The conversation of whether Drake or Kendrick Lamar were the better artist has been around since 2013 when Big Sean released “Control,” featuring guest verses from Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica. Kendrick not only calls himself “the King of New York” on that song, but he shoots out a challenge to almost every rap contemporary past and present, including Drake. It was followed up by his 2013 BET cypher when Kendrick said: “and nothing’s been the same since they dropped ‘Control’ and tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.” Naturally, the internet took off, and Drake vs. Kendrick Lamar has been a highly talked about debate ever since.
Here’s just a couple of the most recent Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake discussions:
- Pitchfork: Kendrick Lamar and Drake: Beef Is Real
- Stereogum: The Week In Rap: The Great Drake/Kendrick Lamar Rivalry
- Genius: A History of Kendrick Lamar & Drake’s Subliminal War
- Complex: You Shouldn’t Underestimate Drake in a Beef With Kendrick Lamar
- Uproxx: Bringing Drake And Kendrick Lamar To The Brink Of Battle
- The Undefeated: Kendrick Lamar, Drake and the Definition of a ‘Classic’ Rap Album
- Complex: Don’t Believe the Hype: Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Damn’ vs. Drake’s ‘More Life’
- Billboard: Watch Geraldo Rivera Respond to Kendrick Lamar, Say Drake Is Better
- Vibe: ‘DAMN.’ Proves Kendrick Lamar Doesn’t Make “Fun” Music, So Is Drake Better?
So, I can get, on a surface level, why the Drake/Kendrick beef occurs, especially since a base for such a feud exists, but it’s been a subliminal war if anything at all; it’s never erupted into a “real” rap beef.
Even former President Barack Obama was asked about who was the better artist early last year during a Youtube interview:
I think Drake is an outstanding entertainer, but Kendrick—his lyrics, his last album was outstanding. Best album, I think, of last year.
To me, the difficulty of comparing Drake to Kendrick Lamar reminds me of the difficulty faced when ranking Kanye West albums and trying to figure out where 808’s & Heartbreak sits. 808’s isn’t a rap record, but it’s still by Kanye West, a rapper. Views and More Life aren’t really rap records, they’re more pop oriented, but they were released by Drake.
Like Kanye West briefly making a pop record, Drake is the first black rapper in a long while to successfully break from the genre and go into pop—yet, for some reason, the world can’t think of him as anything besides a rapper. When he won the Grammy for “Hotline Bling” in the rap category, he even said that it didn’t make any sense on his OVO Sound radio show for Beats 1:
The only category they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m black. I can’t figure out why. I won two awards, but I don’t even want them because it just feels weird for some reason. It just doesn’t feel right to me… I’m apparently a rapper, even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song.
Just like the rap award given to “Hotline Bling,” even though Views and More Life are not rap records, they’ve still been compared to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and DAMN., respectively, seemingly because the music world refuses to acknowledge Drake as a pop artist.
You can compare Russell Westbrook to Steph Curry, or Rafael Nadal to Roger Federer, but Drake and Kendrick are barely in the same sport. To me, it would be like comparing Michael Phelps to Serena Williams—other than accolades, what is there to compare? Do certain accolades rank higher than others? DAMN. sold better than More Life in the end, but does chart position length play a factor in determining the better artist? Does awards won? Does streaming record broken? What truly is there to logically compare Drake to Kendrick Lamar, over any other artists combination?
The arguments have included the differences in tone of each record, the delivery, the subject matter, etc., but when it comes down to it really, these topics could cover any artist comparison. Why not compare Kendrick to other socially conscious rappers such as Joey Bada$$? Why not compare Drake to the Weeknd? Why is all the energy spent on Drake vs. Kendrick specifically?
The answer is simple: even though Drake made More Life as a pop “playlist” for good times that was designed to break streaming records, and Kendrick Lamar made DAMN. to rap about black issues in America and battle his inner demons, they are compared simply because they are two of today’s most influential black, male artists. Ever since “Control,” every little line in their discography, especially Drake’s, has been combed in search of whom they could be dissing next. To the general public, it doesn’t matter that they make completely different music. In all actuality, however, there’s no reason to decide whether Drake or Kendrick Lamar is the “better” artist. What’s there to truly compare?
What do you think? Vote here.