Hello, everyone!

As with everywhere else on the internet, beef has been on the menu, and exactly at the point where some folks may consider it either very well done or possibly overcooking, it struck me as a worthwhile thing to discuss (with a gentle addendum and some link edits, for the folks wondering why it was briefly inaccessible on this site).

It’s serving hot, so I hope you enjoy the tea! (... is soup tea?)

“Sweet Chin Music, and I won’t pass the aux…”

[content warning for mentions of domestic violence, sexual assault, and gun violence]

This past weekend has been one of the busiest days in hip-hop.

Folks all over the internet have been breaking down, summing up, and reacting to the Kendrick Lamar-Drake rap feud, but the summary is: J. Cole said on his feature verse on Drake’s ‘First Person Shooter’ that them two and Kendrick were the ‘Big 3’ of the game. Kenny replied to that notion on his feature verse on Future and Metro Boomin’s ‘Like That’ with the now infamous line:

Motherfuck the big three, nigga it's just big me

Drake, notorious among his peers and fans alike for being difficult to like despite being a hit-maker, allegedly throwing shade at rappers for merely being in relationships with women he was interested in, didn’t like the shot, so he came back to back with two tracks of his own three weeks later, one of them already so infamous for having AI-generated voices of Snoop Dogg and the late 2Pac that Snoop himself responded with incredulity and Drake had to pull it so the Shakur estate didn’t pull up in court clothes.

Kendrick, not letting the competition slide, pulled up three weeks later and jump-started the busiest week of the internet's life, dropping ‘euphoria’ on April 30th and ‘6:16 in LA’ on May 3rd, taking jabs at Drake’s public (and physical body) image and dropping hints both lyrically and in the cover art that he has a mole in Drake’s entourage feeding him scoop. That same day Drizzy fires back with ‘Family Matters’, an admittedly hardcore seven-and-a-half-minute Uzi-spray track against all of his opps, including many veiled suggestions that Kendrick’s fiancée Whitney Alford is unfaithful and the victim of domestic violence at Kendrick’s hand. Then, that same day still—some twenty-odd minutes after ‘Family Matters’ dropped—Kendrick already had his salvo planned, dropping the bombshell ‘Meet The Grahams’, the very cover art alone extending the OVO mole rumours while the lyrics openly accuse Drake of being sexually predatory to minors and having yet another secret child, noteworthy in part because the reveal of the first secret kid was how Drake lost his last beef with Pusha T just under six years ago. Then the morning after that, Kendrick fired one more shot, ‘Not Like Us’, calling him a coloniser to his face, further calling out the alleged sexually predatory nature of his crew, and even dropping the address of Drake’s Toronto compound edited to appear with sex offender markers. And again, all of this happened within five days. Drake followed up the very next day with ‘The Heart Part 6’, considered the weakest of the diss tracks so far, where he pretty much goes on the defensive about the claims of child sexual abuse, laughs at a confession of being a victim of assault that Kendrick decidedly does not make in his last album, and makes the frankly incredible argument that he planted the dirt about the other secret kid in order to dupe Kendrick before essentially bowing out.

So there is a lot to dissect more deeply about all of these tracks—that Kendrick multiply calls Drake a ‘master manipulator’ and how Drake alleging to have constructed the narrative of his sexual weirdness in order to catch his opponent in a lie makes him seem even weirder and more dishonest, or how Drake has been insisting that there is no evidence for allegations that even the public has observed about him based on publicly available information for years now—but a lot of the public discourse about the feud has been decidedly focused, almost in tandem, on two specific camps: the very overwhelming hard work of ‘the last great rap beef’ to release this much output in such a short time (again, one man dropped four songs in five days just about how much he wants Drake to literally die), and whether this is perhaps getting a little too… real for the mic.

To the first, wiser heads have already discussed that hip-hop beef is a good testing ground for lyrical growth. It does indeed require a lot of skill to not only develop one’s vocabulary but one’s public awareness to target someone so precisely. The rap battle has been this proving ground for some time now, and this is a thicker vein of that practice: you put your opponent on the clock to come with a track that is not only more sharply performed, but so much more bitter than yours that it is obvious who won. It’s essentially a face-to-face battle, but with a delay, and for pink slips—if you lose here, it’s not just because people are cheering for your opponent, it’s because their latest diss is getting five million more plays on Spotify than yours.

