19 Burning Questions About Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Rap’s Civil War (2024)

You knew deep down it was real. When the rough version of Drake’s “Push Ups” leaked online Saturday afternoon, the big question at first was: Was it actually AI? If it was, it would mean someone random had just penned a pretty competent diss track aimed at Kendrick Lamar, Metro Boomin, and a half dozen other rap luminaries. If it wasn’t, it would mean that Aubrey had finally taken the gloves off and was ready to chip a nail. Sure, there were a few lines anyone steeped in Drake lore could’ve gotten off. But AI could never get that specific in its barbs, and AI certainly could never replicate that patented Drake sigh.

A few hours later, Drake confirmed as much by releasing the full, finished track. He swapped out the beat—the rough cut evoked Tupac’s classic “Hit ’Em Up,” while the final paid homage to Biggie’s “What’s Beef?”—and cut a few lines aimed at Rozay (though the Teflon Don didn’t forget; more on that later). But it was all there: the response the rap world had been waiting on since Kendrick Lamar poked the Canadian bear three weeks ago on “Like That.”

Drake’s “Push Ups” diss track (CDQ) pic.twitter.com/EKSQK8pFwA

— Complex Music (@ComplexMusic) April 13, 2024

It’s admittedly not the nuclear detonation Joe Budden promised, but “Push Ups (Drop and Give Me 50)” makes it clear that Drake is up for the fight that rap fans have been waiting on for a generation. He landed disses about Kendrick’s height and former label situation, threw some petty shade at Future and Metro, and then chucked a few grenades at the Weeknd and his team. But if you’ve been anywhere near your For You page this weekend, then you know there’s so much more. (J. Cole behind enemy lines? Nose jobs? Dockers? French Montana? Ja Morant?!)

While we’re waiting for Kendrick to respond—and according to rapper/producer and K.Dot friend Daylyt, this 96-second verse that leaked Monday is the actual AI-generated diss—let’s take stock of where things sit and where they could go. First up …

How did we get here?

Chances are, if you’re reading this, it’s too late for me to explain. But it’s worth recapping how rap’s cold war erupted into a full-blown civil war (and on the weekend Alex Garland released Civil War, naturally). My colleague Justin Charity already ran through a timeline of the Drake-Kendrick feud, which for a decade resulted in little more than subliminal shots and KTT2 fanfic. But the simmering beef was tossed into the fire in March thanks to two unlikely provocateurs: Future and Metro Boomin. The former had seemingly taken offense to a For All the Dogs track that most fans had assumed was a tribute to Drake’s one-time collaborator. (Turns out rapping about how your buddy only sleeps with taken women is not a compliment, though you could forgive us for assuming the man behind “f*ck Russell” would consider it a good thing.) In the case of Metro, the superproducer behind a handful of Drake’s biggest hits started poking Aubrey late last year over award shows, of all things. Back then, Drake responded with some of his typical tough-guy posturing, but then tweets were deleted and everyone put it on the back burner.

But never underestimate the pettiness of two men who name albums stuff like WE DON’T TRUST YOU and WE STILL DON’T TRUST YOU. The former came out last month and contains “Like That,” which includes the Archduke Ferdinand moment of this war. On the surface, Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse on “Like That” isn’t a diss on the level of, say, “Takeover” or “The Bridge Is Over.” But it took direct aim at Drake and J. Cole—seemingly for the sin of implying on For All the Dogs’ “First Person Shooter” that the two of them and Kendrick make up rap’s Big Three. (Like all good rap beefs, this one seems to be built on the smallest of slights; shout-out to the mic on LL Cool J’s arm.) “Like That” is light on specifics and heavy on old-school rap-battle bragging. (Fitting for the Rodney-O & Joe Cooley–sampling beat.) But what it lacks in pointedness, it makes up for with audaciousness: Here was Kendrick finally taking shots at an artist who’s been too big to fail for too long.

But beyond giving Rap Twitter enough fodder for a few lifetimes, “Like That” did a few other things:

  • It hit no. 1 on the Hot 100 and worked its way into club rotation—virtually unheard of for a diss track, though not unlike Drake’s casual Meek Mill evisceration, “Back to Back.”
  • It gave everyone else clearance to pile on Drake. And boy, did they.

So does everyone hate Drake now?

