A beef history of Drake and Kendrick Lamar’s long-simmering feud

One is a chart-dominating artist who pops streaming records as frequently as he does champagne bottles; the other is possibly the greatest rapper of all time, with multiple Grammy wins and a Pulitzer Prize to his name.

Many fans would agree that Drake and Kendrick Lamar operate in entirely different lanes. Drake entertains with summery rap-pop jams such as “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling”, dabbling in trap, dancehall and R&B along the way, while Lamar has asserted himself as a deft lyricist capable of blending street smarts with a literary wit. Yet their once friendly relationship has descended into years of traded barbs and thinly veiled disses, fuelled by fans who clash over which one is the better artist.

In the past week alone, Lamar managed to spark a fan frenzy with his latest rap feature on Future and Metro Boomin’s new release “Like That”, in which he directly responds to a verse by fellow rapper J Cole on Drake’s 2023 song, “First Person Shooter”.

Then, 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.” (K-Dot is a nickname given to Lamar, while Drake’s birth name is Aubrey Drake Graham.)

On “Like That”, Lamar appeared to dismiss Cole’s suggestion that they are on the same level as artists: “Motherf*** the big three, n***a, it’s just big me,” he rapped. “N***a, bum, what? I’m really like that / And your best work is a light pack.”

Meanwhile, as Drake compared his commercial success to that of Michael Jackson, Lamar referenced the historic beef between the King of Pop and Prince during the Eighties: “N***a, Prince outlived Mike Jack.”

The surprise verse from Lamar is the latest moment in a long-simmering feud between the two hip-hop titans, after they initially started out on friendly terms.

Here’s a look at their relationship over the years.

2011 – Kendrick Lamar’s career beginnings and initial friendship

Lamar and Drake were once on relatively friendly terms, with the Canadian artist inviting Lamar out on his Club Paradise headline tour.

Lamar said in an early career interview that he and Drake “clicked immediately”, describing the fellow rapper as a “genuine soul” and revealing that Drake was the first person outside of his immediate team to hear his debut album Section 80. Drake later invited K-Dot to feature on his forthcoming second album, Take Care.

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Drake performing with Rihanna in 2011

Around the release of Lamar’s critically acclaimed second album, Good Kid, MAAD City, on which Drake featured, tension appeared to begin brewing between the pair, seemingly in part due to their differing attitudes towards wealth and fame.

Where Lamar tends to avoid sharing details of his personal life on social media, Drake is known for sharing frequent posts about his lavish lifestyle to his millions of Instagram followers, from private jets to couture and luxury cars. Lamar discussed this openly in interviews, hinting that he believed bragging about money and fame was superficial, and his own music tackled deeper matters.

The two also seemed to grow colder towards one another as Lamar began to experience commercial and critical success, scooping major awards and receiving universal praise for Good Kid, MAAD City and being invited to star on tracks by other major artists.

In public, Drake continued to congratulate Lamar for a number of his successes, until 2013, when Lamar dropped a verse on Big Sean’s track “Control” that made it clear he considered himself above other rappers… including Drake.

Kendrick Lamar performing at the BET Hip Hop Awards in 2012

While rappers such as A$AP Rocky, who was also name-checked, seemed pleased to be namechecked by Lamar at all, believing his competitive nature to be healthy for hip-hop, Drake seemed less enamoured.

“Was that real or was that just for the people?” he asked in an interview on Hot 97 after Lamar’s guest verse came out. “Those were harsh words, right? It’s like, you can’t just say that and then see me and be like, ‘Yeah man…’ pretending like nothing ever happened. That’s not real, man.”

Drake doubled down on this stance in a later interview where he implied that Lamar was more about a “moment” than creating bodies of work, questioning whether he would release something that could top Good Kid, MAAD City.

He then released his third album, 2013’s Nothing Was the Same, in which he appeared to take aim at Lamar on “The Language”, rapping: “F*** any n***a that’s talking that s*** just to get a reaction.”

On the same track, he referred to himself as “the kid with the motormouth / I am the one you should worry about.” He also seemed to mock Lamar’s attitude towards wealth, rapping: “N***as downplaying the money but that’s what you do when the money down.”

Artwork for Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, ‘Good Kid, MAAD City’

On a recent episode of the What’s the Dirt YouTube show, in which host Matt delves into beefs between prominent hip-hop artists, it was suggested that Drake was being contemptuous of Lamar’s rapid-fire delivery, and felt that his own music had more substance.

“It’s clearly about Kendrick,” he said, citing instances where Lamar appeared to laugh at Drake’s expense during interviews and suggesting K-Dot might have said something behind the “Hold On” singer’s back, which later made its way to him.

Drake’s resentment might have grown after Lamar seemingly mocked Drake for being “sensitive during a freestyle with ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab Soul and Isaiah Rashad: “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped ‘Control’/ And tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pyjama clothes.”

Drake performing in 2013

Fans were convinced he was talking about Drake, given he’d cited the title of the fellow rapper’s recent album, Nothing Was the Same.

Drake then got personal a few weeks later on Future’s track “S**t”, where he pointed out that Lamar played his biggest shows at the time around his hometown in Los Angeles while supporting Drake on tour in 2012: “Took n***as out the hood like I’m from there / So you know it’s all good when I come there / I hear you talk about your city like you run that / And I brought my tour to your city, you my son there, n***a.”

By the end of 2013, the relationship between the pair had grown distinctly chilly; they appeared on the same track for the last time with A$AP Rocky on “F**kin’ Problems”.

2014 – the public digs grow more frequent, even as Lamar plays down the beef

A few months after Drake appeared on Future’s track, controversy erupted at the Grammy Awards when rapper Macklemore won Album of the Year over Lamar, who was nominated for Good Kid, MAAD City, now widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time.

Macklemore, real name Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, then shared a text on Instagram that he sent to Lamar after the win, in which he confessed that he felt the fellow rapper was “robbed” and that he’d been rooting for Lamar to win.

Drake was unimpressed by this, calling Macklemore out in an interview with Rolling Stone where he said the apology felt “cheap”.

If Macklemore was going to hand out apologies, Drake said, he should have offered one to other nominees: “That s*** made me feel funny,” he said. “No, in that case, you robbed everybody. We all need text messages!”

Lamar and Drake continued to take subtle swipes at one another on guest features, but K-Dot seemed to dismiss fan speculation and suggest they were “digging too far” in a radio interview that aired later that year.

In What’s the Dirt, the host notes that despite this, Lamar continued to make digs about what he perceived to be the difference between his artistry and Drake’s, leaning into the public perception that Drake was a glorified pop artist, rather than a credible hip-hop star skilled in the art of lyricism.

“Comparing these projects makes zero sense,” Matt said, referring to Lamar’s Grammy-winning album To Pimp a Butterfly and Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, both released in 2015.

Artwork for Kendrick Lamar’s critically adored 2015 album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’

“Drake’s project was great for club DJs, gym playlists, cruising in the car… whereas Kendrick’s album touched on real-world issues, was chanted during protests, and is looked at today as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time,” he said.

In summer that year, controversy was sparked after rapper Meek Mill accused Drake of using a ghostwriter for his guest verse on Mill’s recent LP, leading to a number of barbed exchanges in diss tracks.

Drake defended himself against the allegations in September, telling The Fader: “I need, sometimes, individuals to spark an idea so that I can take off running. Music at times can be a collaborative process, you know? Who came up with this, who came up with that – for me, it’s like, I know that it takes me to execute every single thing that I’ve done up until this point. And I’m not ashamed.”

Fans were convinced Kendrick Lamar took a swipe at Drake allegedly using a ghostwriter

However, this didn’t stop fans scrambling to point out that Lamar had hinted at a fellow rapper using ghostwriters in his hit single, “King Kunta”, which featured on To Pimp a Butterfly: “I can dig rappin’, but a rapper with a ghostwriter? / What the f*** happened? / I swore I wouldn’t tell…”

2016 – Drake dominates sales and streams, but Kendrick is the critical darling

Both artists seemed to cool down as they focused on their respective projects, with Drake dropping his fourth studio album, the Jamaican dancehall-influenced Views, in April 2016. The record spawned a number of major hits including “One Dance”, “Hotline Bling” and “Controlla”, leading to the Canadian star becoming the most-streamed artist of the year. It also resulted in Drake achieving his first ever UK No 1 album, as it also debuted at the top of the US Billboard 200.

