Everybody Hates Drake: A Guide To Millennial Rap’s Midlife Beef Crisis

We’ve put it off for long enough. We’ve avoided the inevitable. But it’s time to discuss the rap cold war. Rap’s royal rumble, even. A “beef” that is ostensibly between Drake and Kendrick Lamar, two pop stars that carry different flags for what rap can be on a mainstream level, but has somehow grown to include tertiary players like Rick Ross, Future, the producer Metro Boomin, The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, and J. Cole. In other words, rap’s millennial class is airing out beef as they go through their midlife crises, a beef which reached a crescendo this week with Kendrick Lamar’s “Euphoria,” a six-minute assault on the very existence of Drake. But let’s start at the beginning before we get to the beginning beginning.

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On March 22, Future releases his new album with Metro Boomin called We Don’t Trust You. The day before the album drops, there are rumors that Future has fallen out with Drake and that the album is full of subliminal shots and disses in his direction. After the album arrives, the song “Like That” quickly picks up steam because of the aforementioned shots, but mainly because Kendrick Lamar is on it going directly at Drake (at least as directly as you can without namedropping) with some shrapnel for J. Cole as well. The Weeknd shows up on the album with some lyrics that suggest he and Drake are back on bad terms again. Rick Ross is not on the album but was so excited about a Drake pile-on apparently that he jumped on social media to echo the hate, referring to him on Instagram as “white boy,” a way to sort of crudely acknowledge the way he comes off in a lot of his demeanor and performance. More on that in a second.

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Drake has often behaved like an actual king, using other artists to prop up his image and his credibility and even actual music, sending out cease and desists for all sorts of reasons, stealing women, talking shit behind closed doors (all allegedly). A reminder of how insane being the biggest star in any mainstream genre can make you. He has essentially been on top for 15 years, which is about 5-7 years too long. Even Michael Jackson had about 10 years before his momentum dipped and he could just relax into legend status, and he is not exactly an example to follow. It’s not natural to be that successful for so long; you get all weird and paranoid and loony. Drake is in his late George III hypomania phase. For the Game of Thrones nerds, he’s mad king Aerys, just a shell of himself, holed up in his tacky Toronto mansion.

As everyone waited for Drake’s response, J. Cole decided to get in on the beef and immediately regret it in one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen in all of rap (and I was there for Ice T vs. Soulja Boy). J. Cole releases an aptly titled surprise tape called Might Delete Later, which has a song called “7 Minute Drill” in which he shares such harsh lines like:

He still doin’ shows, but fell off like the Simpsons
Your first shit was classic, your last shit was tragic
Your second shit put niggas to sleep, but they gassed it

This apparently hurt Cole’s soul so badly that he immediately apologized during his Dreamville festival, and really wanted everyone to know that he likes To Pimp A Butterfly actually. Imagine having to tell people this guy is your favorite rapper.

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So the attempted assassination of Kendrick Lamar by the coward J. Cole didn’t take, so it’s on to the main event. Drake, throughout all of this, has taken a cue from the online troll community he now caters to as an audience for his music: making silly memes on IG. In the meantime, Future and Metro Boomin’s second album We Still Don’t Trust You came out but with decidedly less beef material except for Rocky (the less said, the better) and the Weeknd hilariously singing his darts with the passion of Prince on Purple Rain. (“They shootas making Tik Toks” is especially good).

But Drake did make a diss track that eventually “leaked” online afterwards. In “Push Ups” he goes directly at Kendrick, and it’s actually pretty funny. “How the fuck you big steppin’ with a size-seven men’s on?” There’s also:

You better do that motherfuckin’ show inside the bity
Maroon 5 need a verse, you better make it witty
Then we need a verse for the Swifties
Top say drop, you better drop and give ’em fifty
Pipsqueak, pipe down

He also saves a line for everyone else coming at him: “Metro, shut your ho ass up and make some drums, nigga” (Metro Boomin), “Claim the 6ix and you boys ain’t even come from it / And when you boys got rich, you had to run from it” (The Weeknd), “Rolling Loud stage, y’all were turnt, that was slick as hell / Shit’ll probably change if your BM start to kiss and tell” (Future) “I might take your latest girl and cuff her like I’m Ricky / Can’t believe he jumpin’ in, this nigga turnin’ fifty” (Rick Ross).

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It’s funny. Drake is good at funny diss tracks. But Drake also has no situational awareness. That was evident in the Pusha T beef, and it’s evident from the way he trolls online, including with the second diss track he made towards Kendrick, “Taylor Made Freestyle,” which is just pure trolling. Drake uses AI to affect the voices of Tupac and Snoop Dogg to fuck with Kendrick and his penchant for self-aggrandizing himself as a West Coast legend in their vein (you know it’s true). Again, it’s funny, even if it’s a bit more icky given everyone’s feelings around AI in art and media. (Tupac’s estate did not find it funny, instead sending a cease-and-desist to Drake.) This just further exacerbates how unserious all of this is, both as a beef but also to Drake personally. He behaves petulantly because he knows enough to know that none of this will affect his sales, which is what ultimately matters to Drake, Inc.

