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Rb Hip Hop

Can Drake Recover After His Battle With Kendrick Lamar?

With the court of public opinion leaning on Kendrick Lamar as the victor in the rap civil war, Billboard explores the next steps in Drake's career.

Drake

Drake

Courtesy OVO/Republic Records

After a hellacious heavyweight feud between two of rap’s top superstars, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, the court of public opinion seems poised to announce the Compton MC as the victor. For now, Kendrick can rejoice and hold his head high after issuing the knockout blow of the battle on Saturday (May 4) with “Not Like Us,” topping streaming charts on Spotify and Apple and already making its way into the heart of pop culture. Meanwhile, his adversary Drake is left to ponder his next move, after seemingly dismissing the lyrical combat in what was likely his last song of the battle, Sunday’s “The Heart Pt. 6.”

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Though Drake can proudly hoist his laundry list of accolades, spanning from his 13 No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 to his all-time record number of Hot 100 entries, there’s no denying that this loss against hip-hop’s cerebral assassin will certainly muddy his standing in the rap world. Though he fought tooth-and-nail with Lamar throughout the weeks-long back-and-forth, you don’t get brownie points for coming in second place in hip-hop. Despite his glossy Hall of Fame resume, the question remains: Can Drake reclaim his glory and recover? Or did Kendrick deliver his fatality?

From a mainstream standpoint, Drake’s legacy won’t be affected. For 15 years, he has shattered records by putting up video game numbers. He’s second to Jay-Z regarding rappers with the most Billboard 200 No. 1 albums, while being fourth overall (also behind Taylor Swift and The Beatles). Even after his 2023 For All the Dogs left fans and critics mostly underwhelmed, he still topped the Billboard 200 during the set’s opening week with 402,000 equivalent album units moved, while also notching two Hot 100 chart-toppers with the SZA-assisted “Slime You Out” and “First Person Shooter” with J. Cole.

Drake’s ability to weave in and out of the pop world whenever he chooses has enabled him to have a fanbase outside of rap. But while this beef has crossed over into pop culture, the reality is the feud was strictly for hip-hop culture and not really anyone else. The people who adored Drake for making “Hotline Bling” or “One Dance” won’t care too much about his loss to Kendrick as opposed to The Culture and will continue to champion him.

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When Drake sparred against Pusha T in 2018, he was in the midst of the best commercial run of his career. He had released back to back smashes in “God’s Plan” and “Nice for What,” ultimately topping the Hot 100 for a combined 19 weeks between them. But then, Pusha temporarily toppled Drake with “The Story of Adidon,” leaving the 6 God stunned and under duress. Though Drake didn’t respond to the scathing diss track, he pushed forward with his fifth studio album, Scorpion, and ultimately won the summer with his meme-ready, dance-challenge-inspiring single “In My Feelings,” which became his third No. 1 hit during that run. While The Culture buried Drake after his disappointing loss, the pop world never abandoned him.

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In 2018, Drake survived Pusha’s avalanche onslaught by shifting attention away from the beef and towards the thing he still does best: making anthems. Though hip-hop listeners have long memories, mainstream America can be a little more prone to amnesia – and ultimately, who doesn’t love a comeback story?

In addition, now that the battle is nearing its end, by taking a well-deserved break, Drake will allow not only hip-hop but, ultimately, fans to miss what he brought to the table essentially nonstop over the last 15 years. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the genre needs to see what life looks like without Drake for the next year or two, as he reimagines what he wants the next phase of his career to look like. The juggling act between attempting to be both the ultimate pop star and hip-hop’s most revered MC is a tall order for anyone to handle, including Drake. While his resume on the former half is unquestionable, he’s never fully accomplished the rap half of it – there have always been peers, including Kendrick, that demand more innate respect from the streets than Drake.

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As he weighs his future, Drake may have to decide which route he wants to go when finishing his story. After receiving harsh criticism for For All the Dogs, he dashed into the studio because The Culture demanded more rap songs. That birthed the project’s Scary Hours Edition, featuring some of his best rapping to date. Though hip-hop purists applauded his efforts, not everyone clapped for him, as they awaited his demise and later rebuked him after Kendrick’s demolition derby.

Drake also needs to decide if chasing love and admiration in hip-hop, a genre where some of the biggest stars collided with him during his “20 V 1” showdown, is worth the pursuit. If so, he should focus his efforts on proving himself with a hard-nosed rap album, considering that’s the one thing he hasn’t really done since If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. If he’s indifferent to that idea, then he could fully embrace the pop star image and whip up radio anthems that would continue to chart and dominate. But he should pick one of the two lanes, because trying to operate in both is virtually impossible for him at this juncture of his career. And either way, the goal for Drake should remain the same: to put out the best music of his life, the kind that instantly changes the conversation and leaves the biggest L of his career another distant memory.

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This article was first published by Billboard U.S.

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Allison Russell accepting the Billboard Canada Women in Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year award
Marc Thususka Photography

Allison Russell accepting the Billboard Canada Women in Music Breakthrough Artist of the Year award

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