Kendrick vs. Drake: Who Had the Best First Shot?

Scoring them each based on bars, presentation, and overall song quality, we break down who had the best effort between "Like That" and "Push Ups."

Split image of two male artists, left with braided hair and right with a beard, both in casual tops
via Getty
Split image of two male artists, left with braided hair and right with a beard, both in casual tops

When Drake released “No Friends in the Industry” a few years ago, the hook felt more symbolic than literal, since he was regularly collaborating with all the biggest names in hip-hop at the time. In the midst of a rapidly escalating rap war, though, Drake may indeed be all but friendless, especially following the leak of his scathing response to Kendrick Lamar’s shots on “Like That.” 

Clocking in at just under four minutes, the song (which we’ll call “Push Ups” for now because it still has no official title) sees Drizzy throwing bars at Future, Metro Boomin, The Weeknd, Rick Ross, and Kendrick Lamar. Especially Kendrick. The hook itself is a reference to rumors of Kendrick’s reportedly unfavorable business situation with Top Dawg Entertainment, and the bars about the Compton rapper are as brutal as they are witty. But is “Push Ups” enough? Or is Drake going to have to pay a visit to the weight rack? Let’s take a look. 

Scoring them each based on bars (10 points), presentation (5 points), and overall song quality (5 points), we break down who had the best first shot between Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

The Bars:

Shortly after “Push Ups” leaked, Drake used his Instagram Story to post an image of The Bride’s climactic fight in Kill Bill Volume 1. In the battle, The Bride uses a rare Hattori Hanzo sword and ornate (yet functional) techniques to cut her way through more than three dozen opponents on her way to deadly vengeance. Call it corny, but listening to “Push Ups,” it’s hard not to see the parallels.

Over the course of four minutes, Drake uses snarky humor, neat syntax, and the argumentative skills of Bradford Cohen to slice through Kendrick, Future, Metro Boomin, Rick Ross, The Weeknd, and others with ruthless, economical precision. Like Jay-Z before him, Drake is capable of dismantling an idea almost as soon as he introduces it. It’s an ideal skill set for a “20-v-1” brawl, wherein you need to take down an opponent quickly before moving on to the next one. 

Drake sprays venom at many of his rap adversaries, but he saves most of it for Kendrick. In two especially cutting bars, Drake shades Kendrick for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ relative lack of success to highlight the perceived conscious rap bias: “Your last one bricked, you really not on shit/ They make excuses for you 'cause they hate to see me lit.” While the subsequent “split” bars (“Pull your contract 'cause we gotta see the split/ The way you doin' splits, bitch, your pants might rip”) are a little corny, it’s an effective indictment of both Kendrick, rap critics, and the type of Stans that would say, “It takes a certain level of intelligence” unironically.

Elsewhere on the track, he takes time to make fun of Kendrick's history of pop star guest appearances: "Maroon 5 need a verse, you better make it witty/Then we need a verse for the Swifties." It works on a few levels. Drake has usually been considered the polished pop star compared to Kendrick's raw, poetic gifts. People use that idea to discredit Drake's credibility as a rapper, but with this quip, he calls attention to Kendrick's clumsy attempts at mainstream pop crossovers, framing them as shameless cash-grabs that only happened at the behest of Top Dawg CEO Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. The only problem here is that, as far as we know, Kendrick already released his final album on TDE, so this part of the song feels dated—unless there’s something we don’t know. But being truthful isn’t as important as being funny and plausible, and these bars are both. 

Responding to Kendrick’s hard-hitting Prince and Michael Jackson line (“Nigga, Prince outlived Mike Jack”), Drake turns in a multi-layered metaphor for the ages: “What's a prince to a king? He a son, nigga.” On a literal level, yes, a prince is almost always the son of a king, which positions Kendrick as Drizzy’s son. On a secondary level, Michael Jackson literally has a son named Prince. 

But make no mistake, Kendrick got his bars off, too, even if the function of his verse was different. On “Like That,” Kendrick dismisses the notion of himself being in a Big 3 with Drake and J. Cole with a powerful one-liner: “Motherfuck the Big 3, nigga, it’s just big me.” Elsewhere, he plays with the gun metaphor that Drizzy and Cole introduced on “First Person Shooter,” telling them their guns need multiple switches if they’re to avoid being residents of a pet cemetery. However, the standout of the song remains the Prince and Mike Jack bar, and it has  a level of symbolism you might not have even noticed: Drake’s uncle Larry Graham is a musician who regularly toured with Prince while contributing to some of his albums. Additionally, Prince was supposed to be on Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly cut, Complexion (A Zulu Love),” but the timing didn’t work out. Was all of this intentional? Who knows. But it speaks to the weight of the comparison in the first place. 

