Kendrick Lamar Beat Drake By Being Drake

Author: Editors Desk Source: Complex
May 10, 2024 at 11:41
Via pgLang/YouTube
Via pgLang/YouTube

Kendrick beat Drake at his own game, using infectious hits and internet-savvy release tactics to turn the battle in his favor.

It’s hard to define “absolute victory” in something as subjective as a rap battle, but landing a No. 1 single with a diss song has to be pretty close. With his monstrous Drake disses “Euphoria” and “Not Like Us” doing historic streaming numbers, Kendrick Lamar will likely add the accomplishment to his accolades when the Billboard Hot 100 chart is updated next week. Outdoing Drake on his own turf would be a fitting punctuation for a contest that’s seen Kendrick turn the Toronto rapper’s customary weapons of internet savvy, infectious hit-making and strategic release tactics against him. In repurposing Drizzy’s tools, Kendrick bested Drake at his own game; he beat Drake by being Drake. 

Kendrick kicked things off by reimagining Drizzy’s famous quick-release barrage into an even more potent product. During the Meek Mill, Drake war of 2015, Drizzy dropped his first diss, “Charged Up,” only to spin the block and unload the far superior “Back to Back” four days later. The move left Meek shell shocked. Kendrick’s variation began with “Euphoria,” a freeform Drizzy diss he dropped on an unceremonious Tuesday morning. Amid a flurry of quippy insults, Kendrick teased his subsequent back-to-back release. Riffing on Drake’s timestamp series, he followed up with “6:16 in LA,” a pensive, yet stylish Friday morning drop that oscillates between warning shot and condescending advice. To be sure, the double-play was a moment. But it was also a Trojan Horse. 

That same night, Drake fired what should have been a kill shot, “Family Matters.” The shapeshifting diss track was an incisive barrage of quips aimed at The Weeknd, Rick Ross, Metro Boomin, ASAP Rocky and Kendrick himself. In it, he accuses K.Dot of physically abusing his wife. It’s an accusation that’s as weighty as it is unsubstantiated (for now), and the song itself quickly became a trending topic. But Kendrick quickly delivered a counterstrike with “Meet the Grahams” less than 40 minutes later. Laced with a grim Alchemist beat, the track captured even more attention with the claim that Drake had a hidden 11-year-old daughter. The move effectively swallowed Drake’s momentum. It was a character decapitation via surprise attack — think Afro Samurai’s dad getting his head lopped off with Justice’s hidden third arm. 



Pushing Drake’s back-to-back strategy to even wilder extremes, Kendrick came back with “Not Like Us,” a bouncy, Mustard-produced bop that both expanded on the tactic and opened the door to another one: framing your diss track as a banger. Speaking to XXL in 2013, Drizzy described the virtue of creating a diss song that was also an inescapable hit, saying that it’s “more painful than anything” for the loser. He did it to Common in 2012 with his verse on Ross’ “Stay Schemin,” and, by 2015, he would also do it to Meek with “Back to Back.” You have to think he’s having a mean case of deja vu following the release of “Not Like Us.” Laced with West Coast bounce, indelible one-liners and an anthemic hook, “Not Like Us” is an early contender for Song of the Summer, alongside the song that launched this beef, Future and Metro’s “Like That.”  

Beyond the obvious club-ready elements, “Not Like Us” also embodies the social media-centrism of modern times. Drake famously used his 2015 OVO Fest to post Meek Mill memes on-screen and get laughs from the audience. Kendrick is ostensibly extremely offline, but much of “Not Like Us” feels designed for virality. The beat itself is fit for krumping, and Kendrick stretches his vocals to accentuate his one-liners in a way that makes them ideal TikTok and Twitter fodder. “Tryna strike a chord and it's probably A minor,” Kendrick raps, turning his elongated syllable into a wink. It’s all a subtle way of repurposing Drake’s time-tested songwriting tools. (That line is a cousin of a Drizzy’s lesbian pun from “Every Girl.”) Substitute the “Toosie Slide” dance for Crip-walking TikToks. Drake had people in the club screaming about Twitter fingers; Kendrick will have them shouting pedophilia accusations. 

Kendrick’s stratagems go beyond song construction, too. He usually dropped during Akademiks livestreams, with the presumed goal of being able to capture Ak’s exaggerated looks of disappointment. The subsequent reactions go viral, which only fortifies the Kung-Fu Kenny hype machine. Kendrick also took off the copyright strikes from reaction videos so creators can make money. It’s an indirect, altruistic form of profit-sharing and another way to beat Drake, who once gave away $1 million to random strangers during the “God’s Plan” video. 

The effect of Kendrick’s efforts has been a symbolic statistical upheaval. According to Chart Data, “Not Like Us” broke Spotify’s single-day streaming record for rap songs after collecting 10.986 million streams in a 24-hour period. After Drake claimed he was more beloved in Los Angeles than Kendrick was, “Not Like Us” topped Toronto’s top 25-streaming songs on Apple Music, showing his own city doesn’t have him No. 1. Billboard reports that streams for Kendrick’s back catalog are up 49%, while Drake’s are down by 5%. 





On “Push Ups,” Drake boasted that his commercial success had reached a point where folks like K.Dot couldn’t creep up on him. Drake’s still besting him in monthly stream totals, but Kendrick’s surge speaks to a well-executed strategy. His ability to temporarily best Drake in streams while dominating social media speaks to his timely releases and ability to control narratives. For the last 15 years, Drake’s been a master of the internet. Beating Drake there is like winning a championship on his homecourt. 

Kendrick’s table-turn is underscored by his and Drake’s stylistic and methodological differences. Kendrick is the Compton hermit — a quiet wordsmith who finds peace in jail workouts, ‘70s soul and being a reluctant, off-the-grid celebrity. Leaving fans in prolonged periods of speculation, he kicks it in Reclusive Musician Land until it’s time to pop out with another classic album — usually a sonically diverse masterclass in dense songwriting and the theatricality of a one-man play. Drake, on the other hand, is the ubiquitous pop star who just so happens to be a premier rhyme technician; his releases are perpetual, and he’s thrived on being as extremely online as extremely online can get. 

If there’s a subtext to this battle, it’s the notion that Kendrick can do Drake as well (or better) than Drake if he so chooses. If Drake was, in fact, talking about Kendrick when he used a 2015 feature verse to say he could “have all of your fans if I didn't go pop and I stayed on some conscious shit,” this is Kendrick’s emphatic inverse. The internet and all of its pop culture intersections have long been Drake’s life force; along with preternatural songwriting talent, they’re the fulcrum of his crossover appeal. But throughout this beef, Kendrick’s wielded those elements to even more potent effect, reframing its utility in his own idiosyncrasies for something historically devastating. 

While Kendrick put his own twist on Drake’s machinations, his plot is rooted in all the signature X’s and O’s of the 6ix God’s time-tested playbook. Imitation should be a form of flattery, but in this case, it was a tactical map to Kendrick’s domination.

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