Drake and Kendrick’s ‘beef’ isn’t just misogynistic, it’s telling of a full-blown masculinity crisis

Jenessa Williams questions why Drake & Kendrick only care about abuse when they can use it as one-upmanship


Whether you’re a hip-hop head or not, it has been difficult to avoid the news dominating the genre of late. Tapping into our cultural obsession with true crime and documented-reality gossip, a gigantic rap ‘beef’ has emerged between some of the genre’s biggest male players, taking over the charts and spawning mass discussion about what should and shouldn’t be considered fair game in a lyrical war.

It was first initiated by Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse on Future and Metro Boomin’s ‘Like That’ (in which he in return responds to J-Cole’s verse on Drake’s 2023 song, ‘First Person Shooter’), but as the story has developed, it’s come down to a singular head-to-head between Kendrick Lamar and Drake, building on years of uncomfortable friendship. For a while, the diss tracks mostly involved the usual dick-swinging braggadocio — a quip about Drake’s supposed BBL there, a called-out musical misstep there, a whole lot of comparing numbers and deals and associations. But then with Drake’s ‘Family Matters’, things suddenly went up a notch: Drake called Kendrick a domestic abuser and suggested that his kids weren’t his own. In return, Kendrick called Drake a deadbeat light-skinned culture-vulture father-of-two, and he also called him a paedophile, suggesting that the record label OVO Sound was a haven for sex offenders. 

The four songs that flew back and forth on May 3 and 4 — Kendrick’s ‘Meet the Grahams‘ and ‘Not Like Us,‘ as well as Drake’s ‘Family Matters‘ and ‘The Heart Pt. 6‘ — turned a playful rift into a full-blown flame war, each getting more and more personal and aggressive in their delivery. Drake used his (presumably) final track to deny the allegations and claim that he was done with the disses, but it seems the winner had already been crowned — clips have gone viral of partygoers dancing and singing along to Kendricks “Certified Lover Boy? Certified Paedophile!” line, whilst producer MetroBoomin’ (now also accused of his own inappropriate comments on underage women) actively invited amateur rappers to send in their roasts of Drake, promising a cash prize to the best one. With Kendrick’s ‘Not Like Us’ heading straight for a Billboard Number One, rumours are abound that UMG have had to step in on Drake’s behalf to advocate for a truce.


Kendrick’s triumph in this diss track battle isn’t necessarily a surprise. From beliefs that he was a corny cultural assimilator to scepticisms over his use of ghostwriters and his conduct with young celebrities like Millie Bobby Brown and Billie Eilish, public goodwill for Drake has been waning for some time. Dismissed as a lightweight party rapper, Drake’s talent is frequently dismissed in favour of Kendrick’s ‘thinking man’ approach, prone to deeper meditations on society and politics. With these perceptions already in hand, it becomes easier for the public to believe that Drake is the disgraceful one in this situation, and that what Kendrick is saying must be at least partially true. Long-term Drake sceptics can revel in Kendrick’s victory, believing that they had always backed the right horse.

However, all this clowning of Drake seems to have let Kendrick off somewhat easily. With ‘Not Like Us’ going so thick and fast on the allegations towards Drake, it’s easy for listeners to distract themselves from what Drake was saying in ‘Family Matters’, heavily implying that Lamar had been violent to his partner. By perceiving this battle as a simple win/lose scenario, little room has been made to contend with Kendrick’s own track record of absent allyship — holding alleged abuser Dr. Dre as a mentor, advocating for R Kelly and XXXTentacion’s presence on streaming platforms, and platforming convicted sex offender Kodak Black on his record ‘Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’ in a ham-fisted, contrarian statement about cancel culture and redemption. Hardly the associations of a man who cannot stand to associate with abusers, or who truly cares about truth being brought to light in a timely fashion. 

In fan reactions to these tracks, further misogyny runs deep. Where women have called out the distasteful nature of the lyrics (such as singer-songwriter Kara Jackson, in a series of eloquent and erudite tweets), they’ve been accused of being oversensitive or being ‘fake’ fans, not understanding that the no-holds-barred culture of cyphers and diss tracks. In a feat of some irony, the very same men who mock teenage ‘fangirls’ for their parasocial relationships or lore-seeking practices are happy to claim that they know the full truth of the situation, focusing more on who owned a punchline than on the severity of what is being said. 

Others have been relying on the lyrical themes of Kendrick’s album ‘Mr Morale And The Big Steppers’ to argue that Lamar has been open about some of his failings, rarely holding himself up as a saviour. His willingness to admit his own weaknesses is notable, sure, but in what world does admitting something totally exonerate you from the situation? Drake’s indiscretions may be more easily linkable to public ‘receipts’, but does that mean that Kendrick is an angel? How low does the bar have to be that we’re able to forgive one allegation of abuse because the other looks worse?

