Rap Civil War: The Tragic Letdown of Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole

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Reading Time: 4 minutes
Drake-Kendrick-J Cole credit by JoyOnline

When I first heard Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Future & Metro Boomin’s Like That, a high came over me. Kendrick was so relentless, so crafty, and yet so clear his targets were J. Cole and Drake. I thought, “FINALLY, Hip Hop gets its long-awaited Rap Civil War. However, as the weeks passed, the excitement for potentially the greatest Rap battle crashed and burned.

What We Gonna Do Now Is Go Back

The war between Kendrick, Drake, and J. Cole has been brewing for a decade-plus. Starting with 2013’s Control, Kendrick went into beast mode while calling out the top rappers of that time, like Meek Mill, Wale, J.Cole, Big Sean(on HIS song), and Drake. For Kendrick, the diss verse was about bringing back the competitive nature of the culture, while for Drake, it was about something else. “I kinda lost a little respect for the sentiment of the verse,” Drake told Elliot Wilson on CROWN. “If it’s really fuck everybody, then it needs to be fuck everybody.” Kendrick’s reply was not the higher road, but instead a freestyle diss on the BET Hip Hop Awards cipher where he rhymed, “Yeah, and nothing has been the same since they dropped “Control,” and tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.” These backhand exchanges ensure that neither rapper will be caught having a Canada Dry together, let alone be friends.

The Middle-Child

J Cole from the Music Video for Middle Child. Credit by Youtube

Meanwhile, J.Cole, used the past decade to rap with a chip on his shoulder. Both Born Sinner and Forrest Hills Drive were albums showing Cole as a new school leader to pay attention to, while his rap features made him a song killer. On the surface, Cole spent equal social time with Kendrick and Drake. While there was once talk of a joint album with Kendrick, Mr. Hollywood Cole would also do features and concert shows with Drake, making one wonder how long this balance could last.

How We Got It Here

Drake and J Cole Face Off in the Music Video for First Person Shooter – Credit by Youtube

First Person Shooter is a song that shouldn’t have happened, or at the least should’ve been a solo J. Cole record. The line where Cole says, “Love when they argue the hardest MC. Is it KDot? Is it Aubrey? Or Me?” then proclaiming himself Muhammad Ali felt like a verbal backhand. Kendrick Lamar is the sleeping bear that no sane person should want to disturb, and yet they did, making the Compton MC do a Daenerys Targaryen and flame them both. “It’s just BIG ME!!!”

The Circus

After the Kendrick Lamar Like That verse, Cole was first up to respond with Seven Minute Drill. He rapped over a subpar beat, downplaying Kendrick’s catalog. J. Cole’s attacks were okay, but it sounded like they came from the Shade Room comment section. His (Cole’s) heart wasn’t in it, so his apology was more authentic than the diss record.

J.Cole bowing out of the Rap Civil War may be a disappointing shocker, but the main event has always been Drake versus Kendrick Lamar. Drake’s first diss track, Push Ups, where he brags about giving Kendrick (and others) his first number-one hit record, having a bad contract, and calling him (Kendrick) a Swiftie, which is a sugarless bubblegum insult. The aftermath became clownish, making the rap world a WWE royal rumble. Rappers like Rick Ross, A$AP Rocky, Kanye West ran towards the ring, each doing their finishing move. Drake’s second assault is the most disrespectful. Taylor Made is a song that features AI verses by Snoop Dogg and the late 2Pac, with Drake rapping/taunting KDot. The use of 2Pac’s voice, a man who died young and violently during a beef(s), shows poor taste and why Pusha T wasn’t wrong for going so hard.

We Good

Look, I was one of the first to want this Rap Civil War and one of the last to admit that it needs to end. I was in it for the sport and competitive form of Hip Hop. Plus, to hear Drake finally make a diss track that’s not aimed at a woman who left him is all but great. The theatrics and meme wars brought the battle to a low grade, making me question Hip Hop’s state. Seeing these childish acts amongst a younger generation is one thing, but these blog-era rappers are now veterans. The artist’s stature should elevate the culture skywards, not drag it down by its ankles to mud wrestling. In hindsight, it’s possible that J.Cole’s apology was foresight to the foolishness, so he grabbed his mic and went home. A Kendrick response to Drake may make him the victor, but the battle has already lost its chance to be epic.

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