And to be sure, this is kind of dominating the news cycle as a result of the high profile of its combatants. WWE Superstar Shawn Michaels has tweeted about this. Young adult author John Green has tweeted about this. Twitter is overwhelmed with young Black onlookers comparing the beef to their favourite manga and anime fights, Drake stans likening him to Aizen from Bleach while Kendrick devotees set ‘euphoria’ to clips of Sukuna from the Shinjuku Incident Arc of Jujutsu Kaisen. Metro Boomin made a beat sampling a Drake jab by comedian King Willonius that is so hard it has Japanese rappers spitting on it. (You shouldn’t have told that man to make some drums, BBL Drizzy.) I would dare argue that most non-hip-hop-fan observers were dumbstruck by the Drake-Pusha T beef only by the time it ended, and only because of how. But it’s perhaps fairer to allege that there are parts of mainstream culture that would otherwise consider rap beef niche who are now invested in this example of beef—two superstars of the genre, one a pop hit-maker and the other a Pulitzer Prize-winning lyrical legend, are duking it out, and there’s a clear winner. It’s the hip-hop equivalent of being in Metropolis the day Doomsday beats the shit out of Superman.

But it’s also interesting how the public discourse is also very quickly turning a bit sour about the entire ordeal. For one thing, it appears somewhat obvious that the nature of writing a diss has somewhat changed. This is a neutral fact, to be sure—sometimes the purpose of a form evolves with the times it’s in—but it is clear in the shadow of Drake v. Pusha T that the nature of a winning diss track is not only lyricality, cultural stickiness, and biting wit, but dirt. Whoever has the juiciest, grimiest scoop wins, or can win, and they both tried to shoot with the sickest of them.

To a lot of onlookers, it also seems just a bit too callous. Sure, a throwaway jab that you’re willing to take someone’s girl may seem low-stakes in the grand scheme of it all, but accusing someone’s entire crew of being predators as a different story. This is not to say that rap beef should be admissible in court—can you imagine the precedent that would set?—but it is kinda weird to say you’ve been sitting on scoop about a man for four days and instead of making a police report, you chose to warm up the studio first. To clarify, there’s nothing a man can do if everything he’s learned is in the category of open secrets, and often missing stair problems in an industry as large and already threatening as music can be difficult to repair even with the honesty of exposing it to oxygen—except that there is a lot that a man can do, and some of them come before plugging in a microphone.

It also doesn’t help that an extension of that element—the believability of that dirt—muddies the waters even more. On the one hand, they are taking some hard and scathing shots at each other. On the other, as previously mentioned, Drake claiming to be calculating enough to pre-plant false evidence on himself while also denying stuff other people claim to have pulled receipts on makes people doubt the claims he makes about Kenny, no matter how damning such claims would be on their own terms.

Many Black women commentators have also already shared their own notes about how, the fun of the vibe notwithstanding, it is very obvious that the women in rappers’ lives are the ones most easily targeted when the pens are drawn, and it can suck some of the energy out of being attached to the outcome. It doesn’t help that beef is one of those artistic challenges that has a clear taboo—don’t aim for the family—that has been delineated through the culture in part because it’s the easiest, most powerful, and nastiest one to break.

I am admittedly conflicted. Beef can be fun (more fun to see someone you like beat up someone you don’t like), and it is easy when consuming art to put aside the thornier parts of engaging. But remember, these men are claiming to be critics of each other’s real lives, in an overall music industry that is already notoriously cruel to women and young people. It doesn’t help that the morning before I drafted this newsletter, someone shot one of Drake’s bodyguards outside his house, and while there is no evidence so far that it is even related to the beef, it is souring.

[I will also place this addendum here—a thing I hesitated to include for personal reasons, but at this point I suspect the people this would potentially instigate either stopped stalking my socials months ago or will never stop stalking my socials—but suffice it to say that part of why I am personally conflicted is because I have witnessed firsthand how someone's desire to seek dirt for their own gratification rather than seek the truth for the truth's sake not only deliberately empowers bad actors to spin narratives to take down their apparent rivals for their own growth, but how it negates efforts to actually provide real safety to survivors. Some things are more important than Billboard Top 100 charting, or winning a competition, first and foremost the real lives of others. But I'm also willing to admit that I am engaged from a point of bias, like many other people are: I think the public argument for Drake's general weirdness is openly available, and he's done an equally weird job of defending himself. But I don't know anything about Kendrick personally, and it would be improper for me to say anything more damning about either of them for a fact. To quote the infamous dead prez, "It's bigger than hip-hop".]

