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The Brewing Beef Between the Big Three of Hip-Hop

Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Drake, colloquially referred to as the big three of hip hop for over a decade now, have all been engulfed in rap beef for that top spot. Who’s gonna come up at the top?

The Beef of the Big Three: Kendrick is Like That

J. Cole has dropped out of that race, but Drake has made it more heated than ever as he responds to Kendrick Lamar in his new leaked diss track. This is part one of a multi-part article.

Kendrick and Drake Come Ups

To truly understand this beef, you have to go back all the way to 2011. Drake was already big in 2011. He was signed to one of his idols, Lil Wayne, and he used that connection to blow up. While he wasn’t nearly as big as he is today, Drake still had major success back then. Notably, in 2009, Drake made a song featuring megastars Kanye West, Eminem, and Lil Wayne, who at the time were the big three of hip-hop. 

Drake was the up-and-comer, but he really made a name for himself with the hook and verse he had. He was slowly blowing up, as he had gotten more opportunities to feature on songs with the likes of Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Alicia Keys, Jay. Z, Usher, and DJ Khaled. Soon after, Drake released his debut album, Thank Me Later.

Kendrick Lamar, on the other hand, had a different trajectory. Kendrick, back then known under the name K. Dot, had signed with Top Dawg Entertainment, almost 20 years ago in 2005, a relatively new record label at the time—so it took a while for the commercial success to come. 

Kendrick was more underground, he was making mixtapes mostly featuring his other TDE label mates. In 2009, Kendrick decided to drop the K. Dot title and just go with his name, Kendrick Lamar as his stage name. Coincidentally, around the same time, he first started to gain real mainstream traction. His fourth mixtape, Overly Dedicated was noticed by his idols, Lil Wayne, and Dr. Dre.

Kendrick and Drake’s Blow Ups

Both Drake and Kendrick had one thing in common. 2011 was the year that truly changed both their careers. 2011 for Kendrick saw him drop his debut studio album, Section.80. This didn’t quite do any mind-blowing numbers, but it helped his career get real traction. 

Section.80 featured a beat made by J. Cole that he gave Kendrick—this ended up being the biggest song on the album, “HiiiPoWeR”. Drake noticed Kendrick and featured him on his second album, Take Care on the “Buried Alive Interlude”. Take Care ended up blowing up Drake’s career from stardom to superstardom. 

There was no looking back for him. He was doing well. Take Care went on to go 8x platinum. It also helped Kendrick get noticed by a much wider audience that he used to become the superstar that he is.

In 2012, Drake went on his Club Paradise Tour for Take Care and decided to make Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky the opening acts. Kendrick used this larger audience to grow his own. 

Kendrick, when asked what it was like to go on tour with Drake, said, “He said I want you on this tour. I can’t back down on that. To expand my music to a crowd that haven’t heard it before. I know there are 15,000 people out there. I’m used to 2000. I’m finna work, I’m finna get at least 100 of these folks to understand what Kendrick Lamar was”.

The Beef of the Big Three: Kendrick is Like That
Take Care Album Cover/ Image Courtesy of Republic Records

The Infamous Control Verse & The Back and Forth

After the tour, they went their separate ways. There was no bad blood until Kendrick dropped his notorious “Control” verse. “Control” was a song made by Big Sean in 2013 and Kendrick was featured on that track with a verse calling out all his peers:

But this is hip hop and them n***** should know what time it is

And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale

Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake

Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller

I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you  n*****

Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n*****

They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n*****

What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high

Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Control” (2013)

It wasn’t meant to be a diss—like the verse says, it was meant to be something to raise the bar. Make the hip-hop scene competitive, and that it did. Drake and Kendrick started a mini beef where they’d each have lines dissing each other in 2013, with Drake responding back-to-back with:

I don’t know why they been lyin’ but your shit is not that inspirin

Drake – “The Language” (2013)

Took n***** out the hood like I’m from there

So you know it’s all good when I come there

I hear you talk about your city like you run that

And I brought my tour to your city, you my son there, n*****

Future ft. Drake – “Sh!t” (Remix) (2013)

Kendrick responded back in 2014, proclaiming himself the king of hip-hop, taunting Drake to respond.

