6 May 2024

Explainer: What is going on between Drake and Kendrick Lamar?

5:16 pm on 6 May 2024
Drake and Kendrick Lamar

Drake, left and Kendrick Lamar, have issues. Photo: RNZ / AFP

A feud between two of the world's biggest rap icons reached fever pitch at the weekend after a hostile 48 hours culminated in a series of disturbing allegations.

Who is Drake?

Aubrey Drake Graham is a Canadian superstar rapper, singer and pop trendsetter. He's emerged as one of the most influential figures in popular music over the past 15 years and is hip hop's current chief hitmaker.

As well as selling 170 million-plus records, the 37-year-old has won five Grammy awards, six American Music Awards and is the joint-owner of the most number-one singles by a male solo artist (alongside Michael Jackson).

His enduring public image has been informed (or tainted, depending on who you ask) by his lyrical focus on relationships. He also uses ghost writers, which his peers aren't kind about.

US rapper Kendrick Lamar performs during the 2023 Governors Ball Music Festival at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York City on June 11, 2023. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

US rapper Kendrick Lamar performs during the 2023 Governors Ball Music Festival at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York City on June 11, 2023. Photo: YUKI IWAMURA

Who is Kendrick Lamar?

The 36-year-old rapper from Compton, California, is considered by many as the greatest of his generation. He's the only recorded artist, outside of the classical and jazz worlds, to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. His five studio album run between 2011 and 2022 set artistic benchmarks in conceptualisation, a paradox within the modern singles-driven streaming era.

He counts former US president Barack Obama among his fans: "I got to go with Kendrick," Obama said in 2015.

"I think Drake is an outstanding entertainer but Kendrick, his lyrics, his last album (To Pimp a Butterfly) was outstanding."

Why the beef?

The pair were chummy initially - Kendrick featured on 'Buried Alive Interlude' from Drake's Take Care record and they went on to collaborate on a couple of other tracks.

It appears a niggle developed after Lamar claimed ascendancy over Drake (and a good number of their peers) in a ferocious guest verse in the Big Sean track 'Control' in 2013. Lamar also took a shot later that year during the BET Hip Hop Awards.

Aside from several sly digs over the years, the first significant indicator that competition had reignited was last October on Drake's latest studio album For All the Dogs, when collaborator J Cole threw a couple of jaunty jabs on the single 'First Person Shooter' ("Love when they argue the hardest MC / Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me? / We the big three… but right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali").

Lamar wasn't having any of it. On Future and Metro Boomin's 'Like That', released in March, Lamar banished any notion of a "big three", but notably saved most of his venom for Drake.

What happened over the weekend?

After some fairly temperate surface-level jousting, things finally heated up last week when Lamar released "euphoria" ("don't tell no lies about me and I won't tell no truths 'bout you"). By Friday, Lamar had served up a second dressing down of his rival on '6:16 in LA'. The title is a play on Drake's knack for timestamped location track names, but even more significantly, Lamar advanced the suggestion of an informant among the independent record label Drake founded more than a decade ago.

Less than 24 hours later, Drake responded with 'Family Matters'. Over a blistering beat, Drake fires off on Kendrick, plus The Weeknd, Rick Ross, Metro Boomin and A$AP Rocky during a seven-minute incursion. But he gets personal by namechecking Lamar's partner Whitney Alford, with allegations of domestic violence against Lamar ("They hired a crisis management team to clean up the fact that you beat your queen").

Lamar had a retort ready to go within an hour. 'Meet the Grahams' sees Lamar address Drake's immediate family with personal messages. He then addresses a "baby girl", dropping an accusation that Drake has an unspecified 11-year-old daughter. (This isn't a new allegation - Pusha T accused him of hiding a child in 2018, which turned out to be true.)

More serious inferences followed, mostly to do with allegations of serious sexual misconduct and illegal behaviour, with Lamar doubling down on 'Not Like Us' on Sunday, arguably the most riotous track of the lot.

The state of play

Drake released 'The Heart Part 6' earlier on Monday, the Canadian superstar claiming he deliberately fed false information to people in hopes that Lamar would unknowingly use it in a track.

Why do we care?

Given everything else going on in the world, it may seem bizarre for a highly personal exchange between two millionaires to be getting this much attention.

But this isn't exactly new in hip-hop. In fact, it's foundational. The rap beef is the closest musical simulation to heavyweight boxing.