How the Drake-Kendrick rivalry benefited both artists at first but took a turn

There aren’t many easier ways to jump a level of fame than by joining a feud. For centuries, audiences have been captivated by juicy spats, from Capulets vs. Montagues to Hatfields vs. McCoys. But modern-day internet culture in particular thrives on bad blood. Studies have found that social media algorithms . Users, as a result, have normalized and invasive Easter egg hunts dissecting peoples’ private lives. So the Bravo machine churns out ; musicians conjure . On forums like Reddit’s wildly popular , people spend hours of their free time adjudicating even the most anonymous and petty of conflicts.

While modern culture loves virtually any dispute, we especially love fights among the hyper-famous. It’s too much work for the average person to figure out who both are and why we should care. So perhaps it was unsurprising that the Kendrick Lamar-Drake feud that’s unfolded over the last couple months has captivated so many—and taken up so much cultural oxygen.

Is either artist at the top of their artistic game or cultural relevance? Probably not. But each of them has been a central public figure for more than a decade, having risen to power far before algorithms splintered our feeds; they’ve shaped new generations of musicians and the . And each of them acutely understands the importance of rap rivalries—and the creative and commercial benefits that come with them.

So both men bought into the war, delivering one scathing diss song after the other. The result has been one of the most explosive, entertaining, and widely dissected rap feuds in the genre’s 50-year history. For a while, the feud was only positive for both men (as well as the corporate overlords they share). But with the latest missives in the war turning disconcertingly nasty, the scales have tipped against Drake in a way that could actually do long-standing reputational damage to his career.

Competition as motivation

One of Drake’s superpowers is his constant regeneration: his ability to summon a new aesthetic palette, a new muse, a new rival that keeps him in the cultural news cycle. Drake is often accused of being a culture vulture, and glomming onto younger artists around the world for relevance. But those younger artists, in turn, profit from his co-signs. Drake’s recent collaborations with the ascendant rapper Sexyy Red—including the hit —show how his quasi-mentor system, no matter how extractive, can benefit everyone involved.

As Drake hand-picks proteges, he also hand-picks rivals in the same way; it’s as if he summons up new video game bosses whenever his career starts to get stale. Over the past decade, he’s tangled via rap records with Tyga, Meek Mill, and Pusha T, to name a few. And while his rivals have landed serious blows against him, he’s embraced the tabloid-style frenzy at each of those junctures, incorporating them into his narrative identity as an underappreciated lone ranger constantly battling the world.

Lamar, on the other hand, is much more calcified in his persona. He releases music more slowly, and largely takes aim at rather than individuals. While this approach has earned him unending critical plaudits and even a , it hasn’t resulted in the same consistent commercial success as Drake, who has more than the number of songs with 500 million streams on Spotify that , according to the data analysis site Kworb.

But one of the biggest moments of Lamar’s career came in 2013, when he dropped a verse on Big Sean’s “Control” that took aim at his biggest rivals. On the song, Lamar asserted that competition was a central part of his craft: “This is hip-hop, and them n—-s should know what time it is,” he asserted, name-dropping a slew of rappers including Drake before threatening: “I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you.” Lamar’s Twitter followers in the week following the track’s release.

Everybody wins—for a while

Given that context, perhaps it’s not surprising that sooner or later, Lamar would return to the same well, and take aim at another rapper partially in order to reinvigorate his career. In March, he released a verse on Metro Boomin and Future’s “Like That,” in which he very consciously set flame to long-simmering tensions between himself and Drake: “My temperament bipolar, I choose violence,” he rapped.

Two weeks later, Drake responded with the diss song “Push Ups,” and the war was on: the pair began trading volley after volley. During this mad rush of lyricism, many people on social media that no matter who had the lyrical edge, the fans themselves were , by being witness to the most highly-motivated versions of their idols. To younger fans who hadn’t been around for Biggie and Tupac or Jay and Nas, the Kendrick-Drake brawl felt like the continuation of a long legacy of rap beefs leading to urgent, excellent art.

But it was the two men at the center who stood to benefit the most. Culturally, their Godzilla v. King Kong-style conflict helped solidify them in many fans’ minds as the two titans of a rap decade. While J. Cole had practically initiated this whole spat by naming himself in a so-called “Big Three” with the other two on the song “First Person Shooter,” he quickly announced he would , which confirmed to many that he wasn’t on their level. And their force of gravity brought practically the entire hip-hop world into their orbit, with Kanye West, Rick Ross, Future and many others either becoming collateral or trying to get in on the action to assert their own primacy.

Financially, the duo’s streaming numbers in the midst of the very public spat: the more they insulted each other, the more they raked in money. “Like That” became Lamar’s first number one song since 2017’s “Humble,” and held the spot for three weeks. Notably, Megan Thee Stallion’s another diss record released in the midst of a feud with Nicki Minaj, took a similar pathway to the top of the charts the month prior. Drake, too, raked in millions of streams and Instagram views for his own missives. On May 6, Drake and Lamar’s diss tracks made up five of the top nine songs on Spotify’s Top 50 – USA chart.

When viewed through an economic lens, some cynics argued that the two rivals were actually in alignment and working toward a larger goal: making money for the music industry behemoth Universal Music Group (UMG). Drake’s albums on his label OVO are distributed by Republic Records, which is a division of UMG. “Like That,” Kendrick’s first major diss track against Drake, was also a Republic release. And Kendrick’s own label Interscope also happens to be under the UMG umbrella.

Kendrick is signed to Interscope and Drake is signed to UMGUMG owns InterscopeThis beef is manufactured to distract you from police shooting up college campuses with rubber bullets over peaceful protests that are pro Palestinian Or maybe they just really don’t like each…— Legend (@Legend)

Last week, the hip-hop artist Vince Staples argued that the beef was a distraction from major record labels’ divestment from Black artists.

One of my homies got on IG and spoke about how Drake & Kendrick, regardless of the splits, are both under UMG. So, at the end of the day, they are both involved in the cycle of artists making the conglomerate rich while they get pennies on the dollar. — twentytwentyforest🌳. (@iamjadeforest)

But the feud is tilting in one direction

So both men had a vested interest