But above all else, competition is good, and despite the still-sobering parts of the story, this is still surely a very good exhibition of what lyrical talent can do at its best. It’s also showing us a lot about the heart of audience culture—what we believe, what we want to learn, and how we connect to the stories that hold us. There is a lot to glean as critics and creators from that, some good and some ill, but all that is in the stew when good beef is cooked.

Tasting Notes

Because of the nature of the topic at hand, I don’t really have any tasting notes, not only because O, Gods, there is so much discourse I couldn’t possibly pick a good single piece to consume, but also because it would feel kind of peculiar to do the thing I had initially imagined to do, but I will share this: if you have… two and a half hours to spare and want to hear this scene being broken down by a pool of very talented rappers in their own right, the inimitable Mega Ran had a Twitter live roundtable with folks like Zaid Tabani, Roqy Tyraid, and Kadesh Flow that is not only a good place to experience every track in order but to hear some pretty thoughtful commentary from people other than the regular hip-hop provocateurs. I recommend this over watching a DJ Akademiks stream, at least.

Also worth sharing is this high school teacher’s TikTok video not only about how the beef has seemingly shifted perception among young people in her school about Drake, but about how students are deeply and thoughtfully digging into the lyrics in a way that seemingly surprised her considering their engagement with school text. This drives home a thing I care about even outside this beef in general: when you give young people a cultural object they’re invested in, they will do the kind of close reading work you wish they would do with your Literature readings. The problem is never that young people lack literacy skills or are too aloof to be invested in putting in the work—it is always that, if parents, teachers, and librarians aren’t actually working to meet young people at their desires, they will think you’re forcing them to do something. Young people are smart and observant. Adults just don’t know how to reach them, and only the best of them will use the things they are focused on to do so. Kudos to Ms. C, for real.

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Today's Tunes

First: I can’t pour this bowl for you without literally dropping some rap.

This Miyachi track is not here because it’s called BEEF (although it’s not not here for the same reason). I have always loved Miyachi’s flow, and it has been sealed in my brain in such a way that I would be remiss not to throw it in.

Second: now this track is here because of beef.

You should know by now that I adore Aesop Rock, and while I doubt that he is of the character that would ever so bitterly thump a competitor on the head, this is the closest his music has come to calling out the game like

Third: I would be remiss not to share my favourite example of friendly lyrical dueling.

If you’ve read Can You Sign My Tentacle?, you know I have a special place in my heart for the sparring of the Mighty Sparrow and Lord Melody: two talented calypsonians at the healthy early stage in their careers, so bound to the craft that they would regularly throw jabs at each other in song.

Picong—teasing lyrical banter—is a natural part of extempo calypso that I enjoy for the same reasons we enjoy battle rap, but with the opening premise that these two people don’t have to hate each other in order to compete, and in fact actually want each other to grow from the experience both lyrically and in their brand. Melo and Sparrow cared enough about each other’s careers that when one of them had the plan to seek Harry Belafonte’s co-sign to possibly spark a larger American career, they traveled together to record. They liked, trusted, and admired each other. Picong’s goal is to forge their skills, not to truly slice at each other.

It’s funny to revisit this album, Melody vs. Sparrow: A Friendly Calypso Feud, in the light of beef, because it’s also noteworthy that there are tracks here that, while still kinda low in intent, are not as grim as some diss raps are. After all, Melody has written so many bitterly self-deprecating songs that it’s hard to say he takes it seriously when someone calls him and his wife ugly.

Would that more crafts, and genres within those crafts, had this quality of picong. Iron sharpens iron.

The Leaves

A reminder that you can help keep this newsletter and the rest of my work afloat by supporting me on Patreon, buying me a coffee on Ko-fi or sending a donation via PayPal, or by buying one of my small game projects over on Itch!

Among some of the cool things I’ve recently made includes The God of Spite and Violence, a two-player tabletop roleplaying game about hyperviolence, fierce vendettas, and bisexual mood lighting. Getting a copy also helps me meet my current goal to deal with some credit card expenses, but I also hope this will be something you’d be hype to play!

Also, I keep forgetting to mention this elsewhere, so if you haven't heard or seen either of these already, I recently appeared on two podcasts! Listen to me chat with Perry Clark on Untying Knots and with Tiffany Brown on Horror in the Margins!

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed the tea!

Bœuf Bourguignon: The Murder of a Sacred Bull