Questlove suggesting that ‘hip hop is truly dead’ because of the Kendrick Lamar and Drake beef is a nonsensically wild take

OPINION: The cultural curator and drummer for The Roots seems to hate where this latest hip-hop beef has gone. He seems to have forgotten the entire ’90s. 

Questlove visits the Empire State Building in Celebration of The New York Times' 1000th Game of Wordle on March 14, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

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’m a fan of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Full stop. I think that his cultural curation through his podcast (“Questlove Supreme”), documentaries (“Summer of Soul” and upcoming “Soul Train” doc), books and musical direction for awards shows are all necessary and make him an essential part of hip-hop and Black culture. 

With that said, and at the risk of ensuring that I never get to be a guest on “Questlove Supreme” — which makes me very sad, by the way — his latest take that “hip-hop is truly dead” because of the direction the records in the beef between Kendrick Lamar and Drake has taken is truly asinine, nonsensically myopic and revisionist in a way that should even impress Malcolm Gladwell. 

In a recent Instagram post where he had to turn off the comments because he was being figuratively murdered, Questlove has this to say about the fracas between the aforementioned hip-hop top dogs (no pun intended): 

“Nobody Won This War. This wasn’t about skill. This was a wrestling match level mudslinging and takedown by any means necessary – women & children (& actual facts) be damned. Same audience wanting blood will soon put up ‘rip’ posts like they weren’t part of the problem. Hip Hop Is Truly Dead.”

Le sigh and IKYFL at the same time. 

 I know this ain’t the same Questlove that played drums on Jay-Z’s “Takeover” from his “MTV Unplugged” live album released in November 2001. Maybe it’s not that Michelle Leslie Brown from 225th Street that play ball in the park … it’s the OTHER Michelle Leslie Brown from 225th Street that play ball in the park. Hell, during that live taping during the part where Jay-Z is mocking Prodigy from Mobb Deep, they even replayed parts of “Shook Ones, Pt. II.” AND THEN, when the verse about Nas dropped, they played “Oochie Wally” and “N.Y. State of Mind.”  I’m sure social media pointed out to him ad nauseam that he has been an active participant in beef, but I mean, how is everybody the problem NOW when he was PART of the problem in 2001? Nas would release “Ether” a week later, which was as much of a mudslinging record as could exist at the time. Factual? Eh. Banger? Absolutely. 

Everybody in rap beefs gets loosey-goosey with facts. Do we know for a fact that Tupac slept with Faith Evans, Biggie’s estranged wife? According to MOST folks around during that time, he did not. But he said it and because of that, “Hit ‘Em Up” is one of the most scathing diss records of all time. Maybe Questlove has shared his disappointment with the record (which many folks think went too far, but also think was the greatest diss record of all time) or a baby-step down, Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” (which many feel is in the running for the greatest diss record of all time), but I’d be surprised. “No Vaseline” is easily a record that could have gotten somebody killed; the number of street-affiliated people involved in that ruckus is astounding. Plus, that would make no sense because, again, he played drums on Jay-Z’s most iconic diss record IN 2001. On purpose. AFTER both the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac had been murdered, because of a beef gone too far. It isn’t like he didn’t know what songs were going to be played. 

As a point of note, Nas is a headliner for this year’s Roots Picnic being held June 1-2 in Philadelphia. The Roots Picnic is, of course, hosted and curated by The Roots. Questlove and Black Thought are … The Roots. I’ll be there, by the way. Because hip-hop. 


Then there’s the whole angle of what he DOESN’T find troubling. Drake and many other rappers have JOKED about Megan Thee Stallion being shot on record and called her a liar even though we know she was shot AND a conviction in the case exists. To my knowledge, he didn’t chime in there and say “Enough is enough!” It’s just one example but it’s kind of telling, no? There have been a tremendous number of diss records, diss posts from hip-hop artists and all manner of violence that has upended the hip-hop community that I’m sure Questlove respects that could be considered to have gone too far, but the Drake and Kendrick beef is the point where hip-hop truly died? Come on, bro. 

Is it nasty work that innocent women and children are involved? Yes, it absolutely is. Is this the first time this has happened? Absolutely not. This is how hip-hop beef has always worked. Things have always gone “too far.” Misogyny, low-blows. In fact, in the interlude “Message for B.A.,”  which precedes the Ice Cube diss record “Real N*ggaz” from NWA’s “EFIL4ZAGGIN” album, they open up talking about raping Ice Cube with a broomstick. 

I’m not suggesting that any of this is OK; but if the mudslinging and wrestling-match-level takedowns are not hip-hop, then hip-hop died DECADES ago. I very much doubt that Questlove feels that way. 

I don’t see any real difference, at least from the artists, in the level of vitriol leveled between Jay-Z and Nas back in 2001. The only difference is how involved the fans are in the discourse. Does the audience want blood? Eh. I don’t imagine anybody wants this to end up in Tupac and Biggie fashion. Do people want their guy to win by any means necessary? Of course, they do. People choose sides and want their sides to win. But, again, if that killed hip-hop, then hip-hop has been dead for decades. 

In interesting fashion, I think we’ve gotten some of the best rapping out of Drake in this battle, but they’ve both taken this thing to gossipy, proof-less territory (thus far), and THAT happened when Pusha T changed the diss game with “The Story of Adidon.” I wonder if Questlove felt like hip-hop died that day. I doubt it. 

Maybe Questlove is getting to the point where, as an elder statesman, he’s seen too much and thinks beef is pointless. Maybe. Or maybe he has forgotten that this art form that he’s contributed so much to has always been like this, but now all of the convos we had to have in-person are happening on social media. Does that change it? Not to me. It’s all hip-hop. If you want to argue that hip-hop is now and has always been problematic, especially for women, then sure, let’s have that convo. 

But THIS beef absolutely hasn’t killed hip-hop anymore than The Roots being the backing band on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” has — there was a time when THAT would have been viewed as a straight sellout move and decidedly not hip-hop.  Was it dead then? 

In both cases, maybe we just never thought that hip-hop would take it this far. Again, I’m a fan of Questlove, and I love hearing how granular his knowledge is of music and hip-hop. I’ve learned so much listening to his podcast about artists I love and people I don’t even know have impacted my life. But this take is truly bad, especially coming from him. 

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.