In some ways, of course, looking at the bars versus bars element of this conversation feels slightly asymmetrical. K.Dot’s verse was a brief signal flare for beef. Kendrick said it was up, but with his wit, dexterity, and powers of concision, Drake took it up another level. 

Drake: 9/10

Kendrick: 7.5/10

The Presentation:

Drake said everything with his chest on “Push Ups,” so it’s too bad his rollout was so timid. And I say “rollout” generously. Although Drake (or someone on his team) sent a CDQ version to DJ Akademiks, the track isn’t listed under any of his online accounts or on any streaming platforms, so nominally speaking, it’s unreleased. Maybe Drake leaked the track for a temperature check? Maybe it really did leak and he said, “Fuck it, might as well give them the official version?” Either way, this isn’t the rollout of someone who’s confident about what they’ve made, and the whole thing was so confusing that most people weren’t even sure if it was the work of artificial intelligence or not when it first dropped. It would have been more impactful if he just released the track on Apple Music after the leak happened, just to preserve the appearance of control. We’ll give Drake some credit for taking on so many opponents at once, but for someone who’s known to be hyper-deliberate, he appeared pretty sloppy here. 

If the presentation of “Push Ups” was meek and disorganized, then “Like That” was grand and meticulous. While being as ubiquitous as Drake has its advantages, Kendrick is a more rare commodity, so any release is an event. And the fact that he used his semi-annual guest verse to reignite a rap beef gives it all the more symbolic gravitas. Its placement on a Future and Metro Boomin album that peaked at No. 1 on the charts only enhances that effect. Oh, yeah. The song itself sat at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for two weeks (soon to be three) as well. 

Kendrick said he wanted all the smoke, so he shut all the windows, blocked all the exits, and poured gasoline in the building until vapors from charred rap beef became suffocatingly inescapable. Drake lit a fuse and sparked a massive flame, but didn’t even bother to make sure all the doors were closed. Advantage, Kendrick. 

Drake: 3/5

Kendrick: 5/5

The Song:

As a diss song, “Push Ups” could go down as a masterpiece. It’s a HOVian showcase for saying a lot with a little, both a scathing op-ed and a dense investigative report. It’s Ip Man taking down 10 combatants all by himself, using nothing but the skills he’s spent decades crafting. The frantic percussion, the sinister piano, and Drake’s delivery convey peak urgency. The hook, wherein Drizzy accuses Kendrick of being extorted and having to give TDE founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith 50 percent of his earnings, is both playfully condescending and catchy. If Drake released it, there’s a chance “Push Ups” would hit the top of the charts, too. It’s a really good song. Bar for bar, it lyrically outclasses Kendrick’s opening shot. But as a full song, “Like That” is (a little) better. 

Pairing a triumphant Metro Boomin instrumental with a stellar performance from Future and a declaration of war from Kendrick, “Like That” is indelible. The first part of the hook challenges you to assess your own authenticity, and the second is a call to action: prove you’re really “Like That.” The Rodney O and Joe Cooley sample hit when Three 6 Mafia used it, it hit when Lil Wayne used it, and it hit even harder when Metro and Future used it, with Metro’s added breakdowns and Kendrick’s verse only layering in more theatrics. As a diss song, “Like That” might not match up to “Push Ups” because it lacks the same focus. When it comes to overall song quality, however, “Push Ups” is dope, but it isn’t “Like That.”

Drake: 4/5

Kendrick: 4.5/5

Who is winning?

With a score of 17 to Drake’s 16, Kendrick emerges as the narrow winner here. By striking first and framing his diss in the context of arguably the song of the year so far, he created a pantheon moment for his own mythology. In the process, he gave himself a slight advantage, even if he didn’t spend as much time delivering actual disses. Drake’s bars were vicious; a masterclass in pure technicianship. It’s a reminder that no one besides Pusha-T should ever doubt his ability to cook rap beef, but his poor execution doesn’t exactly scream “carnivore.” The sloppy release (or really, lack of official release) demonstrates an unfortunate lack of conviction while limiting the reach of his words. As far as the song itself goes, he performed admirably, but execution is important. No one got washed here, and while we’ll give Kendrick the slight nod, it’s anyone’s game headed into the next round. 

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