Sorry, but Drake is losing his battle with Kendrick

OPINION: Drake's Kendrick Lamar diss track "Push Ups" did not accomplish what battle songs are truly supposed to.

Drake's Till Death Do Us Part Rap Battle Event
Drake attends Drake's Till Death Do Us Part rap battle on October 30, 2021 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I swear Drake must be a tasty donut by now the way some of y’all are glazing him about his new diss record “Push Ups.” Can we inject some clarity into this rap war? In all the rap beefs I’ve seen and covered in my career, there are a few things that are common to successful diss records. 

1. Say truthful things that embarrass your opponent.

2.  Say things that could change the audience’s mind about who your opponent is as an artist or as a person.

3.  Make a great song that people will want to replay just because it’s hot.

4.  Show that you’re a better rapper than your opponent. 

One example of  No. 1 is Megan Thee Stallion embarrassing Nicki Minaj on “Megan’s Law.” After that, we will never see Minaj quite the same way again. She still has a career, but we look at her a little differently now. We’ll never forget who she’s married to and what he did. 

One example of No. 2 is Jay-Z, on “The Takeover,” saying Nas’ career wasn’t that good (“I can divide…”), which caused people to reconsider that early part of his career.

No Vaseline” by Ice Cube robbed N.W.A of any claim to being hard because, he says, how could they be hard if they were getting robbed by their white manager? On top of that, “No Vaseline” is an example of No. 3 because that record is hard as hell. It could rock any party right now. 

As for an example of No. 4, well, let’s do it this way: Drake’s “Push Ups” does not establish him as being able to go back and forth with Kendrick Lamar. It does not show him as an MC who’s equal to Kendrick in flow, lyrics, complexity, voice or any of the major MC categories. Drake is the most popular rapper of his generation. Kendrick is arguably the greatest rapper of his generation. “Push Ups” might work against many other MCs, but against Kendrick? Stop.


Kendrick’s main point in “Like That” is, Drake, you’re a goofy pop star while I’m an artist. Drake’s response on “Push Ups” is, I’m a gigantic pop star. And you have a bad deal. 

“Push Ups” is not a song that people will replay over and over because of the sonics of it all. “Like That” is a monster hit that you currently hear everywhere — especially the “big me” line. On “Push Ups,” Drake may have said a couple of things that irked Kendrick — and the line about his wife may have enraged him — but where’s the unforgettable punchline? What’s the line people will repeat to troll Kendrick? I’m sorry, I know all the boys are thrilled to see a vicious hip-hop beef, and I want y’all to have one, I really do, but we gotta calm down a bit.

“Push Ups” does not change how the audience sees Kendrick Lamar. It doesn’t give us a new way of looking at him that makes him seem soft or dishonest or wack. “Like That” shifted the opinion of Drake — after years of people talking about a big three, Kendrick destroyed that notion. No longer does the idea of a big three make sense. Fans must choose a side. After “Like That,” thinking of Drake as being on the same plane as Kendrick sounds foolish. “Push Ups” was meant to restore the idea of Drake as being on Kendrick’s level but did it?

The major points of the song as far as the Kendrick beef — because that’s who the real opponent is here — are Drake is a huge artist, Kendrick is short (that’s not a metaphor, Drake is really making “you’re not tall” jabs) and Kendrick has a bad deal. Supposedly he’s paying his man Top Dawg too much and Top has control of Kendrick’s career. Those are the major themes that Drake returns to repeatedly throughout the song. 

Does anyone really think Kendrick is being forced to do songs he doesn’t want to do? Do you really think Kendrick was forced to rhyme on Taylor Swift’s monster hit “Bad Blood” and that he did this against his will or against his own judgment? Didn’t Drake do an Apple commercial using Swift’s song? Kendrick seems to barely care about fame, and he’s not even on Top Dawg Entertainment anymore, so how does the central plank of Drake’s diss make sense? 

On “Push Ups,” Drake reminds us repeatedly that he’s a huge artist. “I’m bigger than you commercially” does not win a battle. “I sold more records than you” does not win a battle. Since when was a rap battle a numbers game? Especially not when the other guy is the most critically acclaimed rapper of his generation. So much of this song is Drake saying, “I’m very popular,” which is, so what? 

Drake repeatedly comes back to saying Kendrick is short. What are we doing? Also: Drake is hammering Kendrick for having been in a deal that wasn’t that good. How is that the crux of his song? Can Drake tell us he’s always had great deals? I’m sure he can’t. But, can we talk about how many, many artists get far less than that? This is an industrywide problem, not one that’s particular to Kendrick. And if you think veteran multiplatinum Kendrick was getting screwed by TDE, I have a gorgeous oceanfront property in Chicago that I would love to sell you.

But wait, what? We’re talking about record deals and managers? (We in here talkin’ about practice?) Seriously? This is not at all like Ice Cube leaving N.W.A and using “No Vaseline” to say those guys have a bad deal with a white man, and I know this because I just left the group because of that deal. This is Drake talking about someone else’s industry insider business, and we don’t even know if it’s current or true. Truth matters in battles. You can’t just say anything and have it land.

I know that it seems fun to think of Drake as being in the midst of a 20 vs. 1 but Drake is not a one. Drake is a team. He has ghostwriters helping him, which he has discussed obliquely and others have discussed, too. After I heard “Push Ups,” I thought, he paid for that? He called his best writers and that’s what they all came up with? Really? I hope he kept his receipt because he should grab that and go speak to the manager. He didn’t even release the best diss of the weekend. That was made by Rick Ross. I’ll get into that record tomorrow.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter.