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Kendrick vs. Drake and the parallels with Christian integrity

The current beef between Kendrick Lamar and Drake causes Chris Burton to reflect the spiritual practice of rebuking. 

Hip-Hop started in the South Bronx and competition has fueled its growth. Kool Herc, known as the Father of Hip-Hop, brought Jamaican sound system culture with him as he played music at Bronx neighborhood parties and park jams. Over the years, as commercial success pulled the art form further away from its roots, there has been an ongoing conversation of what is “real hip-hop.” MC Hammer was chided because his success was embraced by the mainstream in the early 90s. Artists like EPMD made songs like “Crossover” to emphasize that commercial success was something they did not desire. Even Jay-Z, one of the most successful musicians of all time, once rapped “Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense – but I did 5 mill – I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.”

This divide between authentic representation of hip-hop (steeped in an emphasis on lyricism, consciousness and Blackness) and commercial rap (with its focus on catchiness and mass appeal) has met what may be its tipping point in the lyrical battle between two of the genre’s biggest stars, Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

Their conflict has been brewing for over a decade when Kendrick declared in Big Sean’s 2013 track “Control” his desire to distinguish himself as the greatest rapper. He raps, “What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high,” and name-checks his contemporaries, including Drake.

Late in 2023, Drake alongside J. Cole released “First Person Shooter” where J. Cole opines, “Love when they argue the hardest MC. Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me,” asserting himself as a third of the genre’s vanguard. In 2024, it would become clear that this was an accolade Kendrick was unwilling to share with his peers. In the 2024 song “Like That,” he declares, “It’s just big me,” while alluding to his willingness to battle Drake and J. Cole to prove that he is the superior emcee.

This led Drake to release a couple of songs this spring where he publicly accepts Kendrick’s challenge and dares Kendrick to make songs about him directly. Drake says in the outro of “Taylor Made Freestyle,” “Dot, I know you’re in that NY apartment, you strugglin’ right now, I know it.” But as the last week of April would prove, Kendrick was not struggling, he was planning.

He would go on to release four songs in a week, all aimed at proving Drake’s inauthenticity.

Kendrick opens up his track “Euphoria” with an audio clip of Richard Pryor’s voice from “The Wiz” screaming, “Everything they say about me is true” in reverse. Among Kendrick’s accusations, he continuously calls Drake a master manipulator. In his song, “Not Like Us,” he tells Drake that he is a colonizer and “not a colleague.” As a reminder, these are two of the most successful artists in the genre. Yet, one tells the other that he is not a part of the culture.

As a reminder, these are two of the most successful artists in the genre. Yet, one is telling the other that he is not a part of the culture.

Kendrick’s authenticity argument made me think of 1 John 2:19 and its warning against antichrists. The author tells the church, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us, for if they had belonged to us they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.”

Kendrick argues that Drake is outside of hip-hop culture, a predator, and is a parasite who only uses the culture for his own benefit. Drake is a rapper from Toronto but has found success employing styles and even accents from Houston, Atlanta, Kingston, and London. Kendrick’s assertions hold more weight because of Drake’s habit of adopting regional sounds and accents. In an online video, Drake employs a faux Jamaican accent and declares himself “Shabba Ranks Drake.” The cover of Pusha T’s 2018 diss record to Drake, “The Story of Adidon,” uses a real picture of Drake using blackface. It is easy to write this photo off as merely satirical if it were not for Drake’s documented struggles with his own cultural identity that add fuel to Kendrick’s accusation (and Pusha T’s response in “The Story of Adidon”). Kendrick’s criticism is based on the belief that Drake is an outsider to the culture of hip-hop and someone who uses Blackness conveniently for monetary gain but is nowhere to be found with regard to social issues. Kendrick accuses Drake of the same dangerous insincerity that 1 John rails against.

Kendrick’s lyrics towards Drake are at times brutal, but his tone makes sense when one considers the disturbing behavior Kendrick alleges against Drake. Kendrick accuses Drake of harming children and even says, on “Meet the Grahams” that “we gotta raise our daughters with predators like him lurkin’.” Fans connect these lyrics to public knowledge that Drake texted actor Millie Bobbie Brown and singer Billie Elish when they were both underage, among other examples of inappropriate behavior toward minors. Drake denies allegations of grooming and pedophilia. Yet, one must wonder: if the accusations against Drake are true, is Kendrick right to protect hip-hop from someone who uses it as a tool for predatory behavior and success rather than self- and cultural expression?

The author of 1 John understood the importance of protection from deception. Their appeal to the church is grounded in an understanding of a shared knowledge of the truth (1 John 2:21). The church knows what integrity looks like. Therefore, the author demands that they hold onto the truth.

A diss record, at its core, is tantamount to a competitive sport. However, this feud between Drake and Kendrick reminds me that there are times to call in and call out. As we see in 1 John, there is a scriptural imperative to rebukel. In my own life, I feel this most urgently when it comes to Christian Nationalism. We need to be clear as followers of Christ that worshiping God—in all of its beautiful distinctions and multitude of traditions—cannot include making our country an equal or rival to God.

What responsibility do followers of Christ have to defend the faith from those who seek to use it solely as an instrument of success?

What responsibility do followers of Christ have to defend the faith from those who seek to use it solely as an instrument of success? And what does defense even look like? How do we ensure that our spirited defense does not feed humanity’s bloodlust and become violent?

There is a clear distinction between a diss record and our discourse within the church. Most notably, our faith calls us to love one another. As such, we should be able to call one another out to call each other in. Yet, we are in a time where disunity is so palpable that we cannot even recognize the ties that bind us. Calls for unity in this time too often lack the certitude of integrity, and instead, sound more like the calls for false peace from those with power.

Love is the ingredient that allows sincerity to become noticeable.

Love is the ingredient that allows sincerity to become noticeable. So as Christian Nationalism hyper focuses on strength and domination, we can show that God’s strength, as the Apostle Paul wrote, is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I do not think we need our battle to look like Kendrick and Drake, but we are certainly in a fight. We are in a fight to let the world know what love looks like; living in a manner that points to Christ and not to Empire.

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