Kendrick Lamar Won’t Stop Pressing the Red Button

But Kendrick wasn’t finished. Shoving his index finger onto the blood-red sphere of temptation on Saturday night, he tapped in with Mustard for “Not Like Us,” easily the biggest banger of the rap war since “Like That.” Remember when Kendrick said that if he had to smack the shit out of somebody he’d make it look sexy? “Meet The Grahams” wasn’t sexy. “Not Like Us” is. The track works on a few levels. One, it has perhaps the best Mustard production since “Ballin.” Two, the hook is infectious as it is symbolic. And it’s an exclusionary sentiment aimed at Drake and anyone like him, effectively making it a rallying cry; whatever “they” are, they’re not like “us.” Videos of folks turning up to the song at clubs have already flooded the web, and it’s unlikely that’ll stop any time soon. 

Those elements alone make it one of the best songs of 2024 so far. But Kendrick fuses all of these with some of the most incisive bars of this entire battle royale. He recalls a shameful instance of Drake betrayal: “Fucked on Wayne girl while he was in jail, that’s connivin/ Then get his face tatted like a bitch apologizing.” Elsewhere, he continues to accuse Drake of pedophilia, using some cheesy, but effective wordplay to make his point in an instantly memorable micro-climax: “Why you trollin’ like a bitch? Ain’t you tired? Tryna strike a chord and it’s probably A-Minor. 

The surgical deconstruction doesn’t stop there. In the fourth verse, Kendrick uses a minor history lesson and a trip to Drake’s own recent history to paint the Toronto rapper as a culture vulture. He calls out Drake for his “Family Matters” bar about Kendrick rapping like he’s “about to get the slaves freed” before suggesting that Drake steals various parts of his style from Atlanta: “You run to Atlanta when you need a few dollars/ No, you not a colleague, you a fuckin’ colonizer.” Harsh, dexterous and utterly irresistible, “Not Like Us” completed a historic Kendrick hat trick. Even a Drake Stan like DJ Akademiks had to admit, “’Not Like Us’ might be a legit hit song.. shit too hard.”

Predictably, the internet has been totally chaotic since. Adonis is trending. Mustard is trending. “Family Matters” is trending. “Not Like Us” is trending. Literally, everything related to this whole thing is trending. It’s the aftershock of a titanic rap battle we might never see again. After all, it’s rare that technical rhyming skillsets match up to the accolades. Drake’s won so many Grammys he stopped giving a fuck about them years ago. He’s got more slaps than the Beatles. Kendrick’s got Grammys and No. 1 hits. And he won a Pulitzer Prize. 

If you’re looking for a historical precedent, you have to go back at least 23 years. That’s when Jay-Z and Nas went at it. But imagine if Hov and Esco dropped “Takeover” and “Ether” back-to-back on the same night. What if they dropped “Supa Ugly” and “Made You Look” just a couple days after that? What if The Notorious B.I.G. decided to make fun of Afeni’s addiction and release a Tupac diss so scathing that it made “Hit Em Up” look like “We Are the World”? 

On a less theoretical level, you can look back to Drake dropping “Charged Up” and “Back to Back” in a four-day span. He went back to back. Kendrick went back-to-back twice. On “Not Like Us,” he hints that he’s got several more Drake disses on deck, too. Even folks like ScHoolboy Q seem to be hinting that more deadly assaults are imminent. When he dissed Drake and J. Cole on “Like That” a little over a month ago, Kendrick brought back that old feeling. Now, he’s brought us something we never felt before, and the end of the world never sounded so good.