A mere six days after firing an opening salvo at Drake with “Making a Murderer (Part One),” Joe Budden today released a second Drake diss track, called “Wake.” A dozen rappers have stepped to Drake over the past few years, and Drake has survived all of his challengers, though through rather unconventional means. Drake defeated Meek Mill with bad songs and dank memes. And he has, so far, thwarted would-be rival Kendrick Lamar with maddening vagueness.
Rap beef wasn’t always so vague. In the 1980s, we cheered local turf wars and crew clashes that played out in the form of diss records. In the 1990s, diss tracks went intercontinental. At the height of rap-beef culture in the 2000s, we had “Ether,” the perpetual antagonism of G-Unit, and 50 Cent’s surreal “Pimpin’ Curly” saga with Rick Ross. These were the best of times. In the 2010s, however, rappers swear by passive-aggression. What was once a sport of outrageous insults and pop-up fisticuffs is now a cold war of “subliminal” insults and crowd-sourced memes. No more duels; now, rappers dramatically sigh at one another. The only real winner here is Drake, a rapper whose musical catalog might be adequately summarized as a series of dramatic sighs.
Drake is a lifelong, deep-web fan of battle rap. Coincidentally, Drake is also the shifty coward who single-handedly ruined the entertainment value and craft of what is, now, a lost art form — the rap beef. You’d think a guy who loves battle rapping would also love rap beefs; instead, Drake has managed to parry, subdue, or outright ignore just about every challenge lobbed his way. It’s an impressive record of evasion, when you think about it.
1. KENDRICK LAMAR
SHOTS FIRED: August 2013 — April 2015
WEAPON(s): reconnaissance, innuendo
Ah, “Control” — that unholy, offbeat mess of a Big Sean song that started it all. After Kendrick Lamar challenged Drake (and 10 other rappers) by name on that song and Drake took it personally, every move either one of these guys made for two years thereafter might’ve been perceived as a slight against the other. Meek Mill’s unrelated feud with Drake — see below — would shed new light on a couplet from the To Pimp A Butterfly single “King Kunta,” where Kendrick Lamar raps, “I can dig rappin’!/But a rapper with a ghostwriter?/What the fuck happened?” For a second there, it looked like we might have a good old-fashioned rap war. But on recent songs “4PM In Calabasas” and “For Free,” Drake sucks up to Kendrick — “And like your boy from Compton said/‘You know this dick ain’t free’!” — as if he hadn’t spent the three years since “Control” whining about Kendrick Lamar in rare interviews and cowardly raps.
Word on road is that Drake called Kendrick out by name at ESPN’s studios in Bristol six months after “Control” dropped — but then, predictably, that rumor has Drake asking for his remarks to be scrubbed from the record. The angst that should’ve yielded the decade’s great hip-hop matchup is, instead, a fade deferred.
OUTCOME: Wack-ass détente.
2. PUFF DADDY
SHOTS FIRED: December 2014
WEAPON(s): these hands
Puffy (allegedly) punched Drake in the mouth. At a nightclub. On a Monday. You’d think there’s no backtracking from that measure of physical disrespect, alas: “I did not put hands on Drake. And I don’t want any problems with Drake,” Puffy would later insist in a radio interview with The Breakfast Club. “Drake is my friend.”
A summer later, Drake releases “4PM In Calabasas,” a post-jiggy diss that sounds, and reads, like it was crafted at Puffy’s expense: “Even had the OGs tryna press me/Ha-ha-ha-ha.” In Drake’s proud tradition of pillaging Puffy’s whole post-Jodeci steez and plagiarizing entire Ma$e verses, “4PM In Calabasas” is, effectively, a four-minute “shiny suit” joke. Puffy is Drake’s most senior rival, and so this has been a pretty humiliating loss.
OUTCOME: The bully is now the bullied.
LOSER: The ’90s
*In an alternative interpretation of the song’s lyrics, the rapper Joe Budden — see below — insists that “4PM In Calabasas” is, in fact, directed at him.
