Music

Kendrick Lamar And Drake’s Subliminal War Hit Its Peak On ‘The Heart Part 4’

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Four days. That’s exactly how much time Kendrick Lamar let Drake enjoy the success of his new playlist/album More Life. Not even a whole week, just a little over 96 hours. With the timing of a metronome Kung Fu Kenny hopped back into the fray with “The Heart Part 4” and made the rap world turn all their precious attention to him and once again, it seems their subliminal war with each other is back on.

Like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao before them, Drake and Kendrick have been circling one another for years, and now it might finally be time for them to put the gloves on and officially square off. The stage is set, and Drake is at his most aggressive and surly, and Kendrick just itching for the chance to get into the ring. They never name names, so fans are always left to figure out just which line is meant for who like Zach Galifianakis.

Because of that, the idea has been tossed around that Big Sean is the victim of Kendrick’s wrath, and he might be, but the perception is that Kenny is taking aim at Drake, and with these things perception becomes reality. Sure, there may be some jabs at Sean but when Kendrick blurts “Hoe, Jay Z Hall of Fame, sit your punk ass down (Sit yo’ punk ass down)/So that means you ain’t bigger than rapping” there’s only one Canadian, rapper/singer, former TV actor he could possibly be talking about. Now it seems the battle is finally underway, and the ball is officially in Drake’s court to see if he’ll even meet the challenge.

Drake Vs. Kendrick Lamar isn’t a battle of talent, or wits, so much as it’s a battle of ideologies about music and rap in general. For Kendrick this is sport, he’s here to out-rap people whenever he gets the chance, he just so happens to be musically inclined and capable of crafting masterpieces. For Drake, this is commerce, as evidenced by his wide-spanning “playlist” of an album that is meant to cover as much commercial ground and end up on as many radio stations and Apple Music genre playlists as possible. Drake is here to sell records, he’s making commercial product, Kendrick is here to rap, he’s making art and if it sells like commercial product so be it.

Those dueling philosophies are at odds in any clash of the titans between the two. Drake breaks core rap tenets: he has writers, he chases pop, he might rap aggressively at his foes at times but he’s far from a tough guy. In that sense he’s out of his element in an all out rap battle. Kendrick is a rapper’s rapper, in this clash it’s a home game for him and he’s the rare artist with enough critical acclaim and commercial success to warrant an actual response from Drake.

In some respects, the two are playing two entirely different sports. Drake is Deion Sanders: He’s an incredibly talented football player, but he also dabbles in baseball at a high level when it suits him. He’s admitted as much recently, rapping “Got the Billboard melodies / Rap is somethin’ I do on the side” on 2 Chainz’s “Big Amount.” In that sense, Kendrick is Barry Bonds, he plays baseball, he’s the best in the game and he wants to play baseball with Drake. Badly.

The problem for Drake and his vociferous fanbase is that they refuse to acknowledge the fact that Drake isn’t playing the same sport as Kendrick. So while some may not want him judged on the standard — and maybe even archaic — rap rules, he continues to boast his way onto rap’s platform. More Life is full of typical rap braggadocio like “I know I said top five, but I’m top two / And I’m not two,” further the idea that not only is Drake a rapper but he’s the best rapper. However, when it comes time to judge him, the common refrain is he’s a pop star, therefore on a different plane and meant to be judged by different standards. It’s time to chose, for both Drake and his fans, either he’s a rapper and judged like one, or he’s a pop star and should stop dropping the “I’m the best rapper in the world” rhetoric at actual rappers.

Really, Drake wants his cake and he wants to eat it. He wants to be the pop star that’s also the greatest rapper alive, and Kendrick is the Godzilla-sized thorn in his side. Kenny’s angle is simple, Drake is on his corner and in this game there’s only room for one guy on the corner. And when somebody is on Kendrick’s corner, well, he takes it. By force.

Kendrick wants everybody to understand that he’s the best rapper alive, especially his fellow rappers. With Drake boasting the same accomplishment he feels slighted, and is taking it personal, so he’s clapping back even if it’s unsolicited. The dueling ideologies come to a head on “The Heart Part 4,” where Kendrick seems to acknowledge all of the retorts from Drake and his fans. Sales and trophies and streaming numbers are all cool, but his aim is to rap good and impress. “I’ll let ya’ll worry about a list, I’m on some other sh*t,” he spits. “A difference between accomplishments and astonishments.”

In the end Drake may deem the rewards of such a clash not worth the risks. For some fans he can’t win anyway, as much as he’s the most popular rapper alive, he’s also the most hated. The ghostwriting fiasco will always follow him whether he believes it to be credible or not, and in this arena it’s paramount. Even if he manages to outrap and outwit K. Dot, it will come with a caveat that will cause some fans to simply refuse to give him credit.

The problem with that approach is Kendrick is the rare opponent who is both so good, and so popular that Drake really can’t ignore him, no matter how much he wants to. The 6 God may be rap’s biggest bully, but K. Dot is that kid in school that everybody knows is a third-degree black belt. Everybody knows what he’s capable of so nobody bothers him. Now, they’re in the middle of the school pushing each other and the crowd is gathering, so it just might be time for somebody to officially take a swing. For all of our sake, let’s hope somebody does, because the primary result of this battle is more incredible music for fans on both sides of the aisle.

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