drake over ghostwriting allegations. The proof seemed pretty incriminating: Several reference tracks from unknown Atlanta rapper Quentin Miller featured some of the same melodies and lyrics as Drake’s biggest hits. At this point, everybody and their grandma knows the story, so I’ll just conclude by saying the leak of these tracks was worse for Miller, who could guarantee the end of his Drake collaborations, than Drake himself. We also got “Back to Back”, the best diss track since “Takeover” that featured Drake spewing rhymes that would be sharp for Jay-Z, but delivered with the casual coolness of someone who knew he won the battle before it started. “Back to Back” wasn’t interesting because it was the perfect response to Meek Mill’s claims (hitting him where it hurts, but mostly avoiding the issue that was at hand in the first place), but because, really, no one cared. Sure, they cared about the dope Drake track they got, but not really about Drake not writing his own lyrics. This observation is certainly not unique to me, so I won’t go on about the merits of collaborative writing and pop-stardom. Instead, I’d like to analyze how Drake, with one uber-successful beef under his belt and a stunning career run, would respond to a long-implied if never fully-realized beef with perhaps the most influential rapper of the 21st century: Kendrick Lamar.
In my (humble) opinion, Kendrick Lamar made possibly the two best hip-hop albums of the 2010s. good kid, m.A.A.d city, although boring at times, is definitely the most conceptually interesting album to ever be certified Platinum, and To Pimp A Butterfly is a masterpiece, placing Lamar on the same echelon as Gil Scott-Heron and Maya Angelou by itself. Kendrick Lamar has comfortably entered his own lane in hip-hop, able to sell hundreds of thousands of proudly-black, no-compromise records to a largely white audience, and casually dropping jazz-fusion, genre-defying (not to mention fantastic) songs on Late Night Shows without traditional promotion or official downloads. It’s acceptable, and in fact encouraged, to make fun of Drake, Kanye West, or Snoop Dogg — just don’t speak an unkind word about Lamar, who has received Internet immunity for his one-of-a-kind brand of “conscience” hip-hop, lauded by radio, critics, and the President alike. (President Obama has already weighed in on this topic, by the way.)
Ever since 2013, when Kendrick Lamar called out Drake (and 11 others) on “Control” by Big Sean, a beef has been forming between the two. But it’s not your usual send-your-homies-to-shoot-another-rapper type beef, à la 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule or Tupac vs. Biggie. Alas, it’s a new, improved, non-violent type beef, the “subliminal beef”. Basically, this means that the disses begin and end in tiny lines or references that may or may not be about the other artist, lines and references that spark debate on internet forums and the Youtube comment sections. Drake’s last album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, had these subliminal lines on every other track: “They gon’ say your name on them airwaves, they gon’ hit you up right after like it’s only rap.” Kendrick prefers alluding to Drake personally, like during his features on last year’s Compton by Dr. Dre: “Got enemies giving me energy, I wanna fight now.” All this subliminal beefing has been great, and we got some nice think-pieces and tweets talking about it, but as a fan of both artists, I could always use some nice diss tracks (No New Music Is Bad Music).
The Internet consensus, from random hip-hop forums to established publications like Pitchfork and Vice, is that Drake would be “bodied” and have his career “annihilated” if his beef with Kendrick ever escalated beyond confined shout-outs. But as the rare Internet-user who prefers Drake (direct your death threats to the comments section, please), I don’t accept this hypothesis as readily. Drake treats his beefs like a Dark Souls boss: Utterly focused, coldly calculating, and ruthless (Figure A: “Back to Back”, and the subsequent anti-Meek meme PowerPoint presentation). Kendrick Lamar, while certainly the more mature artist, has only participated in one major beef, and it’s the one with Drake. Kendrick, at least in my eyes, doesn’t seem to have the ability to really attack an enemy where it will really, really hurt. All his shots at Drake go like this: “Drake called me out on his song, that’s not cool.” Compare to: “Trigger fingers turn to Twitter fingers,” “Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?”
Drake, much like a mother bear, is quick to react to any perceived threat. Look how he responds to an interview question involving Lamar’s “Control” verse. Just the mention of his name in someone else’s song makes him lunge his weight onto his hind legs and perk his ears. If you think Drake doesn’t have seventeen diss tracks aimed at Kendrick ready to uploaded to SoundCloud at the push of a button, I’m sorry, but you have to face the facts. A winning beef against one of the (other) biggest rappers alive would push Drake into the legend-status he’s already encroaching. And much like the Meek Mill beef, I’ll bet that he has some career-ending info on Kendrick that he wouldn’t hesitate to unleash.
On the other hand, Lamar has literally nothing to gain from a beef with Drake. Even before the ghostwriting event this summer, he must have realized that Drake is too big to fail at this point. Drake is beloved by kids on the street, critics, and wedding-DJs. If Kendrick Lamar, who hasn’t quite reached the point where even your dad knows him, dissed him for not being real, who would care? Oh, the Jewish child-actor from Canada isn’t respected as “real” by the guy who made “Poetic Justice” with that very same child-actor? Most of Drake’s audience wouldn’t even receive a blip on their fandom radar. However, if Drake told his audience that Kendrick Lamar isn’t a good rapper, well… I’ll direct you to Meek Mill’s Instagram comments if you need to see evidence of his impact.
I suspect that the reason Drake gets so much resentment from his generally unobjectionable career is that die-hard Kendrick fans know this. They know, in the bottom of their hearts, that Kendrick deserves to win: He’s the most capital-B Black artist operating in the mainstream right now, his raps are more poetry than verse-bridge-hook, and his commitment to his home city, Compton, is truly inspiring. But if a beef did break out, Drake, with the Tumblr fans and Billboard hits, would win by default. I totally understand why Lamar fans detest this fact. But, in Drake’s defense, he makes incredible music. No other rap artist in history has enjoyed so much crossover success, and Drake’s appeal in this regard makes him a revolutionary hip-hop artist. Like it or not, but Drake is important for the genre. I can see how this would be a point of friction for hip-hop fans who prefer traditional lyricism over pop sensibilities, but the fact of the matter is, Drake provides on that front too. Discounting an artist based on how popular they are is a classic fallacy of music lovers, and I hate to see people pass on such a great artist as Drake.
Kendrick Lamar is an American representative of African American pride and culture. Drake is too, albeit to a much lesser extent (Drake hasn’t met the president, “6PM in New York” is almost certainly not being played at Black Lives Matter rallies). Lamar has no reason to take his beef with Drake outside of the subliminal pot it’s marinating in. And the rap throne, in this age of eclectic tastes and Apple Music, is more of a solid gold bench now (Jay-Z and Kanye have been sharing it for years). There’s plenty of room at the top.
Originally published at rapfurious.com on January 24, 2016.