Kendrick Lamar Re-Gains Control By Dissing Drake & J. Cole

This morning, Kendrick Lamar broke his musical silence for 2024, and he did so in a major way. The Compton, California superstar appears on Future & Metro Boomin’s WE DON’T TRUST YOU album. The tracklist, which does not include guests, finds K-Dot confronting his biggest peers on the song “Like That.”

The song samples two West Coast Rap classics in Eazy-E’s “Eazy-Duz-It” from 1989 and Rodney-O & Joe Cooley’s 1987 independent classic “Everlasting Bass,” anchored by a Barry White classic. That same ’87, Kendrick Lamar was born. Now 36 years old, “Kung Fu Kenny” instigates with J. Cole and Drake as he dismisses the idea of a Hip-Hop “Big 3” with a lot more to say. Notably, the verse happens on a project with Future (who released a chart-topping mixtape with Drake in 2015) and Metro Boomin (who has produced Drake songs for years, including last year’s Young Thug collaboration “Parade On Cleveland”).

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After Future starts the song in his trademark style and subject matter, Kendrick Lamar begins his verse on the offensive. At first, he appears to be commenting on broader misinformation. “These n___as talkin’ out of they necks / Don’t pull no coffin out of your mouth, I’m way too paranoid for a threat / Ayyy, let’s get it, bro / D-O-T, the money, power, respect / The last one is better / Say, it’s a lot of goofies with a check.” At a time when Drake and J. Cole are dominating commercially, including a tour together, Kendrick Lamar emphasizes that respect is the most valuable and perhaps, the hardest to earn and maintain.

I mean, ah, I hope them sentiments symbolic / Ah, my temperament bipolar, I choose violence,” he pivots. The bipolar temperament has been referenced in the past, on 2021’s “Family Ties” and Isaiah Rashad’s “Wat’s Wrong?” The Gemini MC has two sides, and on this guest verse, he absolutely chose to disrupt. Kendrick made a similar choice on Big Sean’s “Control” in the late summer of 2013. That verse, where Kendrick called out 11 peers (including J. Cole and Drake) while vowing to “murder you n___as / Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you n___as / They don’t want to hear not one more noun or verb from you n___as.

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Those 2013 feature verse bars had a ripple-effect throughout Hip-Hop, prompting response records, comments, and a heightened sense of competition in the Rap genre. Over a decade later, he’s at it again. “Okay, let’s get it up, it’s time for him to prove that he’s a problem / N___as clickin’ up, but cannot be legit, no 40 Water, tell ’em,” he raps, referencing the early 1990s Sick Wid It Records collective including cousins E-40 and B-Legit. Notably, the reference may also be a jab at Drake’s longtime producer and OVO right-hand Noah “40” Shebib. The “clicking up” likely refers to Drake and J. Cole, who collaborated on an incredible 2023 video single ahead of a blockbuster tour.

Kendrick stays on subject, and specifically jabs at Drake and Cole’s 2023 collabo, which was titled “First Person Shooter.”F__k sneak dissin’, first person shooter, I hope they came with three switches / I crash out, like, ‘F__k Rap,’ diss Melle Mel if I had to / Got 2TEEZ with me, I’m snatchin’ chains and burnin’ tattoos, it’s up / Lost too many soldiers not to play it safe / If he walk around with that stick, it ain’t Andre 3K / Think I won’t drop the location? I still got PTSD / Mother-f__k the big three, n___a, it’s just big me.” While also likening his willingness to battle greats to Eminem’s short-lived 2023 rumble with Grandmaster Melle Melle, the words also break Kendrick apart from his peers Drake and J. Cole, a comparison made for more than a decade. Although Kendrick has worked with each artist in the past, this latest guest verse is clearly about standing alone with distinction. The “location” line is perhaps a reference to the messy beef between Drake and Kanye West, durnig which West allegedly post Drake’s address on social media.  Kenny also makes a slick line about the flute that is always on André 3000.

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Kendrick closes the guest shot with another line about artistry over sales, using two late superstars to illustrate. Presumably, Kendrick sees Drake as Michael Jackson, and himself as Prince. Amid creative contrasts, Lamar also points to lifespan. “N___a, bum, what? I’m really like that / And your best work is a light pack / N___a, Prince outlived Mike Jack’ / N___a, bum, ‘fore all your dogs gettin’ buried / That’s a K with all these nines, he gon’ see Pet Sematary.” The diss is clearly aimed at Drake’s 2023 album, For All The Dogs, as the Compton spitter weaves in a Stephen King title for effect, wordplay, and pure gravitas.

Kendrick Lamar’s words are not unprompted. On “First Person Shooter, Cole rapped: “Love when they argue the hardest MC / Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me? / We the big three like we started a league, but right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali.” However, in that same song, Drake appeared to discount the artist who was not present: “Who the GOAT? Who you b___hes really rooting for? / Like a kid that act bad from January to November, n___a, it’s just you and Cole.” That song arrived two years after Kendrick declared war on “your Top 5” in a Grammy-winning collaboration with Baby Keem.

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Although Kendrick and Drake collaborated a dozen years ago, including high-profile partnerships like “Buried Alive,” “Poetic Justice,” and A$AP Rocky’s “F__kin’ Problems” (as well as 2012’s Club Paradise Tour), it’s been a notably distant period since. Similarly, Cole and Kendrick have not worked together since 2017’s Jeezy-hosted “American Dream,” following Cole’s production on “HiiiPower” and Kenny’s guest shot on “Forbidden Fruit.”

Last year, J. Cole explained to Lil Yachty that he and Kendrick ultimately scrapped plans on a long-teased collaborative body of work. “There’s a few beats, a gang of beats that I did—I gave him. … So he took them, and in that moment, we talked about, ‘Yo, bro, we should do a project.’ At that time, he’s not on like that, but I’m f__kin’ with him.” He added, “I think at that time, [Kendrick Lamar] being so excited—’cause that’s a look for him at that point—so I think he went to Twitter like, ‘Me and J. Cole got something crazy coming.’” Cole noted that things had shifted, “We put [the rumors] to bed years ago. But at one point in time, it was a real conversation, for sure.” Amid their comparisons and perceived rivalry, Kendrick’s former label, Top Dawg Entertainment, has been in a similar competition with Cole’s Dreamvilleas confirmed by J.I.D. Other artists on both labels regularly collaborate.

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Rick Ross, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, and others appear on the new Epic Records release. In the last month, J. Cole has released two promotional verses for his upcoming album The Fall Off. In the first, Cole asserted himself as a champion: “How dare a n___a rub his hands on this trophy? / I vividly remember who was there.” Earlier this week, he delivered a second promo verse.