(June 27, 2024).  Remember the last time Drake had a No. 1 hit?

Well, although it may seem like eons ago, especially considering the brutal take-down he’s experienced in 2024 at the hands of Mr.  Kendrick Lamar — one that’s essentially silenced Toronto’s “6 God” for the past two months — it was actually only eight months ago in October 2023 that Drizzy topped the Billboard Hot 100 with the song that kind of triggered this year’s flare-up of the most volatile rap beef in decades.

That song was “First Person Shooter,” the tune from Drake’s last album on which he and J. Cole (well, mainly J. Cole) boasted about being among hip-hop’s “Big Three” (along with K-Dot), an alliance the “HUMBLE” rapper didn’t take too kindly and which prompted this year’s back-and-forth that saw both Kendrick and Drake issue four diss songs apiece — plus Kendrick’s epic guest spot on Future & Metro Boomin’s earlier No. 1 smash “Like That” — each song attacking the other rapper, for a total of eight tracks in the span of just over two weeks.

It was Kendrick’s last entry, the fellow No. 1 Hot 100 single “Not Like Us,” that essentially ended the battle and had most observers declaring the Compton-based rapper the winner.  Drake’s chart-eligible singles flopped by comparison, with only “Family Matters” being able to crack the top ten of the Hot 100 (for one week) when it peaked at No. 7 in May (the tune fell off the entire 100-position chart this week after only six weeks on the list).

But Kendrick’s “Not Like Us” is still in the top ten after six weeks and is poised to rebound to No. 2 (and possibly No. 1) next week after his very successful and highly acclaimed Inglewood, California “Pop-Out: Ken & Friends” concert on June 19 where he and a slew of local and elite west-coast rappers performed a set list that included several of Kendrick’s recent disses, including “Not Like Us.”

And it’s that victory lap, reportedly punctuated by 17,000 fans dancing to and chanting his songs’ anti-Drake lyrics, that not only provides the loudest exclamation point to Kendrick’s silencing of Drake, but also generates one of the biggest ironies one could create.  And it all ties back to a line in Drake’s last No. 1 hit, the song that started this classic tit-for-tat.

In last year’s “First Person Shooter,” in addition to the offensive “Big Three” claim with which Kendrick took issue, Drake closes the song with a reference to none other than the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, where the Canadian rap superstar brags of being “one (No. 1 hit) away from Michael” — the “Billie Jean” singer he eventually tied when “Shooter” reached No. 1, giving both men 13 No. 1 Hot 100 hits (the most among solo males).

That line, incidentally, prompted Kendrick’s response in his guest appearance on “Like That” where he proclaimed, “Prince outlived Mike Jack(son),” suggesting that his legacy would outlast Drake’s. 

But it’s what Drake said next in “Shooter” that planted the seed for one of the greatest ironies in this legendary beef.  After boasting about being second only to Michael, Drizzy raps “Ni—a, beat it, nigga, beat it, what?”  He repeated the phrase “Beat it, what?” — a nod to one of Jackson’s biggest hits (“Beat It”) from his landmark Thriller album — another dozen times for (annoying) effect.

“Beat It,” of course, was the blockbuster No. 1 single for which Jackson famously corralled the two biggest rival street gangs in L.A. history — the Bloods and the Crips — for the song’s music video.  In the short film, Jackson, who was just 24 at the time, used elaborate, well-choreographed dance sequences to bring peace between two fictional rival factions whose leaders at one point were bound together by their wrists and wielding switchblades.

But part of the video’s legacy — a huge part, in fact — was that MJ was able to bring together real-life rival gang members for a two-day video shoot, a decision he made to give the clip some street authenticity and one that famously didn’t cause any violent clashes between the two groups, as well as one for which Jackson has been lauded to this day.

Fast-forward to 2024 and Kendrick’s current crushing of Drake, particularly on “Not Like Us,” the tune he played and/or performed six times (including five straight!) during last Wednesday’s concert.  The performances were reportedly so electric that even rival gang members in attendance put aside their differences — if only temporarily — in a show of unity behind Kendrick and a unified front against Drake.

A clip of Kendrick’s LA-unity and Drake-battle victory celebration at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, CA on 6/19/24.

That’s right, in a bit of history repeating itself, rival Los Angeles gang members from some of the same groups whose forefathers Michael Jackson temporarily united with his nifty dance moves during the L.A. filming of “Beat It” 41 years ago — also the very smash that Drizzy channeled in “First Person Shooter” — were peacefully assembled (as shown in the above video) in a concert performance for the ages by the West Coast’s current hip-hop king, Kendrick Lamar.

As reported in Complex Music by writer Jordan Rose, people in attendance at Kendrick’s Pop Out were impressed “in the way (he) brought so many rival gang sets…under one roof.”  One rapper, AZ Chike, was quoted as saying “[K Dot] is doing some shit that has never been done before, bro.  There’s a lot of [ninjas] outside in their trailers that you wouldn’t catch on a regular day next to each other.  Kendrick really brought the city together.”

Well, actually it had been done before.  Michael Jackson wrote “Beat It,” a song about peace and reconciliation, in 1982 and included it on the biggest selling album in history.  He intentionally went about the business of making a promo clip that brought together dozens of members of rival gangs who, for at least the time it took to do a video shoot and watch as MJ and company put down some iconic dance moves, forgot their decades-old differences.

The irony that, four decades later, “Beat It” factored into a historic hip-hop beef in which one rapper invoked the song’s legacy and lost, while his chief rival accomplished in a big concert hall what the song’s video did in a small warehouse, is the kind of stuff this blogger salivates over.

Now Kendrick has reportedly shot a music video for “Not Like Us” on the heels of its recent No. 1 success and in the wake of his historic Pop Off show last week.  What a full-circle moment that would be if the “DAMN” MC were to invoke some of the “Beat It” unity themes in his video — minus the dance moves, of course!


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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“Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, what? Beat it, ayy, beat it, what?”

– Drake in “First Person Shooter” (2023)

By DJ Rob

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