Drake dancing to Hotline Bling

However, Drake couldn’t resist making a few digs around that time, rapping with The Game on his track “100” about the perception of him as a pop artist: “I would have all of your fans if I didn’t go pop / And I stayed on some conscious sh**.”

A year later, Lamar released his own fourth album, DAMN, and received considerably more critical praise than Drake had for Views. Where reviews of Drake’s album were mixed, critics lavished praise on DAMN, even directly pitting it against Views. “It’s Mr Lamar’s version of the creeping paranoia that has become de rigueur for midcareer Drake,” Jon Caramanica wrote for the New York Times. “And yet this is most likely Mr Lamar’s most jubilant album, the one in which his rhymes are the least tangled.”

Drake seemed to try and squash any past beef, however, the month Lamar dropped DAMN, posting a comment on the Instagram page of Tidal’s editorial director Elliot Wilson showing that DAMN had out-sold Drake’s More Life mixtape in its opening week by 100,000 copies.

Artwork for Kendrick Lamar’s album ‘DAMN.’

“Amazing to see our music moving!” Drake wrote, also liking a comment by a fan who suggested he, Lamar and J Cole collaborate on a track.

Three years after DAMN’s release, Lamar would become the first rapper in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for music, marking the first time a non-classical or jazz artist had won the distinguished award.

Through this time, however, Lamar goes quiet with new music releases (with the exception of the Black Panther film soundtrack in 2018, which spawned a few extra Grammy nominations including Song of the Year for “All the Stars” with SZA).

Meanwhile, Drake continues to dominate the charts with a string of releases including his Scary Hours EP and his fifth album, 2018’s Scorpion, which included the singles “God’s Plan”, “Nice for What” and “I’m Upset”.

By this point, the public interest in comparing the two artists was so pronounced that even the then-president, Barack Obama, was asked to declare which one he favoured.

2019 – Mr Morale & the Big Steppers to the present day

While Drake has seemed to make occasional attempts to hand Lamar an olive branch, the Compton rapper remains tight-lipped unless he’s taking swipes on a track. But after K-Dot took almost five years to release the follow-up to DAMN, his 2022 album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, Drake apparently couldn’t resist an opportunity to lash out.

“I know it’s summertime, I’ve gotta give you s***!” he told fans during a show for his It’s All a Blur tour in 2023. “I don’t know about these guys that go away for three, four, five years and wanna chill out and all that s***. That’s not me.” Drake then announced the forthcoming release of his 2024 album, For All the Dogs.

Drake and For All the Dogs album cover

Drake had previously been criticised by some for his relentless string of singles, EPs, mixtapes and studio albums, while Lamar is notorious for leaving long gaps between releases.

Which brings us to the present day, after Lamar made a surprise appearance on “Like That”, which appears on Future and Metro Boomin’s collaborative album, We Don’t Trust You.

K-Dot appeared to directly respond to J Cole’s verse on “First Person Shooter” from Drake’s For All The Dogs, where Cole raps: “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.”

“Motherf*** the big three, n***a, it’s just big me,” Lamar raps on “Like That”. “N***a, bum, What? I’m really like that/And your best work is a light pack.”

Drake appeared to brush off Lamar’s diss at a recent concert while on his tour with Cole, in support of It’s All a Blur.

“A lot of people asking me how I’m feeling… listen, the way I’m feeling is the same way I want you to walk out of here feeling tonight about your f***ing self,” Drake told his audience, footage shared to social media on 25 March shows.

“Because you know how I’m feeling? I got my head up high, my back straight, I’m 10 f***ing toes down… and feeling like anywhere else I go… and I know no matter what, there’s not a n**** on this Earth that can ever f*** with me in my life,” he shouted. “And that’s how I want y’all to walk out of here tonight…”

“But,” he continued, “you know, you can get yourselves gassed up, riled up and move towards the future… Sometimes you’ve got to acknowledge the mistakes you’ve made in the past… right? So that’s what I want you all to do. Everybody in here.”

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