Hip Hop’s Best Remain at Odds as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar’s Beef Continues

Picture of Kendrick Lamar. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

It all started in October of last year. The beef that is. The beef that is potentially going to prevent the rap community from ever getting more songs like “Poetic Justice” and “Forbidden Fruit” from hip hop’s big three. 

J. Cole and Drake released one of the best rap songs of the year on Drake’s “For All The Dogs,” but nestled in the lyrics of “First Person Shooter” was a subtle diss.

“Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me? We the big three like we started a league, but right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali,” rapped J. Cole — a bar that hardly even passed for an insult directed toward Kendrick Lamar.

The best rapper to come out of North Carolina simply said he felt like he was at the top of a trio that, to many fans, is interchangeable. Each rapper is a legend in their own right, and you can make an argument for any of them to sit at the number one spot of this “big three.”

It was a lyric I overlooked, and one that I’d question if J. Cole even wanted to spit in the first place. The founder of Dreamville Records has always been more focused on uplifting a dying, drama-filled rap community rather than tearing someone else down. Drake, on the other hand, well that’s a different story.

Since 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Drake song that isn’t dissing someone or throwing a jab at another rapper. And so of course this subtle remark came on a Drake project, and of course, Lamar wasn’t going to just let that slide.

Five months later on Metro Boomin’s “WE DON’T TRUST YOU,” a collaboration album with long-time rap partner Future, Lamar delivered his rebuttal when he hopped on a track with the Atlanta duo. 

Kendrick: Kendrick Lamar rapping. Photo Courtesy of Flickr.

His response included some far more colorful language, and his straightforwardness came out of left field in the opinion of some fans. Lamar rapped about how unafraid he was of a little bit of violence, claimed he wants no part of this “big three” J. Cole and Drake drew up, and threw in that J. Cole’s “best work is light work.”

Just writing this review is enough for me to sit back and ask myself if this was all necessary. J. Cole’s verse on “First Person Shooter” was more of a compliment than anything, but Lamar didn’t appreciate being the middleman in this “big three” and quickly threatened Drake and J. Cole with violence for what he felt was a “sneak diss.”

So what happened next you may ask? What else would you expect from the rap community other than an uproar from fans of both parties, social media outlets releasing polls for people to compare J. Cole and Lamar, and X, formerly known as Twitter, exploding with opinions from a bunch of middle-aged men with nothing better to do than talk about rappers who couldn’t care less about them? The rappers previously known for their friendship were now more polarized than ever, and a suffering music genre took another blow.

J. Cole had no choice but to clap back, and clap back he did. April 5, 2024, was the release of his surprise album “Might Delete Later,” and Cole got right to business on “7 Minute Drill.”

Lamar had a problem with Cole “sneak dissing” him, so Cole made sure everyone heard him loud and clear. Everything from Lamar’s discography to his height was brought up in this song, and it’s already going down as one of the more monumental diss tracks in recent memory.

Cole raps that Lamar “fell off like the Simpsons,” “averages one hard verse like every 30 months or somethin’,” and “if it wasn’t for this diss track we wouldn’t be discussin’ him.”

The flow of this song combined with how hard-hitting the lyrics are left me questioning how much of a legend Kendrick Lamar actually is. Cole dissected Lamar’s career, throwing in that Lamar’s 2022 album was tragic, and his second album “To Pimp a Butterfly” was hyped up but in reality, put listeners to sleep. Keep in mind that the 2015 project from Lamar won him five Grammys … sounds like a loud lullaby to me.

J. Cole might have released a successful diss track that incorporates a head-turning beat switch and even more memorable lyrics directed at Lamar, but this whole thing has been one big circus show.

People want to know why rap’s dying, but fail to see that all this drama was a spark turned into a wildfire by fan bases and media outlets turning their favorite rappers against each other. Drake should be held accountable too. This all started because of a song he released, and since that October track was produced he’s had his tail tucked between his legs letting J. Cole do his dirty work.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this whole thing has been silly. Just two days after the release of “7 Minute Drill,” J. Cole publicly apologized for the insults and said he hopes to get his priorities back on track.

This hesitancy to diss another rapper, and friend for that matter, was clear to see on the song as Cole rapped about being reluctant to be saying all this and wanted Lamar to know this was only a warning shot.

J. Cole was right. Lamar, Drake, and himself are the big three. For decades now, the trio has dominated not just rap, but the entire music industry, and it’s foolish for the three to be at each others’ necks. All three men are approaching their 40s, and as their careers wind down I’d hate to see their legacies marred by pointless rap beef and playing the comparison game when they could be finishing their primes together.