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Is Rap Still A Competitive Sport? Kendrick Lamar Still Seems To Think So

"I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you niggas"

From 1978-185, the corner of 116th & Lenox Avenue in Harlem served as the nucleus for the burgeoning culture of Hip Hop. This improperly zoned disco spot was neighbored by schools and stood opposite of a Muslim Temple and a few Churches. Harlem World Cultural and Entertainment Complex, better known as “Harlem World”, was the destination for aspiring rap acts to showcase their MC Skills and the scene of many historic MC Battles. One of which was Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee’s “Battle At Harlem World”. The party rocker MC, Busy Bee, was destroyed by the more lyrically refined rhymer, Kool Moe Dee, transforming rap from being more party-focused into the more lyrical-centered (for the most part) rap we know today. The rap battle was how MCs early on earned their stripes, showcasing their rap skills. But as the genre grew sonically, the ability to rhyme has taken a backseat to the ability to make a good song. Thus, the genre has been diluted with “artists”, rather than pure rappers. Hip Hop artists who take pride in their rapping ability are in the few, such as J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. Those with rhyming skills still have a sense of competitiveness, though.

The 2003 documentary “Beef” shines a light on hip hop’s inherent competitive nature. 50 Cent commented “Hip hop is competitive. Find me a rapper who doesn't think hes the best. And I bet you hes not a signed artist, I bet you it would be some guy who's just playing around”. 

With these roots in mind, it's easy to see how a hip-hop purist such as Kendrick may look down on supposed “competitors” getting together on a track and playing around with the GOAT status.

Drake culminated 2023 with a surprise full-length album titled “For All The Dogs”, on which he teamed up with fellow superstar J Cole for the hit “First Person Shooter”. During this track, J. Cole raps “Love when they argue the hardest MC/ Is it K Dot, is it Aubrey or me? We the big three like we started the league, but right now I feel like Muhammad Ali”. Like many of us rap fans, Kendrick Lamar heard this extremely popular track. However, while we were nodding our heads, he was in the studio brewing a retaliation verse. 

This verse came as a major surprise to everyone, coming as a hidden feature on Future & Metro Boomin's new collab album “ We Dont Trust You”.  On the track “Like That”, Kendrick throws a slew of shots at both J. Cole and Drake during his verse, directly referencing the duos recent collaboration: “Fuck sneak dissin, first-person shooter, I hope they came with three switches../Motherfuck the big three, nigga its just me”. Kendrick has obviously taken offense to this statement from J Cole, and decided to come back with some bars for the duo. 

Kendrick has notoriously, and historically, been in “Rap is a Sport” school of thought; dropping competitive rap bars, proclaiming his advanced skill over his peers. In 2014, Kendrick hopped on Big Sean's “Control” and delivered a 3 minute verse filled with venom, rapping “Im usually homeboys with the same niggas Im rhyming with/But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is”, before name dropping a list of rappers (including Drake and J Cole) and stating he has “I got love for you all but Im tryna murder you niggas”. J Cole and Drake teaming up for a track, and on that same track putting themselves next to Kendrick in the “GOAT” conversation must have offended Kendrick. He believes this a sport; there are teams, there are sides, there are winners, there are losers, and most important of all: Only one person can take home the crown. So, in his eyes, seeing two competitors team up on a track, talking about GOAT status, is a mockery to the rap game. He had to respond and restore the competitive feeling. 

Whats interesting to me about this rap “beef” is from my point of view, it is completely about rap. On a beat, who has more rhyming skill? Ignore the argument about who has more hits, who has more awards. Once the drum machine comes on, who can rap better? Kendrick obviously believes that he is the best. The argument of whos the better “artists” is completely separate. We’ll see how Drake and J Cole respond.

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