The list of assumed Aubrey allies who pumped up “Like That” is shocking: Rick Ross! Travis Scott! LeBron James! But this is what years of subliminal disses and bad vibes will get you. Last Friday, Future and Metro released WE STILL DON’T TRUST YOU, and while there was no one seismic “Like That” moment, the 25-track album was littered with guests taking shots at Drake. The Weeknd made fun of him for having leaks in his camp and having “shooters making TikToks.” (Over an Isley Brothers sample!) Rihanna’s babies’ father showed up to brag about securing the very thing Drake’s always coveted. And maybe most damningly, J. Cole showed up on the Disc 1 closer, “Red Leather.” Jermaine didn’t diss his tour mate, and it’s unclear when he actually recorded the verse. But given what transpired a week earlier—when Cole released a tepid diss song about Kendrick, then apologized two nights later, saying he was confused and misled—the Dreamville head’s mere presence felt like Future and Metro were holding an enemy combatant hostage. Which, let’s hope not, because we already know Cole is the type to break under questioning.

So, J. Cole actually apologized? That wasn’t just some strange dream I had?

As my buddy Jeff Weiss said: Apologizing is a sign that Cole is a mature, thoughtful human. And it’s also the reason we never want to hear his music again.

Everyone should commend J Cole for being a mature, empathetic, rational, and emotionally attuned human being. This is also why I never wanted to listen to his music.

— Otto Von Biz Markie (@Passionweiss) April 8, 2024

A reminder that any time you have Jadakiss asking “why?” you’re not in a good place.

OK, so what we came here for: Drake finally responded? Is it any good?

For weeks, the most we had heard from Drake was him making trigger fingers at the giant Travis Scott facsimile he brought on tour for “SICKO MODE” performances. (Anytime you’re screaming at a floating animatronic head you paid for, you are officially Down Bad.) But Drake broke his relative silence on Saturday with “Push Ups (Drop and Give Me 50).”

And honestly, it’s fairly impressive, especially when you consider the initial wave of AI rumors—and especially when considering “Like That” has Drake on the defensive for one of the few times in his career. A self-described “20 v. 1,” “Push Ups” takes on almost everyone who had dared come at him in recent weeks. (A$AP Rocky seemingly goes ignored, which says more about Rocky than Drake.) The barbs at Future are mild (“Your first no. 1, I had to put it in your hand” … OK, and?), and Drake swats Metro Boomin away like an annoying gnat with a MIDI controller. (Giving the producer only the tossed-off diss “Shut your ho ass up and make some drums” feels like the modern-day equivalent of Jay-Z giving his lesser rivals only half a bar on “Takeover.”) But the shots at Rick Ross, the Weeknd, and Kendrick are more pointed—and all work to varying degrees. Let’s take those in reverse order.

Did Drake respond to Kendrick like he needed to?

Kendrick is admittedly a tough person to diss. He’s a critically beloved, Pulitzer-winning artist who keeps his business to himself (unless he’s having double-album-long therapy sessions). Sure, he’s prone to theater-kid dramatics—the “alien voice/jazz beat” jokes were flying all weekend—but his track record is mostly unimpeachable. (That’s something J. Cole learned the hard way when he tried to lightly critique Kendrick’s catalog on “7 Minute Drill.”) But on “Push Ups” Drake did about as well as you could reasonably expect, especially assuming this is simply his opening salvo.

The easiest, most obvious jokes come at the expense of the famously short Kendrick’s height. (Most notably, “How the f*ck you big steppin’ with a size seven men’s on?”—a pretty great punch line, if I do say so myself.) Those have caused a lot of moralizing, as though Drake should be above schoolyard-bully-style insults. But it ignores the reality that rap beef has always revolved around—and often been at its best when it leans into—childish name-calling. (Let’s never forget that “Ether”—widely considered one of the best diss tracks ever, to the point that the title has been a go-to verb in these kinds of battles—includes a reference to “Gay-Z and co*ck-A-Fella Records.”)

