Drake and Kendrick Lamar have the right idea – more people should settle their differences with poetry

The two men aren’t just insulting one another, claims literature expert Ryan Coogan – they’re engaging in an artistic tradition that goes back centuries

Monday 06 May 2024 05:11 BST
Kendrick Lamar and also-a-rapper Drake have been at each other’s throats for over a decade now
Kendrick Lamar and also-a-rapper Drake have been at each other’s throats for over a decade now (Getty)

There’s a lot of conflict in the world right now. It feels like you can’t open a newspaper (or, if we’re being honest, social media) without reading about some terrible geopolitical incident bringing us one step closer to the brink. Our public figures are no better, lowering the public discourse with every hastily typed post and provocative soundbite that escapes their controversy-hungry brains.

We used to be so much better at this. Even in times of struggle, we used to carry ourselves with a sense of decorum. We didn’t just scream at each other – we thought about what we were going to say, and we said it well.

Luckily for us, there’s one quarrel that is still being conducted with a level of propriety and artistry that is so often missing from today’s debate: the Drake and Kendrick Lamar rap beef. Yes, rather than firing off barbs with nary a thought as to their impact, these two men are conducting themselves in a way that speaks to real gentlemanly conduct – by writing little poems to one another.

If you haven’t been following the beef, all you need to know is this: Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and also-a-rapper Drake (no last name) have been at each other’s throats for over a decade now, taking minor shots at each other in their music. The rivalry escalated to a new level recently, however, when Kendrick took issue with J Cole’s claim that he, Kendrick and Drake were the “big three” in hip hop, including the lyric “Motherf*** the big three, n***a, it’s just big me” in his song “Like That”. Drake responded with a diss track attacking Lamar, who responded in kind, and the two have been going back and forth for the past few days, writing increasingly hurtful soliloquies about each other.

Footage from 2016 shows Obama predicting winner of Kendrick vs Drake feud

Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m not being flippant here. I saw somebody on X/Twitter earlier call precisely this kind of observation “peak Reddit circa 2009” (whatever that means), but I stand by it. Drake and Kendrick have somehow managed to elevate what under different circumstances would be considered a bit of low-stakes celebrity gossip to the level of genuine art, thanks to their employment of their natural literary flair. Somehow, despite themselves, this minor spat has caused both men to dig deep and produce some of their best work in years.

It’s so good, in fact, that people have accused the two of engaging in a bit of celebrity kayfabe, ie, both being “in on the joke” and playing things up for the general public. Maybe that’s true, but I feel like if it was, then Drake probably wouldn’t have signed off on Lamar branding him a “certified paedophile”, warning any women interested in the “Hotline Bling” singer to “just make sure you hide your lil’ sister from him”.

Ditto, I can’t imagine that Kendrick would have given his blessing to Drake lyrics that implicate him in domestic violence, or his story of pro-Black activism of being just for show. I understand the best feuds tend to cut deep but personally, I would perhaps draw the line at telling the world my rival had a secret daughter.

Even if you aren’t a huge fan of rap, you have to admit that it’s refreshing to see two men put real effort into their insults, instead of just firing out a Notes app screenshot or low-res YouTube video. It’s like when Edgar Allan Poe included a character based on real-life rival Thomas Dunn English in his short story “The Cask of Amontillado”, in which the main character is buried alive behind a brick wall as revenge for his boorish behaviour (well, it’s sort of like that – to my knowledge, Poe never accused English of having a “nympho fetish” in any of his stories). That tale went on to become one of Poe’s most acclaimed, most recently serving as a key part of Mike Flanagan’s loose adaptation of Poe’s works The Fall of the House of Usher.

That’s the thing about literary feuds – there’s always a danger that by hitting back against your opponent through your art, you’ll accidentally end up immortalising them. Art tends to stick around a lot longer than the people who made it, so in some ways the two men may have accidentally done one another a favour, each including the other in a body of work that will be remembered for decades – perhaps centuries – to come.

So the next time somebody cuts you off at the intersection, or grabs the last watermelon in the fruit aisle, don’t get mad – get creative. You never know, you might end up producing something worthwhile. After all, sometimes the best way to get back at your enemy is to make them your muse.

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