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How Hip-Hop Beef Evolved in the Streaming Era

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This week’s episode and memo is a breakdown of Rap Civil War: the role of social media and streaming on rap beef and how the money flows. I’m joined by friend of the pod, BrandMan Sean, to break it all down.

You can listen to the episode here or read a few highlights below.

how social and streaming changed rap beef

On “Euphoria,” Kendrick Lamar said things about Drake that would have been career-altering for a rapper in a previous era. Hip-hop artists have had their entire careers derailed from having a lot less said about them.

But this is Drake. He has been the most commercially successful rapper for over a decade and may continue to be for quite some time. He survived Pusha T’s exposing him in 2018’s “The Story of Adidon.” No one forgot that it happened, but its impact came and went like a news cycle. Drake’s ab muscles may or may not be real, but his career is made of Teflon. The same will likely be true in the near future once we’ve all moved on from the Rap Civil War.

Because Drake’s core fans could care less. If you ask them what they think about Euphoria, many of them may assume you’re asking whether Sydney Sweeney will return for season 3 of the HBO series. Two Americas.

Kendrick-Drake isn’t a 50 Cent – Ja Rule type of situation. 50 and G-Unit literally changed the trajectory of Ja’s career. Murder Inc. was never the same. This isn’t even a case of Drake and Meek Mill from nine years ago. Meek’s career has continued, but it was never quite the same after the release of Drake’s Grammy-nominated diss track, “Back To Back.” Social media was relatively less pervasive in 2015 than it is today, and Meek’s career was still on the rise.

But in today’s era, Drake can respond the Kendrick’s diss track with an Instagram story that’s a clip of Julia Stiles from 10 Things I Hate About You. Some of you may think it was lame. Others probably loved it, and those are the people who are more likely to pay for Drake’s next arena tour, buy his vinyl, and support his career regardless.

It’s tough for a diss track to impact an artist who’s a legend, especially in the streaming and social media era. Drake and Kendrick’s music were the products that fueled growth for Apple Music and Spotify. Both artists and J. Cole benefitted from rising in the tail end of monoculture in the early 2010s before streaming took off. They were afforded luxuries of mainstream attention that now are as difficult as ever for the next generation of rising stars to ever reach.

the role of media (social and fragmented)

The two biggest changes in today’s era are the speed of culture and the ability for fans to come together.

Here’s what I wrote in Trapital in 2018, shortly after Drake and Pusha T’s feud:

“The ongoing beef between Drake and Pusha T has officially transitioned to interview shows and podcasts… This wasn’t always the case though. Not too long ago, rappers had to respond in the studio. When the Jay Z-Nas beef was at its peak in the early 2000s, Jay still did promo runs on Hot 97BET’s 106 & Park, and other shows. But each host had the same question for Jay, “When are you going to respond to Nas?” No one wanted to hear Jay’s thoughts or opinions unless it was over a beat…

Drake’s appearance in The Shop was a meticulous attempt to dismiss the beef, control the narrative, and still get a few shots out at both Ye and Push… [Pusha T] chose to visit The Joe Budden Podcast, a source that was going to cover the beef anyway, to share lewd details on what really went down.”

While I doubt Drake would ever go on The Shop to speak about Kendrick’s diss, a lot of that rings true. Artists can share snippets through DJ Akademiks and know that they will make the rounds. They can trade passive-aggressive social media responses that were built to be decoded by all the blog aggregators. That’s the machine at work.

In the early 2000s during Jay Z and Nas’ feud, there were full months that went by without a response. But in 2024, Kendrick Lamar took 11 days to respond to Drake and some people thought he took too long.

Yet even if the rap purist fans want a response, these artists don’t need to do anything they don’t want to! As Sean said in our episode, J. Cole can take his ball and go home. We never saw that happen in a rap feud! But Cole has a strong fanbase and said that the Kendrick diss didn’t sit well with his spirit, and he didn’t want to keep it up there. Even if a 90s-era rapper regretted a beef, we wouldn’t hear about it in a moment like that.

The dynamic shift reminds me of this post from @dragonflyjonez on X:

This rings true in nearly every facet of life, not just basketball and hip-hop.

who makes the real money

Both Kendrick and J. Cole’s diss tracks were released under exclusive license to Interscope. Kendrick’s deal with Top Dawg Entertainment has ended, J. Cole’s deal with Roc Nation ended, and now they can work directly with the majors.

I’ll likely do a deeper dive soon on why these artists do licensing deals instead of going “independent,” but let’s table that for now.

The label’s job is to recoup that advance during the term of the deal. These diss records help make that happen. They are ephemeral tracks that may get a lot of first-day or first-week streams, but the repeated listening is fewer and farther between. (Yes, I know the rap purists listened to “Euphoria” multiple times. I did as well, but we are the outliers).

And since the replay value of these songs is quite slim, the likelihood of the artists truly monetizing a diss record after the moment is slim. Diss tracks operate less like evergreen music, and more it’s like a viral piece of content that happens to be consumed on a DSP.

Songs like “Hit Em Up” and “Back to Back” are fewer and farther between.

Listen to the rest of our episode for more on:

– similarities between blog-era rappers and AAU NBA players
– do the rappers under age 30 ever catch Drake or Kendrick?Cole?
– why Kanye West and Rick Ross inserted themselves in the drama

Chartmetric stat of the week

The “Rap Civil War” kicked off after a Kendrick Lamar verse on Metro Boomin‘s new album, We Don’t Trust You, released on March 22. Since then, Metro’s Spotify monthly listeners have jumped from around 50.9M to over 62.9M as of April 30. He’s benefitted from all the attention and continues to be a staple in hip-hop.

You can listen to the episode here.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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