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Rapper J. Cole apologizes for Kendrick Lamar dis track

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "7 MINUTE DRILL")

J COLE: (Rapping) Light work, like it's PWC. It's a cold world, keep the heat under your seat. I got a...

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's something you don't hear every day. Grammy-winning rapper J. Cole has apologized for a recent diss track, "7 Minute Drill," that took aim at the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar. He made the apology during a performance at the Dreamville Festival in North Carolina over the weekend. We wanted to hear more about this, including how fans are reacting, so we called Justin Tinsley. He is a senior culture writer for Andscape. Good morning, Justin.

JUSTIN TINSLEY: Thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: Thanks for coming. So, you know, we all hear about rap beefs, you know, artists going at each other either in their music or on social media, but as I said, rarely do we hear of artists apologizing, especially right away. Seems like a big deal.

TINSLEY: And it is, because there's a complicated story that goes along with it. J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, they're basically peers. They came up around the same time during an era called the blog era, when there was kind of, like, a Wild Wild West mentality within the music industry where blogs were breaking the next stars, and some of those next stars were J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. And for a long time, they had a cordial relationship. They often performed together back in the day, and they always respected each other's catalog.

But in 2023, on the song "First Person Shooter" with Drake, J. Cole had some lines that Kendrick Lamar perceived were about him, which prompted the response "Like That" on Future's "We Don't Trust You" album, and so that led to his verse and that led to "7 Minute Drill." At some point along the way, J. Cole had a change of heart, and he wanted to apologize for dissing Kendrick because his heart really wasn't in it. He didn't want to have a lyrical battle with somebody he called a friend. And that's where the confusion and that's where the - really, the polarization of this topic comes up, because a lot of hip-hop fans, they thought they were going to see a battle between J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, not necessarily a personal beef, because a beef and a battle are two different things.

MARTIN: OK. Let me just jump in here. So look, feuds and rap battles, beefs, etc., have been a part of the culture. I mean, I don't think we can forget that some people have been killed after some of these exchanges. I don't know that anybody was worried about that here, but do you find it significant that artists of this stature are apologizing?

TINSLEY: No. It's a major moment because like you said, artists of this stature and Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar were perceived to be this thing called the big three. Like, the big three stars from their generation, which they were, and fans were looking at this situation as if they were going to see a lyrical battle. This was not a personal battle between these two. Like, nobody expected this to lead to friction when they see each other, maybe outside in the streets or anything like that. People wanted to see a lyrical battle. And, you know, when "7 Minute Drill" dropped, that was a, quote-unquote, "warning shot," and so a lot of people were excited because this is an element of hip-hop.

The competition element is a foundational tenet of hip-hop, so when people heard that, people were excited, like, oh, man, we're going to see two of the biggest stars go at it on the biggest stage. So when he got on the Dreamville Festival stage and apologized, it threw a lot of people for a loop, hence the conversation you're seeing around it right now.

MARTIN: But could it be that this speaks to sort of a sense of emotional growth, that people are perhaps allowed a wider range of feelings and behaviors that perhaps men have not given themselves permission to have? Could it be that?

TINSLEY: Absolutely. I think that's part of the conversation, and it's a necessary part of the conversation, but it also opens up even more conversations. On the song "Pi," that was on the album "Might Delete Later," he had some subliminal bars that were directed towards Kendrick Lamar that were transphobic, and a lot of people want to see him apologize for that. So there's so many conversations that sprouted up over this one example of friction between rappers.

MARTIN: That is Justin Tinsley, a senior culture writer for Andscape.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Devan Schwartz
Devan Schwartz is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition. He is an experienced audio professional who, in addition to his work with NPR, has worked with such organizations as BBC, Slate, the New York Times, and various public radio stations.