But some of the other lines land pretty hard. For Drake—one of the biggest pop stars in history—to mock Kendrick for doing songs with Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift seems like a silly proposition on the surface. But it works because (1) Drake has never stooped to those specific levels of pandering, (2) Drake isn’t a Pulitzer-winning artist who’s staked his reputation on high art, and (3) the bars are, simply put, pretty good. (“You better make it witty!”) The Prince/Michael Jackson lines—a response to Kendrick on “Like That,” which was a response to Drake on “First Person Shooter,” if you’re updating your flow chart at home—are inspired. (“What’s a prince to a king? He a son” is an entendre that would make my colleague and noted Kendrick lover Cole Cuchna at Dissect proud. Lest you forget, Jackson’s son is literally named Prince.) And of course, there’s the Whitney/Bodyguard line, which is a reference to not only the diamond-selling singer and her most famous movie role, but also seemingly an allusion to Kendrick’s partner, Whitney Alford. Assuming it is a double entendre—and there’s little reason to doubt that it is—it’s impossible not to recall that Whitney Houston’s character slept with her bodyguard. We have no evidence that anything happened in Kendrick’s life to evoke that line, and I’m struggling to find a suggestion of something happening outside of “Push Ups,” but Drake’s too savvy not to understand what he was doing.

But wait—hasn’t Drake gotten in trouble for mentioning significant others before?

You’d figure he’d know better by now! In 2018, after years of subliminals fired at him by Pusha T, Drake responded with “Duppy Freestyle.” Amid a bunch of lukewarm shots about Pusha lying about his drug-dealing prowess, Drake made one of the worst mistakes of his career. “I told you keep playin’ with my name / And I’ma let it ring on you like Virginia Williams,” he rapped, invoking Pusha’s then fiancée, now wife, and giving Push carte blanche to respond however he thought appropriate. Within days, we had “The Story of Adidon” and “you are hiding a child,” bullying Drake into being a father publicly. It’s a blemish that no number of no. 1 records can ever fully erase.

Is Drake hiding another child?

You know that somewhere, Pusha T and his private investigator are waiting to get tagged into this mess, but at the moment, we can only assume that Drake’s not playing border control yet again. We can also assume, however, that of everything Drake said about Kendrick, this will be the line that truly lights the fuse on this powder keg.

What about this Top Dawg business on “Push Ups”?

If there’s fault to be found with Drake’s response, it’s that the central premise falls apart under light scrutiny. The “drop and give me 50” hook is a slick reference to infamous sh*t talker Curtis Jackson. But it’s also a callback to a video on Kendrick’s burner Instagram of him doing push-ups. On yet another level, the implication is that Kendrick is splitting as much as 50 percent of his profits with Top Dawg Entertainment, the label he was signed to for 17 years. It’s a fairly clever conceit—“The way you doin’ splits, bitch, your pants might rip” is a little bit of a groaner, but that’s what you sign up for with Drake—however, it ignores reality. First, Kendrick famously left TDE in 2022 to start a new venture named pgLang (distributed by Columbia Records, which also makes the Interscope lines in “Push Ups” feel dated at best). Second, up through Scorpion, Drake was signed to Young Money, an imprint of Cash Money. The parent label, of course, is run by Birdman, and it was once sued by Lil Wayne for $51 million for violating his contract and withholding vast amounts of money. As Pusha once rapped—directly to Drake—“The M’s count different when Baby divide the pie.”

The lesson here: Let the rapper who is not in an exploitative contract cast the first stone.

OK, but what about the Weeknd? Where does a singer fit into this?

In hindsight, one of the strangest quirks of 21st-century pop music is that two of the three biggest stars in the business come from Toronto. That should make them natural allies, if not friends—aren’t Canadians supposed to be nice?—but Drake and the Weeknd have been anything but. They collaborated in 2011 on Take Care’s “Crew Love,” which began life as a solo Weeknd song before Abel gifted it to Drake. (While possibly gifting him much more.) But from there, a rift began: The Weeknd signed with Republic instead of OVO (a move no one can fault him for when you look at his career next to, say, PartyNextDoor’s); rumors surfaced about Drake dating the Weeknd’s ex Bella Hadid; and despite some one-off collaborations and show appearances, they never seemed to like each other very much. (The Weeknd appears to be as much of a fan of the hiding-a-child line as we are at The Ringer.)

So all things told, it wasn’t a complete shock when the Weeknd popped up on WE STILL DON’T TRUST YOU last Friday, gleefully crooning not-so-veiled Drake disses on “All to Myself.” (It’s worth pausing again to highlight “they shooters making TikToks,” an honestly inspired slight that pretty much sums up the Drake experience.) But Aubrey responded in kind on “Push Ups.” He fires a few shots at the Weeknd’s manager, Cash, claiming that he used to be a “blunt runner” for Chubbs, Drake’s head of security. (Update your flow chart—we are deep into Canadian music politics.) And more pointedly, he implies the Weeknd is showering men with gifts in exchange for gifts. It doesn’t matter that Drake may be evolved enough to admit he gets his nails done. You know what they say: It’s not a real rap beef until someone gets hom*ophobic.

OK, but what about Rick Ross? I thought he and Drake were friends?

This may have been the most surprising development of the past three weeks. After a handful of classic collabs between them over a dozen or so years, it turns out that Rick Ross and Drake just don’t like each other. In the wake of “Like That,” Rozay posted an IG story of him bumping Kendrick’s diss. So when it came time for “Push Ups,” Drake made it clear he couldn’t overlook: He made allusions to Ross’s time as a correctional officer, his age, and in the leaked early demo version of “Push Ups,” Ross’s relationship with Diddy, who is currently the subject of a sex trafficking investigation and several sexual misconduct and abuse lawsuits. That line didn’t make the final version of “Push Ups,” but Ross obviously didn’t take it lightly.

Why is the Rick Ross response the first track in this sprawling beef that feels like a true diss song?

This was something first pointed out by the former host of The Ringer’s NO SKIPS podcast and esteemed rap journalist Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins: “Champagne Moments”—which Ross apparently recorded Saturday in the hours after “Push Ups” dropped—captured the spirit that most rap fans were looking for in this melee.

Maybe it was the fact that the song was spread through sketchy MP3 sites and Dat Piff’s YouTube channel. Or maybe it was the pure vitriol. But if you wanted real beef, you’ve finally got it. Over the course of three verses, the Boss of All Bosses mocks Drake for leaks in his camp, using ghostwriters (an old reliable), and getting put on only because of Lil Wayne, all while repeatedly calling Aubrey a “white boy.” (It’s complicated.) It’s the type of directness and specificity that “Like That” lacked—but it also, like any great Rick Ross song, sounds luxurious. The most damning bits of “Champagne Moments,” however, come during the spoken word outro, when Ross [deep breath] says Drake is wearing funny clothes at his shows to hide the fact his six-pack is gone, that he also wears Dockers with no underwear (???), and that he had a nose job “to make [his] nose smaller than [his] father nose,” all because he was ashamed of his race. (Like I said, it’s complicated.)

Wait, Drake had a nose job?!?!

Before you go Googling “Drake nose job,” just know that Drake and his mother have been texting about it, and they seem to think it’s silly (and possibly racist).

Drake shares texts with his mother about Rick Ross pic.twitter.com/uNFxKjFMBH

— NFR Podcast (@nfr_podcast) April 14, 2024

I’m cackling at the thought of Drake having to explain who Rick Ross is to his mom the same way I would have to with mine. But bringing Sandi into this hasn’t stopped Rozay from doubling down.

Rick Ross responds to Drake‼️

“BBL Drizzy” pic.twitter.com/j8tkGe1uJD

— RapTV (@Rap) April 14, 2024

Rick Ross in the club listening to Drake

"who wrote this, you'll never guess who wrote this" pic.twitter.com/cBtKXp9NMD

— Ahmed/The Ears/IG: BigBizTheGod (@big_business_) April 15, 2024

Maybe the actual lesson is don’t ask Rick Ross to do push-ups, because that’s light work for him.

So where does French Montana fit into this massive beef?

As is typically the case with French, on the fringes. During that lengthy outro, Ross said he got involved only because Drake had sent a cease-and-desist order to French Montana’s team to have a verse of his removed from February’s Mac & Cheese 5. Well, the C&D worked because it doesn’t appear on French’s mixtape. But we now have a Streisand-effect situation on our hands because the verse is online and people are paying attention. And boy …

the unreleased Drake verse that Rick Ross said Drake sent a cease and desist to French Montana to prevent it from dropping

it was "Splash Brothers" off Mac & Cheese 5 pic.twitter.com/HmcfpLDRlh

— SOUND (@itsavibe) April 14, 2024

Uh … so which rapper’s wife is Drake alluding to sleeping with?

The speculation is that Drake is alluding to Kim Kardashian, Kanye’s ex-wife. And while we have no firm evidence that happened, Kim’s voice does appear prominently on last year’s “Search & Rescue.” (It’s complicated, messy, and petty—the only big three Drake really cares about.)

Is Kanye going to get involved now?

Let’s just hope we can get J. Prince on the line before someone (read: Kanye) does something even more foolish. We shudder to think what disses his brain would come up with.

And you said something about Ja Morant?

Of all the (alleged) targets on “Push Ups,” the most unexpected isn’t even a rapper or singer. Ja Morant—the NBA All-Star who has been suspended by the league twice for flashing guns on IG Live—seemingly caught a stray from Drake. Not that it was entirely undeserved, because …

19 Burning Questions About Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Rap’s Civil War (1)

It would seem Ja took time away from shoulder rehab to insert himself in the biggest rap feud of the decade.

Toward the end of “Push Ups,” Drake addresses the “hooper that be bustin’ out the griddy,” seemingly a reference to Ja’s preferred means of celebration. But Drake also references that “little heartbroken Twitter sh*t,” possibly an acknowledgment of the rumors that he went on a date with Ja’s ex Brooklyn Nikole. (One day, we’ll have a conversation about how women get used as pawns in these kinds of battles. But for now, I’ll just highlight how this puts Drake’s song in the lineage of another Jay-Z diss track, “Super Ugly”—the “me and the boy AI” song. Not exactly a proud lineage with that one.)

If Drake and Ja can’t settle this one on (proverbial) wax, maybe they can take it to the hardwood. At least then, maybe J. Cole can prove himself useful.

Is this all a lose-lose for Drake?

Quite possibly! While “Push Ups” wasn’t exactly nuclear, it was still effective—and easily the best song to come out of the battle so far. And yet it feels like Round 1 of this battle is a draw, at best. Despite being light on specifics, Kendrick’s “Like That” verse did more damage than Drake’s four-minute, tea-spilling response. The most memorable lines to come out of Saturday may have been from Ross’s monologue about Dockers and cosmetic surgery. And Future and Metro have dropped two of the three best albums of the year in less than a month. You have to assume Kendrick has something else lined up—Drake alluded to as much in the original leaked version of “Push Ups,” suggesting that K.Dot’s song was recorded four years ago—and at this point, you have to assume someone else will jump into this Royal Rumble. (Cut to Pusha in the corner rubbing his hands together like Birdman.) “Push Ups” showed Drake can play effective defense—and he needed to after the embarrassment of “Adidon” six years ago—but if this was his best shot, Kendrick may not need to even say much in response to walk away the winner. (Though if we’re to believe this ScHoolboy Q tweet, we may find out if that’s the case soon.)

But who do you think is going to win?

Well, the easy answer is DJ Akademiks’s engagement. But none of these tracks are likely to change anyone’s mind. The Drake haters have already deemed the response trash, Aubrey’s Angels have already declared this the next “Hit ’Em Up,” and A$AP Rocky can’t even get a crumb of a response, but is still Rihanna’s partner. Maybe the actual winner is us because rap hasn’t been this fun in years. (For this writer, since the first time I heard the phrase “you are hiding a child,” if I’m being honest.) Just sit back and enjoy, because as Rick Ross promised, we’re only in the first quarter.

It’s the 1st qtr,

This gone be a good game.
Grab a seat.

— Yung Rénzél (@RickRoss) April 13, 2024

OK, one last question: Could they all still make up?

J. Cole’s response to this whole mess is admirable on a personal level, but embarrassing on a competitive level. Yet his apology also highlights a few realities of the situation: (1) Aside from Metro, these are all men hovering around the age of 40, and (2) no one has said anything they can’t take back yet. (Well, maybe aside from Ricky.) “I’m a better rapper than you” or “you’re short” or “your last album wasn’t that great” isn’t exactly a lethal blow. And even when it does get extremely personal, there’s precedent for rappers burying the hatchet—it took a few years, but eventually Nas and Jay-Z became collaborators. For my money, I expect we’ll see Drake, Kendrick, and Cole playing nice on a song (produced by Metro) at some point in the distant future. (Hopefully not with Future, though—Nayvadius is too cool for that sh*t.)

But you know, even if this alleged Big Three won’t get on a track together, we always have AI to make that collaboration a (virtual) reality. By that time, it’ll probably even be able to get the Drake sigh right. It may even give us an answer to what J. Cole was thinking.

19 Burning Questions About Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Rap’s Civil War (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Aron Pacocha

Last Updated:

Views: 6261

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Aron Pacocha

Birthday: 1999-08-12

Address: 3808 Moen Corner, Gorczanyport, FL 67364-2074

Phone: +393457723392

Job: Retail Consultant

Hobby: Jewelry making, Cooking, Gaming, Reading, Juggling, Cabaret, Origami

Introduction: My name is Aron Pacocha, I am a happy, tasty, innocent, proud, talented, courageous, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.