The nature of the timing of this meta-beef also seems to reveal a wider issue of place and belonging in mainstream rap, where hip-hop men have reason to doubt the status quo of their top-dog position. Streaming figures in the last few years for both Drake and Kendrick show that neither rapper is exactly risking obscurity, but both parties have struggled to achieve the critical respect and widespread appreciation that they were once able to take for granted. Everybody knows that Drake was essentially untouchable between the years of 2013-2018, whilst Kendrick was championed as the musical ambassador for an entire Civil Rights movement through ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and the Pulitzer-winning ‘Damn’. There have been small glimmers of this intelligence and musical alchemy since, but both parties have also released projects that demonstrate a significant lack of curation, sonic identity or coherent lyrical message. 

It’s a pattern repeated more broadly across mainstream male-made hip-hop. Most of the mumble-era rappers feel fairly interchangeable, and numerous promising names within the Gen-Z wave met premature deaths at the hands of depression and substance abuse before they could really make their mark. Kanye West, one of the most identifiable rap leaders of his generation, has completely torpedoed his own legacy, whilst Chance The Rapper has struggled to maintain commercial attention amid his mediations on domesticity and parenthood. Numerous others have been commercially outpaced by the infiltration of UK grime and drill, struggling for exciting new ideas of their own.

As US women rappers rise and claim back audiences with messages of their own self-empowerment  — Megan, Cardi, Glorilla, Flo Milli, Ice Spice, Doja Cat — some male rappers don’t seem to know where they fit anymore, and so resort to the chest-beating tactics of graphic sexism and shock-factor punchlines in an attempt to reclaim their space. And what screams ‘alpha-male’ more than an inter-coastal rap beef? Much like Drake trying to bait up Megan Thee Stallion for cheap curiosity streams, these back-and-forth disses are an undeniably savvy way to get everyone talking again, aiming to simulate the kind of hyper-masculine battles that only happen between the greats: Biggie Vs Tupac, Nas vs Jay-Z, Drake vs Meek Mill/Pusha T/Chris Brown.

Commercially speaking, it’s worked. Even with its undeniably catchy ‘O-V-Ho’ closing hook, a song as confrontational and abrasive as ‘Not Like Us’ simply does not go to number one without a wider meta-narrative. But if we’re really going to talk about race and culture and representation, we have to acknowledge how rap beefs, whilst an avenue for creative expression and entertainment, also run the risk of playing into the fetishisation of ‘black person drama’. When Hip-Hop draws the biggest attention it’s had in years for being ‘messy’, it’s difficult to feel that it’s truly the win for the culture that some rap fans might want it to be.  

As people of colour, we need to be wary of this, just as we need to be wary of the way that women are so quickly thrown under the bus. If the allegations that both Drake and Kendrick are making are true, they’re a matter for police investigation, not giddy reaction YouTube videos.  At this point, both rappers have made threats to one another in songs that could credibly be accused of inciting real-world violence: just a few days ago, news broke of a security guard being shot in a drive-by incident outside of Drake’s home. Whilst it is too soon to know how or if the incidents are strictly connected, it’s not difficult to foresee how the supposed playfulness of a rap beef can very quickly turn into acute violence, or how women with negative experiences can be re-traumatised. 

Even if the allegations are not true, we need to ask whether any diss track is really worth subjecting the women they mention to weeks (if not months) of scrutiny and invasive ‘citizen detective’ work from fans. When Drake mentions Kendrick’s wife by name, women who have previously been pictured with Drake are making public statements and both parties are directly involving children, this has gone far beyond the idea of two musical legends having a spar. No party ever truly wins when so many women are used as collateral damage.

This time at least, it’s been good to see more male journalists and cultural figures calling this out, pointing out how little we seem to have learned and how much stricter fans need to be in refusing to glamorise the repetition of history. Fans and artists alike cannot necessarily stop other people’s bad behaviour from happening, but laughing off grievous allegations only invites the industry’s abusers to keep doing what they’re doing, knowing that ‘the boys’ will still have their back. We’ve seen it with Chris Brown, with Tory Lanez, with XXXTentaxion, with R. Kelly, Dr. Dre, with OVO’s very own Baka Not Nice, welcomed back from domestic violence with open arms. And we’ll see it again, and again, and again, until some of rap’s big male role models start calling this out as what it is, stop seeing women as commodities, and start reflecting on their own complicities. 

You might see Drake as the ‘coloniser’ and Kendrick as the ‘conscious’ rapper, but for all of the times that each artist has reached dizzying new heights for their genre, they’ve also plumbed significant lows. If we’re truly dealing with rap’s top two, how low does our moral bar have to be?