As the world collectively tries to grapple with J. Cole's decision to backtrack on his brewing feud with Kendrick Lamar, the question remains: Was the beef ever real to begin with?

After Cole called his "7 Minute Drill" track the "lamest s**t I ever did in my f**king life" during his performance at the 2024 Dreamville Festival, fans were divided on how to handle the statement. Some fans thought Cole's inability to follow through on his beef conveyed weakness, while others thought the Dreamville leader opting out of the feud for his own spiritual clarity was in line with what the MC stood for.

Either way, the haste with which Cole pulled back calls into question the validity of the beef to begin with. To be honest, even as the tension grew between Drake, Cole and Kendrick, things never appeared to be that serious.

Kendrick shocked the rap world when he called out Cole and Drizzy on his "Like That" verse on March 22, which appeared on Future and Metro Boomin's We Don't Trust You album. As impressive as Kendrick's verse was, it never pulled any personal punches. K-Dot merely criticized Cole and Drizzy's output and lyrical talents as artists, mostly while relying on metaphors involving their joint single "First Person Shooter." The disses weren't nearly as violating as when Tupac Shakur criticized Prodigy's health on "Hit Em Up," or when Troy Ave clowned a deceased Capital Steez for taking his own life on "Bada*s." Kendrick's verse was more a call to action for Cole and the 6 God, demanding the trio battle it out in the name of hip-hop to simply see who'd win.

Read More: Hip-Hop Fans Can't Decide if J. Cole Lost His Mind

Was Kendrick and Cole's Beef a Sham?

This means right off the bat when it comes to rap's history of beefs that this one was already off to a pretty relaxed start. The East Coast and West Coast rivalry translated into real-world violence that included the death of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Nas and Jay-Z dropped numerous insults aimed at each other, including diss tracks. Most notably Nas' "Ether" questioned the legitimacy of Hov's drug kingpin persona. Then there was Ice Cube's "No Vaseline," directed at his former N.W.A members. The track is regularly cited as a diss that went too far. Cube denounced N.W.A using racial and anti-Semitic slurs, and said they were being sexually assaulted by White businessmen.

Most of these examples were a step too far, and people were excited by the prospect of a pure rap beef between three of the greatest rappers in a generation: Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick's issues with Cole and Drake reinvigorated interest in hip-hop after a subpar 2023, and the embrace of rap's more competitive aspects rather than commercial felt nostalgic. It was hard not to be disappointed by Cole (briefly) derailing that idea.

Yet, it may have all been a sham. Upon further digging, Cole's behavior is eerily similar to a warning Kendrick made on his 2017 song "The Heart Part 4."

"I'll Big Pun ya punk a*s, you a scared little b***h/Tiptoein' around my name, n***a, ya lame/And when I get at you, homie, don't you just tell me you was just playin'/Oh I was just playin' with you K-Dot, c'mon/You know a n***a rock with you, bro/Shut the f**k up, you sound like the last n***a I know/Might end up like the last n***a I know/Oh, you don't wanna clash? N***a, I know," Kendrick rapped.

Cole has previously shown a tendency for throwing passive-aggressive shade and backing off when he's held accountable for his words. He did it with Wale and Ye on "False Prophets," he did it with Lil Pump on "1985," and notably did it with Noname on "Snow on Tha Bluff." The latter was the only time Cole's subliminal shade backfired, as Noname responded to Cole's snub with "Song 33," which she also later apologized for. A young Black activist named Oluwatoyin Salau had also just been raped and murdered at the time of the spat, making Cole's timing for critiquing a Black woman's "tone" especially obnoxious.

J. Cole's speech at Dreamville Festival dissing himself and praising Kendrick was done on April 7, which ties in with another set of lyrics from "The Heart Part 4."

"You know what time it is, ante up, this is in forever," Kendrick rapped. "Y'all got 'til April the 7th to get y'all s**t together."

So do these revelations mean the beef was a farce or just a bizarre coincidence? Obviously, it's unclear, but the notion that even rap's rawest moments have become this coordinated is deeply unsettling.

Read More: Mick Jenkins Feels Disgusted J. Cole Threw Up the White Flag

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