Kendrick Lamar’s ‘6:16 in LA’ is ‘Do you want to see a dead body?’ in song form

OPINION: The Compton rapper used Drake’s own playbook against him and let the world know that even Drake’s own camp doesn’t like him. This is what beef looks like.

Recording artist Kendrick Lamar performs onstage during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

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

The phrase “he’s playing chess, not checkers” is one of my least favorite when it comes to rappers and their back-and-forths with one another. For one, I just don’t think most people, let alone rappers, are truly that deep and think that far ahead when it comes to their opponent. Also, I know way more people who can’t play chess than can, so truly, most folks ARE playing checkers. To quote the great philosopher kings of the internet, “It do be facts, tho.” 

However, I’m going to have to amend that when it comes to one Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (aka Kung Fu Kenny) and this current wahala he has going on with Aubrey “Drake” Graham. At this point in my life, I try to be as objective as I can be when it comes to such things, which wasn’t always the case. I still can’t listen to MC Eiht in peace because I’ve been a DJ Quik fan since I was 11 years old. God ain’t done with me yet. 

When it comes to Kendrick and Drake, though, I truly don’t even see them swimming in the same pools. I view Drake as the behemoth, pop star who gave up seeking “hip-hop” respect years ago in favor of being the biggest artist on the planet. I view Kendrick as more of the thoughtful, hermit-like artist who works out his issues and concepts artistically and creates the kind of art we’ll be talking about long past his prime. To make the point, there are multiple books about the cultural significance of Kendrick Lamar; Drake “wrote” a “poetry” book. It’s not the same thing. I don’t want to undersell Drake; he will go down as one of the biggest rappers ever, but it will be more for his accomplishments than the actual music, which I think most would agree has become increasingly vapid and uninteresting even if Drake’s popularity hasn’t waned. 

So this beef is interesting. I’ve been pretty disinterested in it through no fault of Drake or Kendrick. Everybody else wading into it, including AI rappers and Rick Ross, and the internet’s lack of chill has made it less interesting. Oh, and who can forget “The Apology” — I’m sure there will be psychology classes on that one day. “Like That” was fun. “Push Ups” was cool. And then we waited. And then came “Euphoria” a clinical, thoughtful, incisive, comprehensive PowerPoint presentation of a record that summed up, in an entertaining fashion, all of the issues anybody with issues with Drake has. I’m not a big fan of the whole “Drake isn’t Black enough to understand American Blackness” because he’s Canadian even if he did basically say that out of his own mouth once. I do think it makes for interesting fodder; all of us mixed kids are paying attention — trust me. But all’s fair in love and this is war. “Euphoria” was a workshop in “how to make a point” in a way that Drake’s “Push Ups” or even his skill set never could be. The sheer amount of references and Easter eggs in “Euphoria” alone make it something worth studying

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If “Euphoria” was a workshop worthy of study, then “6:16 in LA” is what happens when that workshop leader uses a machete instead of chalk. Kendrick REALLY does not like Drake, and whatever personal reason exists has given Kendrick inspiration to basically show us all what a dead body looks like in musical form. 

Like, it cannot be coincidental that the sample Kendrick is rapping over is one where Drake’s “uncle” Mabon “Teenie” Hodges (and his brothers Leroy and Charles) played on the record. When Drake’s ties to the American Black experience were questioned, defenders pointed out swiftly that Drake has ties to the Memphis soul music scene through his father, musician Dennis Graham, and his adoptive uncles who worked with Al Green. Well, the sample for “6:16 in LA” is Al Green’s “What a Wonderful Thing Love Is” from Al Green’s 1972 album, “I’m Still In Love With You,” whose musical personnel was none other than Drake’s uncle Teenie Hodges and company. That can’t be a coincidence, right? 

And then for Kendrick to largely point out that nobody in Drake’s camp actually likes him and that he has enough insider information to know who actually wants Drake to lose? Writing that out doesn’t sound that bad, but listening to the record, with the vitriol with which Kendrick spits lets you know how sincere Kendrick is about making Drake look bad. Kendrick’s whole modus operandi, at this point, is pointing out that nobody likes Drake, that he is a terrible person and that, like Kendrick, nobody should like him. 

Surprisingly, Kendrick told us he was about to do this in “Euphoria” where he name-checked Drake’s “Back to Back” record — one whose impact was more important than anything said on the record that essentially made Meek Mill look slow and unfit to battle Drake — and then went and did it. Drake took too long to respond and well, here we are, looking at a dead body. 

I’m sure Drake will come back with a song soon; he has to. Video clips of “10 Things I Hate About You” aren’t going to cut it, not with the levels of aggression and disdain Kendrick is firing off in his direction. It’s all quite entertaining, and I was wholly disinterested until “Euphoria” dropped. I can’t wait to see what comes next, especially as it cements home the most important aspect of all of this beef that has yet to fully be unpacked: 

Just how disappointing it is that J. Cole, the most battle-ready of them all, bowed out. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.