Kendrick Lamar Won’t Stop Pressing the Red Button

It's been a historic weekend.

Close-up of a man in a black and white photo, looking at the camera
via pgLang/YouTube
Close-up of a man in a black and white photo, looking at the camera

Once upon a time, a dick-measuring contest threatened to destroy the whole world. After J. Robert Oppenheimer helped create the planet’s first atomic bombs, the United States and Russia found themselves in a race to develop as many nukes as possible, just so the other country knew not to fuck with the other. This idea evolved into the concept of “mutually assured destruction,” which is to say, “if you nuke us, we’ll nuke you.” Or as the late Prodigy once said, “I’m going out blasting, taking my enemies with me.” To put it simply, the fate of our existence depended on a general confidence in our rivals not being totally on one. Now, following a lengthy period of silent conflict and ammunition-stacking in the Great Rap War of 2024, Drake and Kendrick Lamar are on a thousand, throwing caution to the wind in the most epic rap beef in decades. 

After years of covert sneak disses, and a couple weeks of jabs, the two rappers had been prepping to unload their WMDs on Friday, May 3. Before this, both had threatened the other by hinting at owning a whole bunch of nukes (a narrative that was also pushed on The Joe Budden Podcast). But now it was time to see who would blink first. On Friday night, Drake entered his nuclear launch codes—mutually assured, whatever be damned—by releasing “Family Matters,” which ends with serious (but currently unverified) claims about Kendrick allegedly abusing his wife. Drake fans rejoiced and took their victory laps, noting the sharp wordplay, the disrespectful easter eggs, and even the spinny G-Unit medallion. But then Kendrick pressed his own red button. Then he pressed it again. 

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The first explosion came 37 minutes after Drake’s strike. Titled “Meet the Grahams,” it’s an Alchemist-produced diss conceived in a cauldron of vengeance and utter wickedness. Featuring downbeat percussion and dreary keys, it’s a soundtrack for the sinister, built around a sample from Andrew Wartts and The Gospel Storytellers’ “Can You Say Yeah?” That particular song was released in 1982 on an album called There Is a God Somewhere, but listening to “Meet The Grahams” too many times, you’ll start to think there isn’t. Here, Kendrick takes the gloves off for something intimate, piercing, and altogether uncomfortable. Part lecture, part bedtime story, the track sees Kendrick addressing Drake’s son Adonis, Drake’s parents and, finally, an 11-year-old daughter Kendrick says Drake’s abandoned (Drake says it’s cap). 

Kendrick employs all of his theatrical gifts on “Meet the Grahams,” using the timbre of his voice and exaggerated inflections to convey everything from genuine concern to complete disgust. Speaking to Drake’s son Adonis—or, pretending to—in the first verse, Kendrick runs through all of the Toronto rapper’s perceived shortcomings as a man. He calls out Drake for allegedly hooking up with escorts. He references the time T.I.’s friend allegedly peed on Drake’s leg. He brings up the idea that Drake disowned Adonis’ mother out of shame. It’s an extremely condescending way of saying, “Listen here, son, don’t be like your daddy.” It’s cutting, and it’s as technically sharp as it is well-acted. “And you're a good kid, need that good leadership/ Let me be your mentor, since your daddy don't teach you shit,” Kendrick raps, carrying all the paternal warmth of a concerned father. From there, he pretends to tell Drake’s parents that their son is a pedophile, phasing into a frenzied delivery that carries the urgency of a priest performing an exorcism. He might as well be saying, “The power of Christ compels you.” Drake’s team says the part about him having an abandoned daughter is a lie, but even without that, the damage was done.

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History might gloss over “Family Matters” in light of Kendrick’s clapback, but “Family Matters” is a strong ass diss record. Boi1da and Tay Keith come through for a proper drive-by soundtrack. And similarly to “Push Ups,” the raps themselves are an exercise in efficiency, as Drake makes time to go at Kendrick, Metro Boomin, Rick Ross, and others without a lot of wasted movement. Most scandalously, he accuses Kendrick of abusing his wife, having a child with Kendrick’s business partner Dave Free, and being a deadbeat father. Similar to Kendrick’s claims about the 11-year-old daughter, these allegations haven’t been substantiated and K. Dot had previously implied that Drake is simply “fabricating lies on the family front cause [he] heard Mr. Morale.” But Drake gets off his accusations with tidy rhyme schemes and concision, hitting Kendrick with bars like, “Why you never hold your son and tell him, ‘Say cheese?’ We could've left the kids out of this, don't blame me/You a dog and you know it, you just play sweet/Your baby mama captions always screamin', ‘Save me.” Drake’s accusation is extremely serious, one that Kendrick will have to address, and the whole song is a rap character assassination distilled in a cold-blooded way. 

