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Rap Beef: The Big Picture (Cole vs. Kendrick)

Kendrick Lamar’s “Like That” comes from Future & Metro Boomin’s WE DON’T TRUST YOU (2024)

As an artist, fan, and overall supporter of hip-hop music for a vast majority of my life, I have seen many eras of this dynamic community come and go. The 90’s were filled with the G-funk, gangsta-fied sounds of the West, the hardcore grunge of the East, and the slang of the South.  

These 3 pillars solidified the previous groundwork that was laid in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s, that put hip hop in the center of the mainstream eye. Fast forward to the 2000’s and hip-hop has become more than a ‘genre’ of music, but a culture and a way of life that impacts every race, gender, religion, and creed.

Hip Hop has ALWAYS been the loudspeaker for the voices of the unheard and disenfranchised in the black community. All the communal issues of places like New York, California, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, were now put on the forefront for the outside world to see. Everything from inner city systematic oppression and violence to the day-to-day happenings of the people that live with the reality of living in such environments, from generation after generation. 

Although, hip-hop exposed the world to many harsh realities that exist in America, it is predicated from being a means of mentally escaping these realities through good times, good music, and community empowerment. Quite the opposite of the current reality of those times.

My, oh my have times drastically changed. Though I am an avid participant in the hip-hop community and everything that comes with it, one immensely popular aspect of it is served as the rot that spoils the bunch. Rap Beef. 

This glitch in the hip-hop matrix has been the culprit for its malfunction as an art. We have hidden it behind the competitive edge that has deeply existed in hip hop for decades, but the raw truth about it is, rap beef (as opposed to a ‘rivalry’) and its prevalence in the genre, currently serve as a microcosm for the social dynamics currently existing amongst the people in the black community.

80s: The Bridge Wars

One of the first known hip hop rivalry’s that spilled over into the public, famously known as The Bridge Wars, happened in Mid-80’s New York, between the South Bronx’s Boogie Down Productions and Queensbridge’s Juice Crew.

The ‘beef’ started with MC Shan & Marley Mar’s “The Bridge,” which seemingly laid claim to Queensbridge being the birthplace of hip hop.

MC Shan – “The Bridge”

BDP’s Marly Mar and MC Shan diss “The Bridge is Over” was their response to this. Historically, hip hop is known to be birthed in the Bronx, so South Bronx representative KRS-One released also “South Bronx” to dispel that rumor and establish South Bronx as THE birthplace for hip hop. This rivalry went on and escalated into the 90’s. 

KRS-One – “South Bronx” (1987)

BDP – “The Bridge is Over” (1987)

It is important to know this in context because The Bridge Wars sparked feuds between the fans of each opposing side.  They possessed no reason or intention on having a problem with someone in a different borough, until this situation tripped the rift and started a domino effect of rap rivalries escalating beyond music due to public opinion. Even greater than that, the public choosing sides and living vicariously through these rappers by joining in on disgracing the opposing artist AND their fans. 

90s: East Coast vs. West Coast

In the 90’s, rap rivalries began to turn into all out wars with the introduction of the West Coast vs East Coast era. One of the most volatile eras in hip hop history. Beyond the local, block by block, city by city feuds, rap beef began to spread regionally. Issues amongst artists from different states/coasts were being directly played out between their respective fanbases. 

This was used by media to perpetuate the cash cow of mainstream rap beef. When the record labels, media, and corporate interests began to see that consumers invest heavier in controversy than talent, they began to greenlight more hardcore, violent, and negative music.

After losing rap icons such as: Biggie, Tupac, Big L and so many more due to gun violence, you saw a heavy decrease in hardcore rap which ultimately took away from the indulgence of rap beef. Controversy and drama? Always. But mainstream support and promotion of ‘rap beef’ was at a historic low. 

Biggie – “What’s Beef?” (1997, Posthumous)

2000-2014: A More Peaceful Era

The southern club music uprise, conscious/lyrical movement, and international alternative rap began to take hip-hop out of the dark ages. Of course there were situations, but for the most part, they stayed private or only became news upon someone’s unfortunate demise. Casualties of the culture created by ‘rap beef’. But the resurgence of ‘feel good’, content-heavy music taking the spotlight saved hip hop until the introduction of drill music. 

Between 2000-2014, there were rap beefs, but they weren’t hitting national boards. Things were either subliminal, handled privately, or were ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ type of thing in the media. Simply because the environment of rap music at the time wasn’t conducive to that energy anymore.

2014-Present: Drill Music & “Rap Beef Relapse”

The introduction of drill music, changed, shifted, and transformed this current era of hip hop.

The Chicago/Detroit/Philly drill music scene single handedly made the hip-hop community relapse and eventually overdose on the perpetuation of rap beef. Drill music has become an elevated version of rap beef. People in the streets (gangs particularly) publicize the deaths, victories, and losses of real-life gang wars and street politics and transmute them into songs that would blow up locally and eventually flood the mainstream. 