I tell ’em all to hail King Kendrick, resurrectin’ my vengeance

Been dissectin’ your motormouth, ’til I break down the engine

This ain’t no warnin’ shot, this a relevant henchman

See my opponent, then — cease your existence

Endin’ our friendship, baby, I’d rather die alone

Your diaphragm is dietary, what you eatin’ on?

Capture your audience with these words, boy

The holy Chapel, the tabernacle, the book of Matthew

And Jesus starin’ at you, take your turn, boy”

Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar – Pay For it (2014)

But arguably the biggest diss yet at the time was in 2015, when Kendrick dissed Drake for using ghost writers on a few tracks.

“I can dig rappin’, but a rapper with a ghostwriter?

What the fuck happened? (Oh no!)

I swore I wouldn’t tell, but most of y’all sharing bars

Like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell (A two-man cell)”

Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta” (2015)

Drake hit back again in 2015, saying Kendrick’s lucky he went pop instead of doing conscious rap, and he’s at the top with how much success he has at clubs compared to his peers, namely Kendrick. 

I would have all of your fans

If I didn’t go pop and I stayed on some conscious shit

I would have so many more friends

If I lost my success and my confidence

I’m in the club every time that they play the competition

If they even play the competition and I seen the response they get

Yeah, nobody’s even hearin’ it, on top of the pyramid

Game ft. Drake – “100” (2015)

For the most part, this was the end of the line for their disses against each other. They had some lines about each other that could’ve been insinuated to be disses but nothing major. 

Kendrick did talk about Kanye and Drake getting back together after their beef on a track called “Father Time” on his latest album. “When Kanye got back with Drake, I was slightly confused. Guess I’m not mature as I think, got some healin’ to do”. 

Drake and J. Cole Come Together

The Beef of the Big Three: Kendrick is Like That
“It’s All a Blur” tour/ Image Courtesy of IZZY NUZZO/THE PARALLEL AGENCY

The beef was seemingly dead in the water. That’s where J. Cole came in. He and Drake hadn’t made a track together since “Jodeci Freestyle” in 2013. They both seemed to be on good terms for the most part but it was still a massive surprise to see Drake and J. Cole come together to do “First Person Shooter” on Drake’s new album, For All The Dogs.

Rap fans went ballistic the moment that song dropped, taking it all the way to #1 on the Billboard charts. It was a monumental moment for hip-hop fans to see two of the big three collaborate on a track. J. Cole acknowledged that in the song speaking about Kendrick saying:

Love when they argue the hardest MC

Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me?

We the big three like we started a league, but right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali

Huh, yeah, yeah, huh-huh, yeah, Muhammad Ali

Drake ft. J. Cole – “First Person Shooter”

“Big three starting a league” refers to the big 3 basketball league created by Ice Cube. He’s talking about them as the big three of hip-hop. J. Cole calls himself Muhammad Ali saying he feels like the best right now but loves the argument out there for all three of them. 

Drake and J. Cole made another track for Scary Hours 3 called “Evil Ways”, and also went on tour together in 2024. J. Cole’s line about Kendrick combined with Drake and him becoming friends and making music together made fans think a much anticipated collaboration between the big three could finally be possible.

Everyone wanted it, and you had two of the three already making multiple tracks and touring together and the beef between Kendrick and Drake seemingly left in the past. 

Kendrick is Like That

Well, that was before Kendrick made his plans to show hip-hop he wanted the top spot. In early 2024, Future and Metro Boomin came together to make two new albums together. The first one being We Don’t Trust You. Both Future and Metro are in a tussle with Drake over some unknown beef so bringing in Kendrick was massive in igniting that beef, especially since Future and Metro have both been constant collaborators with Drake.

In a surprise feature on one of the tracks, Kendrick came in and dropped a verse equivalent to a 7.0 earthquake shaking up the whole hip-hop world dissing both Drake and J. Cole. Here’s a breakdown:

D-O-T, the money, power, respect

The last one is better

Say, it’s a lot of goofies with a check

Future ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Like That”

Kendrick has “money, power and respect” but he claims that respect is the best insinuating he has more of that than Drake. Drake might have more money or power but he doesn’t have the respect, at least not like Kendrick does. “Goofies with a check” also refers to Drake, as he’s signed to Nike which has a check as a logo. But also check as in money, Drake has money but he’s goofy.