3. MEEK MILL
SHOTS FIRED: July 2015
WEAPON(s): reconnaissance, innuendo, mumbling, Twitter
Yeah, what the fuck even happened here? Meek Mill, a rap banshee if I’ve ever heard one, devolved into mealy mouthed Mos Def mimicry when his turn to battle Drake came. Which is crazy considering that Meek Mill is: 1) an ex-battle rapper, and 2) he went out on a limb to reveal that Drake employs ghostwriters. What should’ve destroyed Drake’s credibility as “the best rapper alive” instead proved to be a mortifying blunder for Meek, who, a year later, has yet to recover his stride. Meanwhile, Drake has recently achieved a series of commercial milestones, including the certification of his first no. 1 solo record, “One Dance.”
OUTCOME: A meme massacre and, worse yet, indefinite delay of the latest Dreamchasers mixtape!
LOSER: Battle rap
4. SAUCE WALKA
SHOTS FIRED: September 2015
In 2001, Nas was wilding, and his Jay Z diss track “Ether” was full of bizarre lies, but Hot 97 listeners voted the song a winner against Jay Z’s “Supa Ugly” because, in that moment, the underdog’s gusto is what counts. The same could be said for “Wack 2 Wack,” a “Back to Back” parody by Houston rapper Sauce Walka, who has repeatedly accused Drake of swagger-jacking Houston and then failing to pay his dues to the city’s young rappers. “Wack 2 Wack” is a bit less principled than that critique, however: “Degrassi got cut and put your life on hold/So you came to H-town to start riding that pole.”
Drake wins this beef — but only because the key demographic for Apple Music commercials starring Taylor Swift has no idea who the Sauce Twinz are.
OUTCOME: Thankless obscurity in victory.
5. EARL SWEATSHIRT
SHOTS FIRED: October 2015
WEAPON(s): innuendo, Twitter
Odd Future urchin Earl Sweatshirt didn’t diss Drake so much as he simply made an observation. “Drake can be a bit of a vulture on young rap niggas,” he tweeted last year. Earl was referring to Drake’s discovery of Kodak Black, a young South Florida rapper who, many feared, would follow in the footsteps of disgruntled rapper iLoveMakonnen by excitedly signing to Drake’s A&R graveyard, OVO Sound, only to disappear in a haze of album rumors. Ultimately, Kodak Black curved Drake’s text messages and ignored his entreaties, sparing us an inevitable remix of Kodak Black’s “SKRT” with Drake singing happy-hour melodies in the style of Simon Le Bon.
Earl Sweatshirt isn’t close to Drake, socially or stylistically; of all the opponents in this list, Earl had the least to gain or lose by criticizing him in a public forum. Earl said about all there was to say, and Drake knew better than to make a big fuss in defense of his worst behavior.
OUTCOME: KODAK BLACK IS SAFE FROM DRAKE, BUT NOW ALSO UNFORTUNATELY IN JAIL.
SHOTS FIRED: October 2013-July 2016
WEAPONS(s): psychological warfare, mumbling
In his first Rolling Stone cover story, Future is chilling when “at one point, a Drake-free version of the Views track ‘Grammys’” — which features Future — “plays in the studio.” This petty tidbit comes several months after Future’s bizarre disavowal of What a Time to Be Alive, the Atlanta rapper’s platinum-selling duet album with Drake, a project which Future once described as having never happened. Mind you, this isn’t the first time that Drake and Future have apparently fallen out while nonetheless preparing to tour North America together; Drake nearly kicked Future off his 2013 tour due to some dismissive comments he’d made to Billboard about the quality of Nothing Was the Same. Their tide comes and goes; this lunar cycle of love and resentment is simply the nature of Drake and Future’s bad romance.
OUTCOME: “It never happened.”
LOSER: Hoped-for celebrity friendships
7. JOE BUDDEN
SHOTS FIRED: June-July 2016
WEAPONS(s): jokes, lyricism, stamina, boredom, Twitter, podcasting
I remember when Joe Budden eviscerated Saigon, but then I recall that Lil B once eviscerated Joe Budden. And this was all back in the late ’00s, when Budden was still a rapper in the mix. Now that he’s made an admirable career transition from rapping to podcasting, Budden’s got the time, and — as he raps on “Making a Murderer (Part One)” — he’s got nothing to lose; and yet, something tells me that Joey’s six-and-a-half-minute onslaught of Bell Biv DeVoe jokes won’t hold up in court. Early this morning, Budden let his second shoe drop, releasing a song called “Wake,” much as Drake released “Back to Back” before Meek Mill had even managed to answer “Charged Up” with a song of his own. This ain’t over.
OUTCOME: Deja vu.
WINNER: TBD but, well, you know.