The intense reality, mixed with the chaotic and blatant disrespectful nature of it, has completely captivated the minds of the en Z rap fans and spread its influence heavily in the East Coast, leaving a long list of casualties in its rise. But the psychology of this is an ANOTHER STORY.

Here is one example of Chicago Drill Rap beef that resulted in a violent death for both artists. LGB Duck vs. King Von.

FGB Duck – “Slide” (2018)

King Von – “Crazy Story” (Remix) ft. Lil Durk (2019)

Controversy: An American Obsession

On a complete paradigm shift, 2014-today has become a time where we embrace controversy like a child embraces a wrapped gift. Reality TV planted a seed for the lives of celebrities to become an immersive experience for consumers beyond the headlines and unconfirmed stories.  People are finally able to virtually connect with and see their favorite people in their day to day lives. 

With this, viewers begin to feel like, relate to, and even take on the attitudes of the celebrities they admire, right or wrong. This admiration slowly evolves into unhealthy obsession to the point where people can’t distinguish their own beliefs and wisdom has becomes a quotable jpeg.  And what’s wild…. it’s mainly staged. 

Real people, fully immersed in a false virtual reality, and the creators of that virtual reality continue to develop ways to keep the mainstream public distracted by the melee, dust, and smoke clouds. 

And HE’RE’s where we bring it ALLLL HOME.

2024: Kendrick Lamar vs. J. Cole vs. Drake

America’s addiction to controversy and drama, multiplied by social media to the second power, plus rap beef equals the status of mainstream entertainment.  This all leads us to the J. Cole vs. Kendrick Lamar ‘beef’.

I find it ironic that two of the greatest wordsmiths of our generation’s most sought-after encounter is a loose rap diss that is being dubbed a ‘beef’. As a hip hop head, I’ve been waiting for a J Cole and Kendrick Lamar collaboration to bring a ‘woosah’ to the rap game for over a decade.

Beyond them transcending the quality of what it means to be an emcee, both artists have influenced the conscious growth of the youth with every word, bar, and story that lies within their prophetic catalogs.

As a rapper myself, I understand the realm of competition that exists in the sport of lyricism-especially being an avid battle rap fan for over 10 years. However, the influence of social media and its focus on contention has taken its toll on two artists that I felt evolved from these primal means of succumbing to social pariah.

Kendrick Lamar, arguably one the most influential artist of this generation, dropped “Like That” with Future and Metro Boomin, and took jabs at J. Cole and Drake.

Lost too many soldiers not to play it safe
If he walk around with that stick, it ain’t Andre 3K
Think I won’t drop the location? I still got PTSD
Motherf*** the Big Three, n****
It’s just big me

Kendrick Lamar in “Like That”

Kendrick Sets the Record Straight

Contrary to popular opinion, I feel this was less of a diss, and more of Kendrick setting the record straight and making it clear that he is not part of, what the media has dubbed, ‘The Big 3’, which is a reference to J Cole, Drake, and himself. Kendrick’s 6 degrees of separation roused a media frenzy that forced a response out of J. Cole and a few responses from Drake, who have been collaborating and embracing ‘The Big 3’ moniker.

J. Cole – “7 Minute Drill” (Kendrick Lamar Diss)

In the spirit of competition, I am all for this. However, the media, public opinion, and even fans have attempted to turn a sparring match into a heavyweight championship match, and gas the fire between the 3, but namely J Cole and Kendrick since they are the two most powerful pens in mainstream rap music.

On a much deeper level, this entire situation shows the power, ignorance, and immaturity that exists in the hip hop populace and how social media has become a pool of surface level, misguided, uneducated opinion by the masses.

The fans that promote the divide, are the problem.  The blogs and media that compare Kendrick and J Cole, in the terms of better or worse, are the problem. Their music is not for that purpose.  In my eyes, they are ‘street prophets’ of our generation, so this is like comparing Moses to Noah.

Drake – “Drop & Give Me 50” (Kendrick Diss)

J. Cole’s Apology

Then, the heavens opened and tried to rectify this alternate universe, by striking J. Cole with a bolt of consciousness, as he dropped a mature apology on stage at Dreamville Festival.

“I felt conflicted because I know I don’t really feel no way. But the world wants to see blood… I moved in a way that, spiritually, I feel bad.”

This is just a piece of Cole’s apology, but I feel it summarizes my point to the tee. J. Cole was forced to raise his hand because the ‘world wants to see blood’.

J. Cole Apologizes at Dreamville (2024)

In summary, rap beef has ended careers, taken lives, created eternal tensions and is a direct parallel of the mindsets of the general populace, specifically in the black community. Hip Hop artists, lyricists, rappers, whatever term you choose– male or female –these people are LEADERS of the youth. They are representations of black excellence in a society that once turned its back on our modern sound, style, and trends because it was too ‘dark’. 

In my opinion, J. Cole’s apology was light attempting to seep through the cracks. In turn, he exposed the way of the world.