Just when you thought it was safe to kick back and enjoy the bevy of new music the rap gods have gifted us, Kendrick Lamar decided to drop a bombshell last Thursday night.

The Los Angeles lyricist’s new single, “The Heart Part IV” was released to rave reviews on the social media streets, particularly with those seeking more competition in the rap game. In the song’s final bars, Kendrick warns his rivals, “You know what time it is, ante up, this is in forever/Y’all got ’til April the 7th to get y’all shit together,” implying to most that his next album is due out in less than three weeks.

For all intents and purposes, this was a He-Man moment for Kendrick. Considering he’s the possibly the most respected emcee of the game’s under-30 generation, he had been relatively quite since surprising us with Untitled Unmastered in March of last year.

Sidebar: The individuals that make up this under-30 group are not all technically under 30, but they’re of the same generation of hip-hop. We’ll exclude artists like Rick Ross from this conversation.

With his next project coming out so suddenly, it’s safe to assume Kendrick had his trap set for some time, like Alonzo in Training Day. He was content to sit back and bide his time while under-30 artist after artist dropped LPs, to reviews ranging from sub par to decent at best. Cole dropped. Cudi dropped. Sean dropped. Future dropped twice. Then Drake — Kendrick’s biggest musical adversary — dropped the extremely anticipated More Life on March 18.

The time for Kendrick to strike is now.

Early returns on More Life have been mixed. And although Drake’s numbers remain “out of this world (no wonder they got him feeling so alienated)”, as the album proceeded to demolish Spotify and Apple Music streaming records, it doesn’t seem to matter. More Life doesn’t appear to be the home run Drake needed to put significant distance between himself and Kendrick.

Many would argue he can’t, and that Drake has actually never recorded a classic album (the term “classic” now as ubiquitous as McDonald’s). Others would argue Kendrick’s music doesn’t have the radio or replay value Drake’s does.

All of this could be true, which makes the back and forth between the two all the more captivating, especially since they once appeared to be good music buddies. Remember when Kendrick Lamar appeared on the “Buried Alive” interlude on Drake’s Take Care album? Kendrick recounts the story of first meeting Drake, remarking that being in the company of his fame, and subsequently giving him a feature on the album, felt like “the initiation” for the then little-known Compton emcee. Kendrick reciprocated on his first major release by sharing stanzas with Drake on “Poetic Justice”.

The two seemed destined for a fruitful rap relationship. But as each man’s popularity ascended, somewhere the relationship went south. Now a spiteful Kendrick felt the need to use a basketball analogy to get his point across on “The Heart Part IV”.

“Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look/You jumped sides on me, now you ’bout to meet Westbrook/Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you/Just know, the next game played I might slap the shit out you/Technical foul, I’m flagrant, I’m foul/They throwin’ me out, you throw in the towel”

While this may not necessarily seem to be aimed at Drake, it’s worth pointing out the following two facts:

  • Kendrick and Drake, two of the game’s best, once had a relationship, but don’t any longer.
  • Drake has been hyping up his relationship with the Golden State Warriors for some time. He did it once last year on “Summer Sixteen” (1:00-1:31 mark)…

and did it again on “Free Smoke” (2:03-2:14 mark), the opening track off More Life.

 

And who could forget Drake’s name dropping on “0-100“?

It seems reasonable that Mr. Duckworth would liken his situation to Westbrook’s if Drake is going out of his way to align himself with Durant and the Warriors (what happened to the Raptors though??) It’s even more reasonable that he likens his rap style to Westbrook’s axe-murderer-on-the-court style hoop game.

“The Heart Part IV” also provided K. Dot the opportunity to air grievances with other contemporaries, including (potentially) Big Sean, who appeared sneak dissed Kendrick on past records like “No More Interviews” and “Me, Myself & I”. The rhymes directed at the rapper presumed to be Sean Don were much sharper and more direct than the Westbrook bars, and left the internet buzzing about the possibility of a Sean/Kendrick battle.

In spite of the Russell Westbrook metaphor, regardless of how satisfying it may be, a more apt comparison to Kendrick’s disposition on this track would be that of 2016 LeBron James. Like LeBron, when submerged in the Warriors love fest for two full years, Kendrick truly believes he’s better than his opposition. And that him being better it’s so plainly obvious, anyone who feels differently is devoid of functioning eyes and ears. And not so deep down, the disrespect infuriates him.

Whether or not that’s actually true is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. What’s not up for debate is that in the eyes of hip-hop fans — not the Billboard charts, not the people who exclusively like pop music, not the kids who prefer mumble rap — real, hardcore, old head hip-hop fans, nobody in rap today moves the needle like Kendrick Lamar, not even Drake. Kendrick’s got the juice.

We saw it when with “Control“. We saw it Thursday night. And we’ll see it once more on April 7.

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