Kendrick Lamar’s Beef With Drake and J. Cole, Explained

Things weren’t always this tense between Kendrick Lamar and Drake. On March 25, the former shook the foundation with his uncredited verse on Metro Boomin and Future’s “Like That,” a cut included on the pair’s freshly released collaborative album “We Don’t Trust You.”

The internet immediately lit up: Lamar’s particularly fiery verse put his issues with other rappers in uncharacteristically plain terms, very clearly taking shots at Drake and J. Cole in response to their song “First Person Shooter,” included on last year’s “For All the Dogs.” On the track, Cole lumped Lamar with himself and Drake as the “big three”: “Love when they argue the hardest MC / Is it K. Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me? / We the big three, like we started a league.”

More from Variety

In a tightly wound, entendre-replete, machine gun verse, Lamar fired back by refuting the designation and setting himself apart from his peers and former collaborators. “Yeah get up with me, fuck sneak dissing / ‘First Person Shooter,’ I hope they came with three switches,” he raps. “Motherfuck the big three, n—a, it’s just big me.” To add insult to injury, he referenced the contentious relationship between Michael Jackson and Prince, comparing himself to the latter and stating that his legacy will outlast their influence. “Your best work is a light pack / N—a, Prince outlived Mike Jack / N—a, bum, ‘fore all your dogs get buried / That’s a K with all these nines, he gon’ see ‘Pet Sematary.’”

It makes sense that Lamar would use his appearance on Metro’s new record as a platform to air his grievances — after all, Drake and Metro have recently had their own public reckoning. The two have worked together in the past — Metro helmed the majority of the tracks on Drake and Future’s 2015 album “What a Time to Be Alive” — but something shifted between the two in the years that followed.

Here’s where the speculation comes in. Some surmise that the lack of a promised sequel to “What a Time” led to bad blood; Drake instead released “Her Loss” in 2022, which did include a Metro production credit on “More M’s.” But others trace the first true indicator of tension to Metro’s song “Trance,” included on the producer’s 2022 album “Heroes & Villains.” Drake initially had a verse on the track, which features Travis Scott and Young Thug, but Metro removed it prior to album release. The version with Drake inevitably leaked; some think Drake himself released it as retaliation. Then, this past December, Metro tweeted and deleted that “‘Her Loss’ still keeps winning rap album of the year over [‘Heroes & Villains’]. Proof that award shows are just politics and not for me.” Drake went on a livestream soon after, shouting out the “tweet-and-deleters” and saying that “you guys make me sick to my stomach.” Metro unfollowed Drake on Instagram, and the beef simmered.

So it makes sense, then, that Lamar would take this opportunity with “Like That” as a podium for his own grievances with Drake and J. Cole. But it caught listeners off-guard that Lamar would so decisively lay out his issues with the pair. The three came up around the same time, and have consistently been considered foundational for that generation of MCs. They’ve all collaborated, and even went on tour together; Drake gave Lamar his own interlude on his 2011 album “Take Care,” and Cole and Lamar once teased a collaborative project in addition to releasing numerous collabs.

But the three have also long considered rap a competitive sport, and have been vying for the G.O.A.T. title for years. In 2013, Lamar gave a similarly show-stealing verse on Big Sean’s “Control,” also featuring Jay Electronica, where he ran through a laundry list of his peers’ names—Drake and J. Cole included—stating that “I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n—s” and asking “What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high.” In the years that followed, the subliminals flew, on songs like Lamar’s “King Kunta” and Drake’s “The Language” (hint: if you’re trying to find sneak disses in their discographies, there’s plenty to work with).

It was only a matter of time until their issues spilled into the open with such candor. So where does Future come into all of this? Drake and Future have been very frequent collaborators in the past. Beyond “What a Time,” the two have a huge pile of duets between them, so it came as a bit of a surprise that he’d co-sign Lamar’s verse by including it on “Like That.”

But once that track lit up the internet, fans started looking elsewhere on “We Don’t Trust You” for potential jabs at Drake. One person matched song titles as puns on Drake song titles. Some pointed to Future’s second verse on the album’s intro as a swipe: “You a n—a number one fan, dog / Sneak dissin’, I don’t understand, dog / Pillowtalkin’, actin’ like a fed, dog / I don’t need another fake friend, dog / Can’t be ’bout a ho, ’cause we sharin’, dog / In you feelings, n—a, why you playin’, dog.”

A bit of unpacking here. On Drake’s “What Would Pluto Do?,” included on “For All the Dogs,” he references Future’s nickname Pluto, stating, “Last time I saw her, she was fuckin’ with my n—a / So the question is, the question is, what would Pluto do? He’d f—k the ho, so I did it.” Not to mention that “in you feelings” could be a reference to Drake’s “In My Feelings.”

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the source of their issues, social media connected the dots to suggest that Drake and Future were beefing over a woman. One user on X (formerly Twitter) suggested that a song on “We Don’t Trust You” referenced the woman in question; Metro came in to shut down the theory. “Y’all n—s stop making stuff up for engagement and enjoy the music,” he wrote.

Regardless, Lamar’s verse on “Like That” has officially entered the pantheon of iconic diss tracks, and clearly set off a chain reaction that’s still going strong weeks later. Rap fans have been patiently waiting for a response, and with the surprise release of his new album “Might Delete Later” on April 5, J. Cole fired back at Lamar on its closing song “7 Minute Drill.” On it, he dismissed much of Lamar’s catalog and claimed he “fell off like ‘The Simpsons.'”

“The rap beef ain’t realer than the shit I seen in Cumberland / He averagin’ one hard verse like every thirty months or somethin’,” he said, referring to the five-part “The Heart” series that Lamar has rolled out over the course of his career. “If he wasn’t dissin’, then we wouldn’t be discussin’ him / Lord, don’t make me have to smoke this n—a ’cause I fuck with him / But push come to shove, on this mic, I will humble him.”

Drake, meanwhile, has only vaguely addressed Lamar’s diss a few weeks ago with a brief diatribe during one of his shows. “A lot of people asking me how I’m feeling. The way I’m feeling is the same way I want you to walk out of here feeling tonight about your fucking self,” he told the crowd. “Because you know how I’m feeling? I got my head up high, my back straight, I’m 10 fucking toes down, and feeling like anywhere else I go, and I know no matter what, there’s not a n—a on this Earth that can ever fuck with me in my life.”

Will the saga continue? It’s tough to say. Future and Metro Boomin have a second collaborative album, “We Still Don’t Trust You,” slated for release on April 12, and no doubt listeners will be tuned in to see if another chapter is added to this growing clash of rap titans.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.