Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J.Cole: The Road To “Like That” & What’s Next

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 26: US rapper and musician Kendrick Lamar headlines on the Pyramid Stage during day five of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton on June 26, 2022 in Glastonbury, England.
(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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That number-one spot.

Rap always thrived off competition to be crowned the greatest. The most dominant verses have always been ego-driven, from  “Who’s the greatest emcee: Biggie, Jay-Z, or Nas” to “King of New York, a Buffalo n****a, okay, I said it” to  “And I am the best rapper alive.” Rivalries like Jay-Z vs. Nas, Ice Cube Vs. NWA, K-R-S-One vs. MC Shan, and many more have greatly impacted the culture.

In the last decade, the biggest rivalry in hip hop has been between Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole. The rivalry’s foundation is the race to be the biggest rap star. While none of the three—collectively known as the Big 3—have directly attacked each other, they have waged a cold war with subliminal verses.

Kendrick Lamar brought the challenge to the forefront on March 22 with his new verse on “Like That” from Metro Boomin and Future’s new album, We Don’t Trust You. “MuthF*ck the big 3, it’s just big me,” Lamar raps in the song.

The rivalry among the three cultural icons has been analyzed often, but publicly, they deny any issues. As the beat drops, a question lingers: Is one better than the other?

We have compiled a timeline that shows how the debate began, how we got to “Like That,” and where the competition will go from here, as most fans joined at different points.

Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City established him as a lyrical deity with his intricate storytelling and award-winning social commentary. J. Cole’s vulnerability resonated with fans, and 2014 Forest Hills Drive solidified his place in hip-hop history. Drake’s versatile music style, emotional vulnerability, and chart-topping hits have made him a global phenomenon.

Drake and Kendrick Lamar exchanged subliminals, while J. Cole gained recognition with consistent albums and guest features. Kendrick was the last of the three to amass superstardom, with J. Cole originally trying to sign him and Drake co-signing him with collaborations on “Buried Alive” and “Poetic Justice.”

The three appeared to be brothers in arms shortly after Kendrick’s debut when he went on tour with Drake and announced a joint album with Cole. At the start of the 2010s, Cole, Drake, and Kendrick were chosen by the majority as the best rappers in the game, beating out many formidable rap stars. In 2012, the race began with three contenders. By 2013, they were competing for the crown with the world pay attention.

Kendrick Lamar issues a public challenge to Hip Hop peers for the title of “The Best” with his classic verse on Big Sean’s 2013 track, “Control.” Calling out everyone, Kendrick raps:

“I’m usually homeboys with the same ni***s I’m rhymin’ with / But this is hip-hop, and them / ni***s should know what time it is / And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale / Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake / Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller / I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you ni***s / Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you ni***s.”

Many artists, including Drake and J. Cole, responded to the “Control” verse in music and interviews. In several interviews, Drake spoke on the impact and authenticity of Kendrick’s verse, revealing no animosity between the two when they saw each other after the verse came out.

Kendrick’s subliminal tirade continued in 2013, with the rap star taunting his peers in the BET Hip Hop Awards freestyle. He raps with TDE behind him, addressing hip hop’s reaction to his verse, specifically a no-named rapper: “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped ‘Control’ and tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.”

Drake subliminally responded to Kendrick’s verses in 2013 on “The Language.” Many fans thought Drake was referring to Kendrick in the line, “Any n****s that’s talkin’ that sh*t just to get a reaction / F*ck going platinum, I looked at my wrist and it’s already platinum.”

Additionally, Drake released a verse presumed to be directed at Kendrick in Future’s track, “Sh! t.” On the track, Drake said, “Fuckn-ggas, gon be fuckn-ggas/that’s why we never gave a fuck/when a fuckn-gga switched up.”

J. Cole released his sophomore album, Born Sinner, in 2013. Kendrick was featured on the album cut “Forbidden Fruit.” The anticipated joint project between Cole and Lamar was publicized but is still under development.

Drake and Kendrick Lamar continuously collaborated with J. Cole throughout the decade. The three stars credit hip hop’s obsession with the best rapper alive persona for the competitive nature among them. During an interview with Elliott Wilson and Brian B.Dot Miller, Drake stated that the following decade would determine which of the three would remain relevant and achieve the greatest title.

