Breaking down the ‘Big Three’ rap beef of ‘Might Delete Later’

Growing up listening to Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Drake, I have long been a part of the debate over who is the greatest rapper of this generation. I always hoped they would come together for a “greatest of all time” tour or super-collab, but my dreams turned to nightmares this week after J. Cole released the album “Might Delete Later” in response to Lamar claiming he is bigger than the “Big 3.”

For those new to the situation, here’s a timeline of the drama that led up to J. Cole’s new album:

“First Person Shooter” started the debacle

On Oct. 6, 2023, Drake released “For All the Dogs” to his OVO Label. “First Person Shooter,” one of the most popular songs on Drake’s eighth studio album, was a direct claim to top status by both Cole and Drake.

J. Cole mentioned Lamar in his verse on the album, rapping “Love when they argue the hardest MC / Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or Me?” making it clear he views himself at the top, saying “We the big three like we started a league, but right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali,”

Drake boasted of his belief that his abundance of number one tracks makes him the best in the game, as he is only one Billboard number one hit away from passing Michael Jackson’s record of top hits. In “First Person Shooter” Drake raps, “N—– talkin’ ‘bout when this gon’ be repeated / What the f—, bro? I’m one away from Michael.”

Kendrick’s reply

Months later, on March 22, producer Metro Boomin and fellow rapper Future’s highly anticipated album, “WE DON’T TRUST YOU,” dropped to Future’s Freebandz and Metro’s Boominati Labels. The album featured cameos from The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Rick Ross and Playboi Carti.

Much to the surprise of listeners, Metro and Future also scored a rare Lamar feature on “Like That.” Lamar used his verse to express his distaste for Cole and Drake’s overconfident claims.

Lamar took offense at his blatant exclusion from Drake and Cole’s “First Person” party. Early in his verse, he targets the “For All the Dogs” collab, rapping “f— sneak dissin’, first person shooter, I hope they came with three switches.”

Before closing out his monstrous verse, Lamar left audiences with the bar that changed it all: “M—–F—– the big three, n—-, it’s just big me.” The one-line assertion that Lamar is the biggest 2010s rap icon sent rap followers into a frenzy online.

J. Cole disses Kendrick, then backslides

On the final track of his album “Might Delete Later,” released April 5, J. Cole takes below the belt jabs at Lamar’s discography. In the first verse of “7 Minute Drill,” Cole raps “Your first s— was classic, your last s— was tragic / Your second s— put n—– to sleep, but they gassed it.”

Cole also threw shade at Lamar’s few albums, saying, “He averagin’ one hard verse like every thirty months or somethin’” and “Four albums in twelve years, n—-, I can divide.” However, J. Cole’s flexing doesn’t mean much to fans with only two more albums in the same 12 years.

On April 7 at Dreamville Fest J. Cole retracted his harsh feelings toward Lamar, calling “7 Minute Drill” “the lamest s— I ever did in my f—— life.” Cole also referred to Lamar’s bar on “Like That” as a “bazooka” dropped on the rap game, in a video posted to YouTube.

J. Cole implied he was pressured into responding to Lamar’s track. He claimed he didn’t feel “spiritually” right about clapping back to Lamar’s bar, encouraging fans to express love toward Lamar.

Following Dreamville Fest, J. Cole removed “7 Minute Drill” from streaming platforms on April 12.

Drake (sort of) steps up

After posting subliminal messages on his Instagram in the weeks since “Like That” dropped, an unknown source leaked a Drake diss track titled “Push Ups” leaked to YouTube on April 13. Drake has yet to officially confirm if the track came from him, but he posted a reference to “Kill Bill” on Instagram on April 14, leading fans to speculate if Drake leaked it himself.

The track is relentless, loaded with responses to Lamar and Metro Boomin. Drake ranks Lamar beneath SZA, Travis Scott and 21 Savage.

This entire situation started because of a single line from Kendrick, raising questions about how secure the rappers are in their power and whether their responses are justified.

You can read the Scribe’s review of J. Cole’s “Might Delete Later” here.

From left: Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole. Photo courtesy of Complex.