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Kendrick, Drake and the art of the feud

10 May 2024

Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world, takes a rakish look at art and museum stories.

Leonardo and Michelangelo, de Kooning and Pollock, Davis and Crawford, Hemingway and just about everyone – the history of culture is full of delicious feuds. Some – Mozart and Salieri, for example – are pure speculation, but then imagine how dull Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984) would be without this bitter rivalry at its centre.

A new war has piqued Rakewell’s interest in recent weeks: the one between rappers Kendrick Lamar and Drake. It is difficult to pinpoint the precise origin of the feud, but this latest side of beef is as flavoursome as they come. In October last year, Drake released a track in collaboration with J Cole, who rapped about being in a ‘big three’ with Lamar and Drake. In March, Lamar put out a song in which he distanced himself from the two of them. What came next was a rally of tracks in which Drake mocked Lamar’s height and his collaboration with Taylor Swift (no stranger to a feud herself); Lamar called Drake a liar and a manipulator.

Then things got really ugly. Lamar’s latest songs, ‘Not Like Us’ and ‘Meet the Grahams’, include direct addresses to Drake’s family and accusations of, among other things, paedophilia. Drake has denied the accusations – in musical form, of course, prompting some quick-witted social media users to note the uncanny resemblance to a parodic storyline from the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in which Danny DeVito’s character suggests writing a song rebutting that very claim. It’s a bit like if Francis Bacon had responded to Lucian Freud’s quip about Bacon’s 1980s paintings being ‘ghastly’ by painting a picture featuring the words ‘my work is not ghastly’.

So how does the Lamar-Drake conflict compare with other artistic feuds? Picasso and Matisse were highly competitive and sometimes catty (note Picasso’s comment about Matisse’s design for the Rosary Chapel in Venice looking like a bathroom), but there was a mutual respect underpinning it all. The same could be said of Leonardo and Michelangelo, two Renaissance rivals who learnt much from each other. The AbEx heavyweights Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock started out as mutual admirers then became enemies, such that when Pollock died in a car crash at the age of 44, de Kooning reportedly said, ‘It’s over, I’m number one’, before having an affair with Pollock’s former girlfriend, the artist Ruth Kligman.

In all these art-world examples, there is no clear winner. But when it comes to Lamar vs Drake, anyone with a modicum of taste and sense can see that Lamar reigns supreme in this particular battle. Drake’s songs have been musically bland and lyrically limp; he has almost no high-profile public support on this matter and has been threatened with legal action by Tupac’s estate (for a now-deleted song he released that used an AI imitation of Tupac’s voice). Lamar’s songs are sharp and remarkably well written considering how quickly he has been churning them out. Drake may have more Spotify streams than Lamar and J Cole combined, but your roving correspondent would wager that in 50 years, no one will be listening to Drake’s music. In that respect, this new feud is more like the Mozart-Salieri rivalry. In other words, no contest at all.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.