Drake often acknowledged Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole as the greatest during live shows. However, Drake has expressed displeasure with certain artists, like Kendrick Lamar, for taking breaks from music and engaging in false activism. In addition to Kendrick Lamar, Drake had feuds with Meek Mill, Common, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Pusha T, and Ludacris.

Hip-hop fans fuelled the debate on social media as each of the three released new music.J. Cole consistently proclaimed himself “the best” during his revamped feature run. He diminished the value of awards and album sales by repeatedly outperforming others on their tracks.

While Cole often went without winning in award seasons, Drake and Kendrick frequently found themselves in head-to-head competitions for numerous prestigious awards. Kendrick typically outperformed Drake in awards. Between awards, Drake and Kendrick continued to subliminally jab each other on songs like “The Heart 4,” “4PM In Calabasas,” “Deep Water,” “Humble,” “King Kunta,” and “100.” 

In 2023, Drake and J. Cole acknowledged the Big 3 discussion on “First Person Shooter.” While Drake would appear to send another shot at Kendrick, J. Cole would proclaim himself Muhammed Ali of the three. Fans and enthusiasts believe that the song elevated the competition among the three. Cole and Drake portrayed the trending Spider-man meme, while Cole referenced himself as the greatest of all time after acknowledging the Big 3.

Others’ beefs are intertwined with the Big 3 debate, including Metro Boomin, Future, and Big Sean. Future and Drake’s issues surprised fans, with Future allegedly upset with Drake cooperating on a joint album with 21 Savage after their 2015 album, What A Time To Be Alive. Metro Boomin and Drake began feuding at the Grammy Awards after Metro expressed his disappointment with the Grammy’s decision to award Her Loss, Drake, and 21 Savage’s album, over his nominated album, Heroes and Villains.

Big Sean has always been closely tied to the top artist debate, and there was constant mention of a feud between him and Kendrick Lamar over the decade. In album mode, Big Sean released a new freestyle titled “Whole Time,” in which he referenced the Big 3. Sean raps, “I think where I lack / most as an artist is consistency / I just haven’t had the energy to compete with enemies /Or y’all so-called bigger three, huh?”

Sean’s freestyle was overshadowed by Future and Metro Boomin’s new album, which features “Like That.” The song drew a line in the sand, as Metro Boomin tweeted after the album was released: “Once you pick a side, stay there.”

After “Like That,” news quickly circulated that the alleged feud between Drake and Future stems from a woman named Diana. Metro Boomin and Future’s new album features a song called “Magic Don Juan (Princess Diana).” Other songs on the album suggested to be Drake disses by Future are “We Don’t Trust You” and “Type Shit.”

Since Kendrick Lamar made the challenge, several artists, such as Nav and Rick Ross, have reportedly unfollowed Drake on social media. The world closely followed J. Cole and Drake’s response to “Like That.”

Days before “Like That,” J. Cole dropped a snippet to a new song that continues to claim he is the greatest in a second episode of his new vlog series, “Might Delete Later, Vol. 2.” Cole made a statement in a preview that is believed by many to be a response to “Like That”. “I promise ni***s, I guarantee it / I put my stamp of fuckin’ authenticity / Ain’t no ni*** better then me on this fuckin’ planet / I swear to God.”

Drake appears to respond to “Like That” on Sunday evening (March 24) at the conclusion of his latest stop on the Big As The What Tour with Lil Wayne. “A lot of people asking me how I’m feeling,” said Drake. “I’m let you know how I’m feeling. The way I’m feeling is the same way I want you to walk out of here feeling tonight about your fuckin’ self. Cause you know how I’m feeling? I got my fuckin’ head up high, my back straight, I’m ten fuckin’ toes down. And I know no matter what there not a ni*** who can ever fuck with me or my life on this earth, and that’s how I want you to walk outta here tonight.”

Speculations have it that Drake will feud with Future while J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar duel. Kendrick Lamar vs. J. Cole could manifest into one of the biggest rap battles of all time. There is a possibility that Drake and Kendrick Lamar will meet outside of the subliminal, with Drake stating that Kendrick can’t end his career in the past.

“I know good and well that Lamar’s not murdering me, at all, in any platform,” said Drake in 2013. “So when that day presents itself, I guess we can revisit the topic.”

It looks like 2024 will be the biggest year in hip hop yet as old and new beefs surface. In hip hop history, egos and beef have brought the best music; therefore, fans will benefit greatly.

Watch Ebro, Peter Rosenberg and Laura Stylez breakdown the Big 3 feud, below.