Ah, yeah, huh, yeah, get up with me

Fuck sneak dissin’, first-person shooter, I hope they came with three switches

Future ft. Kendrick Lamar – Like That

Kendrick makes a direct reference to Drake and J. Cole’s song “First Person Shooter” claiming he doesn’t want to sneak diss this time. “Three switches” refers to an attachment that turns a handgun into an automatic one. He’s saying they better come with their all if they want a shot to take him down.

Image Courtesy of Taylor Hill/WireImage

I crash out like, “Fuck rap,” diss Melle Mel if I had to

Got 2TEEZ with me, I’m snatchin’ chains and burnin’ tattoos, it’s up

Lost too many soldiers not to play it safe

Future ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Like That”

Melle Mel is a hip-hop OG, Kendrick is saying he’ll go at anyone. He’s out for blood taking rapper’s lunch money. 2Teez is Kendrick’s head of security who he’s got with him in case anything goes down because he’s seen too many rappers like him die without that.

Motherfuck the big three, n****, it’s just big me

N****, bum

What? I’m really like that

And your best work is a light pack

Future ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Like That”

J. Cole was talking about the big 3 in “First Person Shooter” with Drake. This is a reference back to that, saying there ain’t no big three, it’s just a big one. The one being Kendrick. Kendrick feels like both of their best musical works are nothing compared to his.

N****, Prince outlived Mike Jack’

N****, bum

‘Fore all your dogs gettin’ buried

That’s a K with all these nines, he gon’ see Pet Sematary (Yeah)

N****, bum

Future ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Like That”

Drake always compares himself to the king of pop, Michael Jackson, in his music while Kendrick compares himself to Prince. Prince lived longer than Michael Jackson did with Jackson passing away in 2009 and Prince in 2016. Kendrick also makes a play on words with the title of Drake’s For All The Dogs

All Drake’s dawgs/friends are getting killed by Kendrick and buried in a pet sematary. Pet Sematary refers to the Stephen King novel where pets are buried pets come back to life as evil pets. “K with all these nines” refers to a gun and also to a k-9 unit. Throughout the verse, Kendrick uses numbers that end up adding to 9. Three switches, The big three, Andre 3K add up to 9.

This diss made the song absolutely blow up. It became the most listened to song on the whole album. Hip-hop wanted this, they needed this and they got it. The question then became will Drake respond?

The J. Cole of it All

Dreamville Fest/ Image Courtesy of ASTRIDA VALIGORSKY/WIREIMAGE

Surprising everyone, J. Cole was the one who responded first. All eyes were on Drake, but J. Cole decided to go first.

He dropped a mixtape, Might Delete Later. In that mixtape, the outro track was a diss on Kendrick Lamar, “7 Minute Drill”. J. Cole hit back against Kendrick with some lines. There was a lot there but this diss was heavily mocked by hip-hop fans for lines saying one of Kendrick’s best albums was putting people to sleep. 

The diss track didn’t feel like a proper diss track. It was braggadocious and had some very minor issues but nothing really landed. The hunger and the vengeance for blood weren’t felt.

Cole himself concurred, later apologizing for even releasing it. “That s*** don’t sit right with my spirit. That s*** disrupts my f—ing peace. So what I want to say right here tonight is in the midst of me doing that and in that s–t, trying to find a little angle and downplay this n—a’s f—ing catalog and his greatness”. 

Ironically the mixtape’s title Might Delete Later came into play for that track as he removed the song from all streaming services.

The eyes then turned to Drake. Is he gonna respond? Where is he? Drake has been no stranger to giving out or receiving disses. He’s always in the line of smoke with a gun firing as he has bullets flying at him.

Well, his response is finally here. Sort of, it leaked. He dissed a lot of artists. It’s a whole saga in and of itself. Rick Ross even made a diss track back. I will cover all of this in more detail in the next article coming very soon. It will break down Drake’s diss track.

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An aspiring screenwriter based in California obsessed with the inner and outer workings of Film and TV. Vishu serves as an editorial writer for Film, Music and TV.