Everyone is Having Fun Talking About Drake and Kendrick Lamar

A long-time music critic tackles a darker truth at the core of their beef: the expendability of women’s trauma

By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Kendrick Lamar and Drake have spent the better part of the past month in a rap beef, which you might already know if you spend time on social media, where they’ve been trending for days. The origin of their acrimony is vague—the former collaborators turned on each other around 2013—but this recent round was kicked off in late March with a song called “Like That” from Future and Metro Boomin’s latest album, We Don’t Trust You, on which Kendrick, guest-rapping, essentially called Drake a poseur and a chicken. That provoked some peripheral fallout, including a Drake diss by Rick Ross coming from the sidelines and a very weak response track by J. Cole, which he later walked back, apologizing to a stadium full of his own fans. 

Confused? There is a lot of minutiae here and even more menergy; all of this feels like a desperate display of testosterone in an era when women rappers are finally flourishing. But there are larger issues here that go beyond which rapper has the better flow, and it might not surprise you that women have ended up as collateral damage. 

Rap beef is rooted in the Dozens, a traditionally African American game of insults. The Dozens, in turn, influenced the freestyle battles that have flourished since hip-hop’s inception, in which two rappers diss each other to flex their superior lyrical talents, not unlike a verbal boxing match. In the Drake versus Kendrick battle, Kendrick is obviously superior; he has a better grasp of the language overall—a skill for which he once won a Pulitzer—and is more capable of varying his writing style. There is a comfortable consensus, too, that he’s winning the battle due to how deeply his insults cut, to the point that I keep imagining him as the X-Men character Psylocke, wielding a particularly sharpened psychic knife.


But as far as rap beefs go, this one feels increasingly gnarly. When Kendrick first asserted on “Like That” that respect is better than money or power, implying that Drake had the latter but not the former, it was fairly standard fare. Drake responded with “Push Ups,” which dissed Kendrick’s star power, and also with “Taylor Made Freestyle,” which claimed that Kendrick’s releases were being controlled by Taylor Swift. The idea that a man is in servitude to a woman is a pretty standard insult—but in retrospect, it was also an indicator of where this was all going. 

Over the course of four more Kendrick songs and two more Drake songs, all released in the short span of seven days, the rappers hit one another with an escalating series of basically criminal accusations. (On Monday evening, a security guard outside Drake’s Toronto mansion was shot, though authorities are currently investigating.) Drake accused Kendrick of hiring “a crisis management team to clean up the fact that you beat up your queen.” My stomach fell upon hearing it—it’s a shocking accusation, especially when it’s brought up so lightly in a rhyme.

But even worse was the fact that Kendrick’s response was released only 30 minutes later, and so the accusation of violence barely seemed to register. Besides, Kendrick’s barbs were just as nasty: that Drake is a pedophile, has a sick interest in underage girls, and that his record label might, in fact, be a ring of pedophiles. Kendrick suggested that Drake should be locked up alongside Harvey Weinstein, who at this moment is awaiting a new trial after a New York court overturned his rape conviction. Obviously, rapping it doesn’t make it true: As a written art form, a lot of rap lyrics are fantasy or narrative construction—that’s part of why it’s an infringement of First Amendment rights when those lyrics are used as evidence in trials. But does assuming that these allegations are simply lyrical shivs make them any better? Actually, the idea that women and girls are simply pawns in a brawl implies that neither artist cares too much about their well-being—unless they can be used as a weapon.


And if these accusations have even a kernel of truth to them, they reflect the way the entertainment industry keeps secrets to protect its own (and the way the #MeToo movement barely touched the music industry.) I keep thinking about Megan Thee Stallion, one of the most talented rappers in the U.S., who spent two full years being excoriated by male musicians and internet trolls after she accused Tory Lanez of shooting her in the foot; she was in a desperate enough place that she later rapped about her thoughts of suicide. Before Lanez was convicted in December 2022, even 50 Cent was forced to apologize for his ill-treatment of Megan.

But throughout the case, Drake was one of the worst offenders against Megan, rapping, “This bitch lie ’bout gettin’ shots but she still a stallion,” one line in a trilogy of Drake albums that seemed to trace his further descent in the darkest crevices of misogyny. (His latest, For All the Dogs, seems at times to just be a list of grievances against women.) As Vulture’s Craig Jenkins wrote in a wide-ranging piece about the violence and sex trafficking allegations against superproducer Diddy, “We can’t keep picking and choosing whose abuse we’re willing to buy, turning support for survivors into a contest of whose abusers made the most beloved songs. We can’t let wealthy men treat everyone in the vicinity like chattel.”

Megan eventually was able to bite back—her January 2024 diss track “Hiss,” which in part takes aim at Drake, is the most listenable of all the songs in this rap beef—but the scars are right there on her album, called Traumazine. The unnamed women in Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s beef tracks surely have their own scars, too. While hip-hop battles can sometimes feel like a sport, this one has become increasingly nihilistic. One wonders if either of these men is invested in what they’re saying or can even fathom what’s at stake for the lives of the people they are talking about, real or fictional.