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Kendrick. Black Media. Hip Hop

Written by Kenjrick Watson, Media Planner at Burrell Communications – Follow @kenjrickwatson on all platforms. 

Everybody wants to talk about who’s this and who’s that, who’s the realest and who’s wack, or who’s white and who’s black. Critics want to mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin’. If you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum” (Hood Politics, Kendrick Lamar, 2015).

Nearly ten years later, this verse remains truer than ever—on multiple fronts. If you love music, have a Twitter account, or just enjoy gossip, you’re pretty much aware of what’s been taking place in culture.

Let’s start from the latter: Killer Mike didn’t go platinum, but last year he won his first distinct Grammy, beating out artists such as Drake & 21 Savage, Metro Boomin, and Travis Scott for Best Rap Album of the Year. He also won Best Rap Song of the Year and Best Rap Performance. A sweep for the Atlanta rapper/activist. Killer Mike’s album “Michael” was a necessary reminder that at the end of the day, people want bars, they want stories they can live with, grow with, and relate to beyond the age of 25. And they want a song with Future and Andre 3’stacks—which Mike gave us.

Each generation has a collection of music that shapes who they are and what they become. Whether it’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous,” “The Diary” by Scarface, Jay Z’s “Reasonable Doubt,” or Ye’s “The College Dropout”—music is Black culture’s GPS. Talk to any entrepreneur who grew up in the 90s, and they’ll share how important “Reasonable Doubt” was in their journey as a hustler—grinding, legally and illegally.

“Critics want to mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin’”

Ironically, in recent years, whenever there’s a cultural conversation about the revival of “real hip-hop,” Kendrick Lamar is part of that conversation. In 2013, the culture said real hip-hop was back when Kendrick dropped his Control verse, mentioning J Cole, Drake, and a plethora of other rappers. Fast forward to the present day, and we are having the same conversation, but this time it’s a lot more complex and nuanced.

There’s something prophetic about Kendrick Lamar’s raps. As Jay Z said, “It’s funny how one verse can fuck up the game,” a verse Kendrick references in TPAB, and that’s exactly what has happened.

Kendrick dropped a surprise verse on Metro Boomin and Future’s song “Like That.” On this track, he references Drake and J Cole’s song “First Person Shooter” where they mention “The Big 3,” insinuating that Kendrick, Drake, and J Cole are the Big 3. Kendrick responds with his catchy jab, “Motherf*** the Big 3, n***a, it’s just big me.” This is the verse that fucks up the game, in Hov’s words.

Since then, Drake and J Cole have both responded to Kendrick’s “Like That” verse. J Cole responded first in a song titled “7 Minute Drill,” which was taken down less than a week later out of respect to Kendrick. Drake followed up about a week later with his first set of diss songs aimed at Kendrick: “Pushups,” followed by an AI-based song “Taylor Made Freestyle” that features AI-fabricated verses from West Coast legends Snoop Dogg and Tupac. “Taylor Made Freestyle” was requested to be taken down by the Tupac Estate a day after release. Both songs were strong pushes to get Kendrick to respond.

Kendrick did exactly that, releasing four calculated songs in the span of a week (“Euphoria,” “6:16 in LA,” “Meet the Grahams,” “Not Like Us”).

These songs completely took over our Twitter/X and IG timelines. The initial conversation centered around Kendrick’s line at the end of “Euphoria”: “We don’t wanna hear you say n***a no more.” Kendrick didn’t mean for it to be a Twitter think piece, but it became one, which I think he knew would happen.

Kendrick questions Drake’s Blackness—not because he is mixed (if that were the case, J Cole would be in that conversation), but because Drake’s upbringing does not resemble the cultural experiences of the average Black American. For example, Drake is Canadian. If he were in the NBA, he wouldn’t be on the USA Olympic team, he’d be on the Canadian team. There is a difference.

Kendrick’s consistent point is that Drake doesn’t come from Black American culture; he uses Black American culture for his personal and business gain and doesn’t do anything to push Black American culture forward.

Megan Thee Stallion was one of the first to offer her opinion publicly on Drake this year. In her song “Hiss,” she raps, “Cosplay gangsters, fake a** accents / Posted in another n***a hood like a bad b*tch.”

The indictment against Drake has always been his lack of true identity, cosplaying other Black American subcultures. The lack of true identity leads to a lack of self-awareness. In the song “Family Matters,” the Canadian rapper responded to Kendrick’s pro-Black message by saying, “Always rapping like you ‘bout to get the slaves freed.” The bar is certainly cringey at the least and shows a lack of self/cultural awareness because it paints Kendrick’s attempt to produce music that encourages, uplifts, and unifies his community as a negative thing.

“Notice I said we, it’s not just me, I’m what the culture feeling,” Kendrick raps in his six-minute track, “Euphoria.”

Throughout this back-and-forth, we saw the culture pick a side, and it was the side of the Pulitzer Prize winner. From Metro and Future, all the way to Jack Dorsey, former CEO of Twitter/X, it was evident that the culture was feeling the same way Kendrick has been feeling. 

The only one to say something publicly in support of Drake is Young Money Cash Money President, Mack Maine. Everyone else? Silent.

This is all speculation, of course, but this seems to be more than a “we are jealous of your success” attack and more of a “your time in our culture is up, and you need to be reminded of who you really are.” As Kendrick says, “You got shit twisted, What is it, the braids?”

In what many consider Kendrick’s “victory lap” song, “Not Like Us,” Kendrick teams up with LA producer DJ Mustard to create what many would consider a cultural anthem for the West Coast, but also for Black American culture. What’s presented as a dance song is really a cultural example of Kendrick making his declaration that “They Not Like Us,” whether it’s West Coast culture or Black American culture. This song is packaged as a diss but it’s really a song of appreciation.

Even though it’s a West Coast tune, Kendrick takes time to pay homage to the city of Atlanta and its inspiration on Hip-Hop, comparing it to the Great Migration that happened in the early 1900s and present day. Simultaneously, Kendrick breaks down how Drake has gotten a lot of his success from Atlanta culture.

Beyond the rap beef, Kendrick sparked a narrative of appreciation within Black American culture. A narrative that proclaims and reclaims that “this,” whatever “this” is, is ours, and it’s up to us to protect it.

Directly benefiting from this narrative were those in Black media, solely due to subject matter. Hip-Hop was re-centered on Black people. When “Not Like Us” dropped, reaction videos from prominent streamers began to go mega-viral of them listening to the song and instantly Crip Walking. In addition to the reactions, streamers were the primary avenue in which consumers were hearing the diss songs. We saw a unique collaboration between artists and media creators. Drake’s songs went to DJ Akademiks before they ever hit Apple Music. Kendrick released copyright stipulations on the diss songs he released, giving creators the freedom to review songs on stream without the stream being taken down. This put more money than usual in the hands of streamers, most of whom were Black, for this back-and-forth.

Will copyright stipulations cease to exist? Probably not, but what we did see was the value of Black media, which has gone overlooked in the past decade. Black media controlled the narrative of this historic rap brawl. A generation that didn’t get the opportunity to see 50 Cent and Cam’ron go at it live on Hot 97 got a similar experience through DJ Akademics, Joe Budden’s Podcast, Rory & Mal Podcast, Kai Cenat, and many more.

Black Music Appreciation Month is in June 2024, and Kendrick and Drake have both given us one of the best lyrical slugfests we have ever seen.

It’s important we don’t rush past this moment in culture. From the chart success, Kendrick’s “Not Like Us” becoming the most streamed song in a single day ever in Spotify history, to the constructive social commentary that has Twitter timelines backed up to this day and podcast mics worn out, it’s a reminder that real Hip-Hop is alive and well and “one verse can really fuck up the game.”

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