On The Late Stage American Ugliness Of Kendrick And Drake’s Beef

Robert Lashley
5 min readMay 10, 2024

By no means am I famous, but I’ve sold enough books that one or two people favorably engage me when I’m in a black neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest. This last time, it was a pleasantly rainy late afternoon in Portland, right outside of MLK. I was at the end of my book tour, going to get snacks before I went to a valued friend’s house open mic. He was a young cashier in his mid-20s, and he wanted to talk to me about James Baldwin's Just Above My Head. “Nerd King still likes grape drink, huh” He said with a smile looking over my Snapple “Talk books with a bruh and I’ll buy”.

So we did. Published in 1979, the novel is about 130 pages too long (he should have accepted Toni Morrison’s offer to edit his work.) Yet ts themes resonate: of purity, ecstasy, sacrifice, and decadence within the church and how that can apply to the personal dynamics within arts and grassroots political organizations. There are also enough paragraphs and moments within it to remind you that Baldwin was one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

We got into a conversation for about 10 minutes, with me more listening and adding historical context while he was openly processing how to be an ethical Christian and citizen in this painfully messy world. Yet I noticed that the more we talked, the more he flinched at the conversations around us, ones that were almost always about the beef between Kendrick Lamar and Drake. People having these conversations seemed genial, and they didn’t look at us with any malice. Nicer than the white Seattle and Bellingham hip hop fan, who struggle to acknowledge that average black life matters as much as the lives of their favorite drill rapper, they didn’t say an episode or word of intended cruelty. Yet the underlying theme of both men being so blithe about rape, pedophilia and domestic abuse rattled him as we were sitting in a coffee shop (and to be honest it rattled me a little bit). About 10 minutes afterward he cut his brakes short and went back to the corner store.

It’s not that I can’t get that kid out of my head when I think of Kendrick Lamar and Drake; it’s that I refuse to. I won’t forget the complexity of this young man’s pain growing up in Portland climbing up the rough sides of the mountain to be a solid citizen. I won’t forget the recent Safe Streets marches I’ve been in Hilltop and South Seattle where community members showed up for the people and the children who have witnessed horrible violence. I refuse to get out of my mind the students I had in the Tacoma Arts Center and in Fab Five who were processing the trauma of Nipsey Hussle’s death.

Most personally, I refuse to discount the painful traumas I saw growing up on a hilltop in Tacoma in the late '80s and early 90s. As an artist and writing teacher, I spent so much time processing the graveyards in my brain and helping process the graveyards and other young ones. I don't have an inch of time for 40-year-olds cosplaying of gangsters and trading violent boasts in a musical genre whose market has been creepy white teenagers since I was in Middle School.

Babies are dying in Gaza, China, Myanmar, and Darfur. The RNC is trying to establish a white version of Mubutu's Psychotically capitalist Zaire, To deal with this, the "normie" streets: bought modernist Girl power soul albums ( SZA, Victoria Monet, Jazmine Sullivan) a record from a funk master who, in his comeback, has outsold every R&B man of his time not named Usher (Charlie Wilson) and one of the most gifted artist of any generation who made one of the most daring albums I've ever heard. (Beyonce). Each made proud and complex music for a proud, complex people, who had historically relied on great music to deal with being American. Each of them deserves discussion and serious critical study.

But we aren’t talking about that now, are we? We are talking about a creepy 38-year-old neo-Jim Crow musical tour guide whose whole life has been exposed to be a lie, and whose lack of responses to pedophilia accusations ( along with a load of circumstantial evidence)makes the charges levied against him look less like slander every single day. And we are talking about a rapper who is as great a “great” man as has ever been in the history of black art, yet has a remarkably tough time being a good one; who defended such rapists as R Kelly, XXtentacion, and Kodak Blak, yet seems to have found his conscious on the subject matter when he wanted to win a rap battle. And some things about J. Cole still don’t sit well with me. This isn’t the first time that he’s talked about being willing to shear his best self to access hip hop white fan base( the rape lyrics in his last album). And he needed his fucking teeth knocked out for targeting Kendrick’s sister in his transphobic rant on “7 Drill”. Yet I can’t help but notice that, after being so pathologically delicate about every white offense to black manners in the last decade, black Twitter sounds as indifferent ( AND SUBURBAN) as Tucker Carlson when Cole said he wanted to get away from his circle who " wanted to see blood".

I don’t choose blood. I choose life. I choose community. I choose building. I don’t choose keyboard gangsters in an almost worthless cult-genre that has given black Americans almost nothing but pain for the last 30 years. That doesn’t mean I sympathy for some people who can be caught up with in the rapture of Kendrick”s often mesmerizing craft. It also doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for the sisters of all colors who side with Kendrick because-in bringing Drake’s “problems with pre-teen girls” to the light- he is giving them more than most men ever do. Yet what I have to do is side with a culture that someday will give those women more than manipulative scraps( and often from geniuses who get away with so much). I side with those women and other young people processing violence and trauma, who are trying to live in the real and not the internet world and do their best in the here and now. I side and struggle with them: we need to fight every day and keep holding our standards high, but we have a right to the tree of life, no matter what a think piece might say.

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Robert Lashley

Writer. Author. Former Jack Straw and Artist Trust Fellow. The baddest ghetto nerd on the planet.