Still, “Family Matters” won’t be remembered as a knockout punch in this battle. Drake’s multitasking is impressive, but scattered attention takes some power out of his blows. He tries to unload some bomb shells, but judging by the reception on social media after it landed, it’s not having the impact Drake may have expected. Kendrick’s strategic move to drop directly after “Family Matters” both took the wind out of the Drake’s sails and put a hole in the boat. To date, Drake’s Twitter post for “Family Matters” has been retweeted 27,000 times. Kendrick’s post for “Meet The Grahams” has been retweeted 127,000 times. That’s just one silly metric, but overall public opinion seemed to be swaying in Kendrick’s direction. 

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But Kendrick wasn’t finished. Shoving his index finger onto the blood-red sphere of temptation on Saturday night, he tapped in with Mustard for “Not Like Us,” easily the biggest banger of the rap war since “Like That.” Remember when Kendrick said that if he had to smack the shit out of somebody he’d make it look sexy? “Meet The Grahams” wasn’t sexy. “Not Like Us” is. The track works on a few levels. One, it has perhaps the best Mustard production since “Ballin.” Two, the hook is infectious as it is symbolic. And it’s an exclusionary sentiment aimed at Drake and anyone like him, effectively making it a rallying cry; whatever “they” are, they’re not like “us.” Videos of folks turning up to the song at clubs have already flooded the web, and it’s unlikely that’ll stop any time soon. 

Those elements alone make it one of the best songs of 2024 so far. But Kendrick fuses all of these with some of the most incisive bars of this entire battle royale. He recalls a shameful instance of Drake betrayal: “Fucked on Wayne girl while he was in jail, that's connivin/ Then get his face tatted like a bitch apologizing." Elsewhere, he continues to accuse Drake of pedophilia, using some cheesy, but effective wordplay to make his point in an instantly memorable micro-climax: “Why you trollin' like a bitch? Ain't you tired? Tryna strike a chord and it's probably A-Minor. 

The surgical deconstruction doesn’t stop there. In the fourth verse, Kendrick uses a minor history lesson and a trip to Drake’s own recent history to paint the Toronto rapper as a culture vulture. He calls out Drake for his “Family Matters” bar about Kendrick rapping like he’s “about to get the slaves freed” before suggesting that Drake steals various parts of his style from Atlanta: “You run to Atlanta when you need a few dollars/ No, you not a colleague, you a fuckin' colonizer.” Harsh, dexterous and utterly irresistible, “Not Like Us” completed a historic Kendrick hat trick. Even a Drake Stan like DJ Akademiks had to admit, “'Not Like Us' might be a legit hit song.. shit too hard.”

Predictably, the internet has been totally chaotic since. Adonis is trending. Mustard is trending. “Family Matters” is trending. “Not Like Us” is trending. Literally, everything related to this whole thing is trending. It’s the aftershock of a titanic rap battle we might never see again. After all, it’s rare that technical rhyming skillsets match up to the accolades. Drake’s won so many Grammys he stopped giving a fuck about them years ago. He’s got more slaps than the Beatles. Kendrick’s got Grammys and No. 1 hits. And he won a Pulitzer Prize. 

If you’re looking for a historical precedent, you have to go back at least 23 years. That’s when Jay-Z and Nas went at it. But imagine if Hov and Esco dropped “Takeover” and “Ether” back-to-back on the same night. What if they dropped “Supa Ugly” and “Made You Look” just a couple days after that? What if The Notorious B.I.G. decided to make fun of Afeni’s addiction and release a Tupac diss so scathing that it made “Hit Em Up” look like “We Are the World”? 

On a less theoretical level, you can look back to Drake dropping “Charged Up” and “Back to Back” in a four-day span. He went back to back. Kendrick went back-to-back twice. On “Not Like Us,” he hints that he’s got several more Drake disses on deck, too. Even folks like ScHoolboy Q seem to be hinting that more deadly assaults are imminent. When he dissed Drake and J. Cole on “Like That” a little over a month ago, Kendrick brought back that old feeling. Now, he’s brought us something we never felt before, and the end of the world never sounded so good.

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