For those of you who may not know, the Cuban missile crisis was the closest the United States and the then Soviet Union ever came to getting into an all out nuclear war. The world’s two superpowers were in the midst of a Cold War that had been brewing for years, and in 1962 after the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, the two nations were ready to take their gloves off leaving the whole world in fear. Thankfully things cooled off after days of negotiation and to this day the two nations have not gone into combat although some feel that’s about to change (but that’s a story for another day).
Hip Hop itself might be witnessing its own Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time of this writing Kendrick Lamar has the number 1 album and song on the billboard charts, further solidifying his status as one of the top two rappers of this generation, the other being ‘The Boy’ Drizzy Drake (J. Cole is a close third). Without question they are the two superpowers in the Hip Hop world right now. Drake is the most commercially successful with a catalogue that could make up for 5 Greatest Hits albums. Kendrick on the other hand is the most acclaimed, having already dropped two undisputed classics. 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was not only the most acclaimed album that year but is among the top 5 most critically acclaimed albums in history according to Metacritic. On top of that his two previous albums have matched the acclaim with commercial success having both gone platinum, proving he’s commercially viable and the current success of his most recent album DAMN, is certain to continue that streak.
With the status the two have in the Rap game it’s only natural that they are constantly compared to each other and tensions have arisen between the two. The two initially started off as friends, with Drake taking Kendrick on tour with him in 2012, having Kendrick feature on his second album and returning the favour a year later by appearing on “Poetic Justice” off Kendrick’s ‘Good Kid Maad City’. However, in the summer of 2013 after Kendrick called out the Rap Game by name including Drake, on Big Sean’s “Control” nothing was the same (I couldn’t resist the pun). Tensions arose and those paying close attention, noticed the two engage in a Cold War of sorts that has lasted to this day. From Drake initially dismissing Kendrick’s verse on “Control” yet sneakily dissing him on “The Language”. To a string of subliminals throughout 2014-2016 from both rappers including Kendrick calling out rappers using ghostwriters on “King Kunta”. Four months before Meek Mill publicly accused Drake of such (potentially proving that Kendrick had foreknowledge.) To just recently, when Kendrick started the album rollout for DAMN, this past March. A rollout which started with the release of “The Heart Part 4”, a song in which he aggressively called out an unnamed rapper (Drake, Big Sean or both). A song that was released just 3 days after Drake released his Playlist (but really an album he just didn’t want to call an album in case it didn’t meet expectations) More Life and completely stole the thunder from Drake’s buzz. I doubt that was accidental.
This rollout has now lead to Kendrick scoring his first number 1 single with “Humble”. Remarkable for being a purely rap song to go number 1 without a feature or singing on the hook, something Drake ironically has not been able to do despite his incredible hit making ability. Kendrick’s “DAMN” album then racked up a massive first week sales numbers with 603,000 copies sold, beating Drake’s More Life for the biggest sales week in 2017. Which is why now is the time the two rappers finally go into full battle mode. Unlike when tensions first arose in 2013, Kendrick has proved himself multiple times over that the commercial and critical success of Good Kid Maad City was not a fluke. Drake on the other hand since then has somewhat earned his battle scars, by completely dismantling Meek Mill (a former battle rapper) in the summer of 2015 after the latter accused Drake of using ghostwriters, earning him the respect of many of his detractors in the process.
Just like the two superpowers in the actual Cuban Missile Crisis, K.Dot and Drake represent two different ideologies. Kendrick is considered to be a “rapper’s rapper” the Golden boy. Someone who’s focused on mastering the craft of Hip Hop and making socially aware music with a message that will last a lifetime. Drake on the other hand is focused on becoming as big as he possibly can and dominating popular music in general, by making catchy, more commercially accessible music, that may not be thought provoking but is still an undeniable pleasure to listen to. Both of these lanes are needed and appreciated in rap, but as Nas once rapped “there can only be one King”.
Who would win in a battle between the two, is a different story for another day. Drake stans would argue Drake, because he’s so big right now he’s pretty much untouchable. Kenfolk would argue Kendrick because not only is he a much better technical emcee, he is also popular enough among mainstream fans that if he were to go at Drake full on, it would hurt the Canadian wonder’s career. Some would argue the battle is way past it’s due date. That Drake would never go at Kendrick despite the fact Kendrick has repeatedly been going at his neck indirectly and that if it were to happen it would have happened by now. However, it took 5 years of sneak disses before the first direct shot was fired in the Jay-Z vs Nas feud.
Either way neither of these arguments were the point of this article. Hip Hop is competitive by nature. Jay-Z once said “the battle is the essence of Hip Hop”. It’s what this generation needs. We are witnessing two polar opposite artists in their prime right now. Their different approaches have led to them indirectly clashing. This is why now is the perfect time for this Cold War to turn hot. Let’s see if it does.
Words by @NiftyNoel