It’s Not Really Close: An analysis of the Kendrick Lamar and Drake Feud

Even in the underground it's hard to ignore one of the most entertaining times in mainstream hip-hop. In this exclusive article we take an a dive into one of the most prolific feuds in hip-hop history and what it means for the future.


As soon as the first shots were taken in what has become possibly the most significant rap beef in history, I was gripped. There had been not-so-quiet murmurings of bad blood between Kendrick Lamar, Compton’s self-proclaimed human sacrifice and Drake, the main force in hip hop both in Canada and, more recently,  the rest of the globe, but hearing Kendrick directly address Drake and (to a lesser extent) J. Cole was still a massive shock to everyone. In hindsight, I could hardly have predicted that a single feature would result in the biggest cultural phenomenon the rap game has seen in recent times. 10 diss tracks have been exchanged since then, with opinions on who had the best tracks and who won the beef overall differing amongst the masses. Today, I’m going to analyze the tracks from the two main participants, the way this beef could potentially affect hip-hop as a genre and explain why, in my eyes, the winner is pretty obvious.

After Kendrick’s verse on LIke That by Future and Metro Boomin shook the industry, fans waited with bated breath to see if and how Drake would respond. A couple of weeks passed by and people started to think that Drake was not going to engage in whatever beef Kendrick was trying to conjure up. This all changed when a leak appeared on social media. On this song, we had Drake responding to all the people who had expressed gripes with him over the time that had passed, with special venom reserved for Kendrick. You could almost hear the heat in his voice when he says, albeit contestably, “You ain’t in no big 3, SZA got you wiped down… Like your label, boy, you in a scope right now.” The timeline was flooded with quotes, breakdowns, analysis and general excitement for this response. Those that loved it couldn’t get enough, and those that didn’t were just glad that it potentially meant new music from the elusive Lamar.

A week passed with no response and the OVO faithful had already started to do victory laps, exclaiming that Kendrick was “ducking smoke” and hailing Drake as the winner of the beef, in spite of efforts from Rick Ross and, to almost zero fanfare (I didn’t even count his track in the first paragraph), Kanye West, to rain on their parade. The parade would still be short-lived, however, as Kendrick finally hit back. The means by which he dropped his track would mark the first difference in approach from the two rivals, whereas Drake leaked his initial response on social media to test the waters before even confirming it was actually him and not AI as some fans suspected, Kendrick merely posted the link to the song’s youtube on his twitter with the title. The uproar from this response was massive. People were analyzing lyrics from the track for almost as long as they were waiting for it to drop, and the only reason they stopped was because a follow-up dropped not long after.

6:16 in LA, a track that at the time of writing is exclusively available on instagram was not just a two-punch from Kendrick, but a warning to Drake that he should avoid making things too personal, claiming that he has spies within Drake’s own camp that had fed him information that would put the Canadian artist in the dirt, should he decide to.take things further than necessary.. Just as things started to look dire for Drake and OVO, the same day that 6:16 was dropped on instagram, Drake responded with an instagram post of his own, titled Family Matters. The diss was incredibly cutting in places and represented Drake’s best rapping of the entire feud, however, it crossed a line that Kendrick had drawn in the sand, and less than 20 minutes later, in a move that would irrevocably swing the general public in his favor, Kendrick tweeted out another youtube link titled “Meet The Grahams”.

Meet The Grahams is one of the most haunting tracks in hip hop history, and potentially the greatest diss track of all time. The audience response seemed to think this as well, as the timeline was soon flooded with people announcing that the beef was over and that Drake had lost. There were still a substantial number of naysayers, but they would soon become even more of a minority as, two days later, Kendrick would release yet another track, plainly leveling damning accusations at Drake and taking the form of the catchiest and most commercially viable songs of this entire beef. Not only did Not Like Us rub salt in the very deep wounds made on Meet The Grahams, it also served as a sort of victory lap for Kendrick and West Coast Rap as a whole, with K. Dot rapping over a bouncy, very West Coast beat courtesy of DJ Mustard and calling Drake names I’m unsure I can write in this article. Drake tried to stem the flow of negativity in his direction with a (seemingly final) response, but it was far too little too late, the internet and general public had decided its winner, and it was Kendrick Lamar; but did he really win as convincingly as people say?

In analyzing the disses exchanged between Dot and Drizzy, a lot about the way they go about their music manifests itself. Kendrick remains methodical, dissecting his opponent and his flaws, not wasting a single line and leaving enough room for the wildest imagination of any listener to conjure up meaning from what he says. On the other hand, Drake takes an approach that has always worked for him, catchy lines and jabs that sound cutting, but fall apart under closer inspection. Those tactics have never failed him in the past, within or without beefs, but going up against someone who pays as much attention to detail as Kendrick Lamar, it would not be enough. Kenny completely rips apart his credibility, making it almost impossible for anybody but the most diehard Drake stans to take Drake’s claims with anything more than a pinch of salt. Both rappers made very serious claims about the other, but Kendrick’s accusations stuck better; not just because of the (admittedly non-concrete) proof available, but because Kendrick spends a majority of the beef drawing attention to the fact that Drake is an untrustworthy source for information, and he relies on shaping narratives, even when he has no factual backing. He uses Drake’s proven track record of lying in the past to almost completely nullify any accusations thrown from the Toronto native, to the point where Kendrick does not even need to address the allegations Drake makes directly to still walk away with a positive public image. There is a pair of lines that I think perfectly sums up the difference in approach from these two artists: On “Not Like Us”, Kendrick says: “Why you trolling like a bitch, ain’t you tired? Tryna strike a chord and it’s probably A-Minor,” and on “The Heart Part 6”, Drake retorts: “You mentioning A-Minor but n**s gotta be sharp (B-Sharp)...” Kendrick’s line is well thought-out and very cutting, while Drake’s line sounds like an extremely clever response, until you realize that there is no such thing as “B-Sharp” in music. In other words, this was a mismatch.

The biggest shift I have started to notice is that Drake’s credibility being destroyed means it is going to be more difficult for people to take his mob-boss, high-life music seriously. He has already been ridiculed as using blackness and a fake street persona for his musical benefit, so hearing him rap vague threats of what Chubbs will do to you if you cross him will inevitably not hit the same. Another major thing is the fact that people have seemingly rediscovered the joy of analyzing rap lyrics. For a long time there has been a trend of anti-complexity in music, with rap music taking the brunt of it. People would get called “corny” or “nerds” for wanting more complexity in rap lyrics as opposed to just “songs you can vibe to”, and while those will always have their place, something tells me there will be a resurgence in appreciation for lyrical complexity and substance within rap songs. The West Coast will definitely enjoy having the potential song of the summer come from their region of the culture, and Kendrick making such a massive hit in this style could see a rise in its popularity in general. Depending on how things go in the next few days, we could see big changes in who influences the culture and the general rap scene, especially with the accusations that have been made in this rap beef. Will people start to treat Drake as a culture vulture? Will he remain welcome in a space that, in hindsight, he's only taken bits and pieces from as he sees fit? That remains to be seen.

I think it goes without saying that, in my opinion, Kendrick handily won this battle; at least for the time being. If Drake can reveal proof of the things he accused him of, then that could change, but as at my time of writing, Kendrick has made 4 diss tracks in distinct styles to please every kind of rap fan, and seems to be beating Drake in song quality, internet narratives, commercial success and within the culture. In what has been the most entertaining period of rap music for quite some time, Compton’s crown prince may have cemented himself as the current king of hip-hop.

Written By IDK Young J: