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It’s Hard to Care About a Rap War in the Middle of a Real One

Drake and Kendrick Lamar trade predictable shots. Can’t we do better?

Kendrick Lamar

Billboard via Getty Images

There are a few lines of thought surrounding the ongoing Drake v. the World rap feud that have become accepted as all but sacred facts. For one, all of this is supposedly fun. Spotify, the multi-billion-dollar business that reported a quarterly profit last week — in part, thanks to laying off 17 percent of its staff ahead of the holidays last year— rented out billboards in Times Square declaring that rap is a “competitive sport.” This was presumably their comment on the months-long saga that began with the release of Future and Metro Boomin’s We Don’t Trust You, which was chock full of subliminals aimed at Drake, and featured the Kendrick Lamar-assisted hit single “Like That,” a shot heard round the rap world and beyond.

Rap is surely competitive, and it has indeed been entertaining to get more than one Kendrick verse in the span of a few weeks. Even the endless trolling on both sides online at a certain point had its charm, a welcome distraction from the cascade of depressing news that usually floods newsfeeds and For You pages. Kendrick’s six-minute-long hate treatise “Euphoria” was everything that those who have followed his and Drake’s acrimony over the years could have hoped for: a densely layered deconstruction of Drizzy’s whole rap career.

And yet, to be frank, I do not fucking care anymore. In the hours between Kendrick dropping “Euphoria” and the explainers of each verse being uploaded on social media, militarized police forces stormed peaceful protests at colleges around the country, brutalizing and arresting hundreds of students and faculty just weeks before graduation.

To be clear, Kendrick won the “beef” years ago with “Control,” especially after Drake went out in interviews and basically cried about it. Kendrick won the “beef” again when he became the only rapper to receive a Pulitzer Prize. None of what’s happening now is treading particularly new ground. In fact, it feels distinctly frozen in time, a dredged-up conflict from an era before Covid and AI and the mass gaslighting of the public in the face of genocide.

This isn’t to say it’s not possible for rap fans to be excited about and engaged in the current feud while also being politically aware of what’s going on in Gaza and on college campuses around the country. It’s just hard to get terribly invested in a decade-old conversation about two rappers nearing 40, one where no one’s mind is actually being changed anytime soon.

The current discourse online suggesting that Drake, for all these years, has been a covert culture vulture feels thin at best. Nobody, not even Drake’s biggest fans, has ever been under the impression that he was actually a “tough guy.” Just like no one with any sense thinks Future is a raging drug addict. Drake’s last album carried the perhaps-unintentional acronym “Fat D,” and the record before that was called Her Loss (not to mention his foray into house and electronic music with Honestly, Nevermind). But, OK, sure. Let’s say Kendrick has rightfully put Aubrey in whatever place he should be. Now what? This whole feud has started to reveal itself to be an ouroboros of attention and social-media commentary more than any actual referendum on two rappers’ abilities, which is why it feels like such a colossal waste of energy, especially now.

Drake was rightfully pilloried for using manipulated AI vocals of Tupac for his overall unnecessary “Taylor Made Freestyle,” but the collective reverence for Pac’s legacy should extend beyond just the use of his voice. During his career, Tupac was engaged in what remains one of the most famous rap beefs of all time. He also became a frequent enemy of those in power thanks to the fact that he was never afraid to speak out against oppression, even as his celebrity rose. Rap fans surely can care about politics and rap beef at the same time. Why can’t rappers do the same?

From Rolling Stone US