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From friends to enemies: Kendrick Lamar and Drake fight for the rap crown

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Shots were fired! Some of the most revolutionary lyrics by some of the best rappers of this generation have recently hit the hip-hop scene in the most recent rapid succession of diss tracks by rappers Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Following J. Cole’s claim in “First Person Shooter,” released on Oct. 6, 2023, that Kendrick, Drake and J. Cole were the “big three” in the modern rap industry,  Kendrick threw shade in Future and Metro Boomin’s March 22 “Like That,” saying, “F**k sneak dissin’, first-person shooter” and “Motherf**k the big three, n***a, it’s just big me.”

Harmonious exclamations of the most brilliantly quit-witted lyrics in the music industry were thrown across the room. From the sides, people were on the edge of their seats, anxiously waiting for what whip-smart words would be trumpeted in the next biggest diss tracks in the rap industry. 

The sudden release of these savage diss tracks wasn’t as out of left field as many might assume. The beef between Drake and Kendrick Lamar has been building since the release of their debut albums in the 2010s, “Thank Me Later” and “Section .80,” respectively, where they instantly became rivals. Starting off as friendly competition, Drake instigated a ridiculously violent game when Kendrick called out multiple rappers, saying, “I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you” in Big Sean’s track “Control” in 2013. 

Since then, the two have subtly mentioned each other as competitors in their songs. But with the release of their most recent and pointed diss tracks, they have both taken this competition to the max.

After Kendrick’s rejection of his “big three” assertion, J. Cole apologized, giving respect to Kendrick in his song “7 Minute Drill.” However, Drake did not take this diss lightly and released a track a month later called “Push Ups.” He took jabs at his donned title as one of “the big three,” the state of Kendrick’s label Top Dawg Entertainment and even made comments on Kendrick’s height.  

Drake’s second consecutive diss track, “Taylor Made Freestyle,” started from the perspective of Kendrick’s biggest West Coast inspirations, Tupac and Snoop Dogg, looking down on Kendrick’s rap career with the help of artificial intelligence. Tupac and Snoop Dogg’s AI projections used passive-aggressive lyrics highlighting his industry absence. In the last verse, Drake directly disses Kendrick, saying he intends to continue with the rap battle until he wins. He sets the bar high, demanding that Kendrick “better have a motherf**kin quintuple entendre on that s**t.”

About a week later, Kendrick dropped two new diss tracks just a few days apart, named “euphoria” and “6:16 in LA.” 

In these songs, Kendrick exposes Drake’s alleged corrupt lifestyle and repeatedly compares Drake’s supposedly sad influence on his son’s life to Kendrick’s healthy and loving relationship with his own son. In one line, Kendrick makes a correction to Drake’s line in “Push Ups” that it “ain’t twenty-v-one, it’s one-v-twenty,” implying Kendrick actually has the majority of the rap industry backing him rather than Drake. 

Drake responded with “Family Matters,” on May 3, where he points out that they “could’ve left the kids out of this.” He added more fuel to the fire by alleging that Kendrick abused his wife, saying, “They hired a crisis management team to clean up the fact that you beat on your queen.” The lyricism of the diss tracks dramatically escalated even further that same day. 

Kendrick released “meet the grahams,” where he zeroes in on Drake as a father. Kendrick directly spoke to Drake’s son Adonis with some words of wisdom, opening the song with “Dear Adonis / I’m sorry that that man is your father.” Kendrick further proved that he is one of the rap game’s most strategic and creative lyricists with his poignant and biting critique of a fellow rapper’s display of fatherhood.  

A day later, Kendrick dropped “Not Like Us,”  with exceptionally violent lyrics, taking hits at Drake’s status as a rapper. The most memorable line in this song is currently going viral on social media: “tryna strike a chord, and it’s probably A minor.” As Kendrick is known for his double entendre lyrics, this line referenced an A minor chord in “meet the grahams” that called out Drake’s alleged pursuit of underage girls. 

The last diss dropped on May 5 was titled “The Heart Part 6,” in which Drake took on a passive-aggressive tone, admitting that all of this lyrical fighting wasn’t for nothing because he finally forced the legendary Kendrick to release his first new music in two years. Drake closed out the song by claiming their rap battle was “some good exercise” for his upcoming album.  

Drake’s popularity is due to his music catering to a mainstream audience. Considering his lyrics are often straightforward, Drake’s discography exceeds in popularity because of the catchy beats and captivating flow of his lyrics at the cost of substantially contributing to the art of rap. 

Kendrick’s music is known to be extremely complex. His lyrics carry multiple interpretations, often referring to his own personal background, the history of the rap industry, other artists and social commentary on trending events. Kendrick is truly “what the culture feelin’.” His ability to melodically and rhythmically produce poetry that influences the future of the rap industry is what makes him respected as an artist. Although this artistry may be well awarded, his music is more of an acquired taste to some audiences and less easily digestible.  

A few days after “The Heart Part 6” was released, there was news of a security guard being shot outside of Drake’s house. Audiences can assume that Kendrick and Drake’s game-changing and now beloved diss tracks have ended. Yet again, the two rappers leveled up the future of the rap game. 

Most recently, Drake put a fresh spin on the “BBL Drizzy” track by Rick Ross in his new song with Sexyy Red, “U My Everything,” released on May 24. In this song, he confronts the memes that accused Drake of going under cosmetic surgery by claiming transactions for Brazilian butt lifts were actually for women he’s dated.


Cameryn Nguyen is an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at camerynn@uci.edu.