That said, to get back to the point behind all of this: I do not think Drake fully understands just how much all of these people hate his very existence, particularly Kendrick. And make no mistake, regardless of everyone else, this is about these two. Kendrick was finally the one to put it into words very clear and astutely with “Euphoria,” the diss track that blew up the rap internet. In it, Kendrick shares some very real and transparent feelings over a Teddy Pendergrass sample:

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Them super powers gettin’ neutralized, I can only watch in silence
The famous actor we once knew is lookin’ paranoid and now is spiralin’
You’re movin’ just like a degenerate, every antic is feelin’ distasteful
I calculate you’re not as calculated, I can even predict your angle

And:

Once a lame, always a lame / Oh, you thought the money, the power or fame would make you go away?

And:

This ain’t been about critics, not about gimmicks, not about who the greatest
It’s always been about love and hate, now let me say I’m the biggest hater
I hate the way that you walk, the way that you talk, I hate the way that you dress

And:

When I see you stand by Sexyy Red, I believe you see two bad bitches
I believe you don’t like women, it’s real competition, you might pop ass with ’em

And a lot more. A true masterclass in disgust and dislike for another human being.

A quick digression: So here’s the thing about Jay-Z’s “Takeover” vs Nas’s “Ether.” People tend to like “Ether” over “Takeover” because “Takeover” is a lot like listening to a rank session in a classroom—one kid sort of ranking his other classmates for the amusement of everyone else—but “Ether” is one man trying very eloquently and systematically to hurt the feelings of the other man because he flat out does not like him. Nas is telling Jay, Not only do I not respect or like what you are and what you represent, I’m going to give you all the reasons why. Similarly, Drake is trying to turn this into a lunchroom food fight and a troll session to impress the Adin Rosses and Akademikses and Kai Cenats of the world. He does not understand that Kendrick, like many of Drake’s peers, genuinely hates him, genuinely has no respect for how he conducts himself and feels he is a phony human being. While plenty of the Kendrick and Drake beef is about competition and jealousy, originating properly with the “Control” verse but always simmering at the surface from the start, these are two guys who covet something the other has. For Drake, it’s real rap bona fides, and for Kendrick, it’s massive commercial appeal.

At the core of it though, Kendrick just does not like the very idea of Drake’s whole get down and what he represents—for all the reasons everyone else probably suspects. Drake is the manifestation of the last 40 years of the corporate absorption of hip-hop culture into mass entertainment. Drake is the lab invented ideal of a rap superstar. Drake is this scene from The Simpsons. Drake is an algorithm-approved representation of rap. Drake is the gentrification, commodification and globalization of of hip-hop culture. Drake is a British museum stealing the artifacts of hip-hops past for their exhibits. Drake is the personification of things like “trap brunch” and “trap yoga” and “I am not my ancestors” t-shirts. Drake is the tug of war between white dollars and black art. Drake is the pipeline between sensitive sad boy online performance and the deeply violently and misogynistic incel culture that is currently threatening to consume all of hip-hop. Drake is an Illuminati wet dream.

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Hating Drake is easy. Even the people who like Drake kinda hate him. Hating Drake is so easy that it doesn’t even say anything about you. Everyone that comes in contact with Drake hates him or keeps a simmering resentment towards him that eventually boils over with hate the first time he decides to hit you with a cease-and-desist through lawyers or sleeps with the same woman as you.

As both Kendrick and Rick Ross have alluded to, there is also a racial performance element to Drake that comes across as uncomfortable and distasteful. Let’s all try to be mature about this: Drake is a biracial man raised by his white Jewish mother in Canada while his black father stayed in the States and barely interacted with his son. Aside from occasional visits to his father’s side of the family, his main interaction with black people is through American hip-hop culture … and it shows. It shows in the way he represents himself, in who he aligns himself with to establish credibility, and it clearly rubs these guys the wrong way. It’s not the question if he’s black enough or not “down enough”; it’s Drake’s particular way of forcing the issue of his blackness that underlines his doubts with his own identity. It’s clearly a sensitive mark for him and Kendrick is thumbing down on his insecurities in the same way Pusha T did.

To be fair, Drake was right initially to turn this beef into a series of jokes. This version of rap Wrestlemania is just a bunch of guys pushing 40, hoping to maintain relevance, and it feels like everyone involved can feel their mortality within the confines of their success and are trying to revitalize themselves. There are no stakes here. A lot of it just sounds like the way you would fight with a friend that you’re mad at. Everyone has found a way to benefit from inserting themselves into this ordeal, so it’s clearly been good for business and it’s the closest we’ve come to a monoculture moment in music that doesn’t involve Beyoncé or Taylor Swift.

But what I admire about “Euphoria” is how clearly it is not interested in taking down Drake’s empire or achieving any sort of clout. It is purely a hater’s lament. A hate letter for an audience of one. A reminder that no matter what Drake does, he will still be stuck with being himself. And that seems to be his biggest nightmare.

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