Interfaith Inspiration

Kendrick vs. Drake: A Surprising Mirror of Interfaith Cooperation

By Nathan "Bam" Stanton 
Kendrick Lamar (left) and Drake. Art courtesy of Stanton

Kendrick Lamar (left) and Drake. Art courtesy of Stanton

Hip-hop is a musical art form that has evolved over the last few decades from earlier predecessors like blues and jazz. Hip-hop has traveled from a party at a community center in the Bronx, New York, to the biggest stages in the world. Its popularity has grown at a rate unseen in our era. 

Life’s truth, pain, and triumph have been married to the art form unlike any other. The beats, often from samples of old records, mimic the neighborhoods usually discarded for the run to the ‘burbs. At the same time, the lyrics mimic the scars found in the pavement of much of America’s overburdened cityscapes. The original spirit of collaboration in the genesis often gives way to one of America’s favorite pastimes, competition. When we are not at war with another country, we are at war with ourselves.  

The complex tapestry of American life gives way to the primitive expectation of being the best, the strongest, the fastest, and the smartest. Hip-hop is not immune and often erupts into “beef.” These short-lived disputes are typically handled on “wax” or in the music, creating animosity between coasts, genres, and cities. Lyrical prowess is measured through bars, and the public decides the winner. Luminaries such as Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, and Biggie have headlined the most famous battles thus far, with the latter two artists losing their lives violently. The former, Jay-Z and Nas, reconciled years after a fierce back and forth, becoming friends after age and maturity have set in. 

Kendrick Lamar (left) and Drake. Art courtesy of Stanton

We love competition; the fight always shines brightly on us. When Kendrick Lamar, a prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning artist from Los Angeles, dropped a verse in “Like That” with Metro Boomin and Future, it set the culture on fire. He directed lyrical shots at Drake, a Canadian and the most successful and streamed artist in the world, and J. Cole, a rapper with the patina of independence and a rabid fanbase. As it ran to number one on the music charts, response tracks from Drake would soon follow.  

Not before J. Cole famously bowed out of the battle recanting previous disrespect, he in turn aimed back at Lamar in “7 Minute Drill” citing it did not sit right with his spirit. J. Cole had reversed the expectation of staying in the ring until his opponent was defeated. Drake then released “Push Ups” as the response to Kendrick Lamar’s “Like That” verse, setting off a 4-5 song back and forth that employed everything from AI to serious allegations of sexual misconduct to win. 

What does any of this have to do with interfaith cooperation? I spoke recently with a Muslim friend from Morocco, Mohammed. We spoke of the dissonance between the often-aspirational message of cooperation, unity, and reality. We could easily recall the tenets from our different faiths that call their adherents to be embodied by people with low incomes and those with less. Yet still, as a country, we espouse the grandiose expectations of being first in all we do. My take is that we have substituted the kindness found in building friendships that can move toward advocacy for competition.  

Competition is more interesting; like a firework, it flashes brightly in the sky of mundanity, attracting interest and attention. But it lacks the light to inspire generations. We love our sports teams, and when our children excel, when we are honored over another, when our bid is accepted, when our offer on a home is received, or when we are hired over another candidate. Kindness and compassion require different investments. They need us to be present with one another and not follow the fleeting light of opposition. When one faith opposes another, it creates excellent drama but not a great future.  

Symbols of Islam (left) and Christianity. Art courtesy of Stanton

The faith that has an enemy will always fall short of the sustained brilliance it seeks. Conservative evangelicals and liberals have dug in their heels on every hot-button issue, refusing cooperation for the opportunity to win in the Supreme Court or elsewhere. With the face-off over the American policy in Palestine causing turmoil on college campuses, we have seen an issue with no compromise in sight. We can all win by kindly extending our hands to each other and refusing to play the game. 

Although the passionate Kendrick has emerged as the winner, it is the kindness of J. Cole that will be remembered because he preserved the relationship with Kendrick and Drake by bowing out of the competition. He eschewed the momentary burst of competition for the sustained brilliance of kindness. Cooperation happens when we drop the need to win. Equity and justice cannot thrive in a world obsessed with victory. The beautiful bridge of diversity grows best under the sun of compassion and kindness. 

Nathan “Bam” Stanton has been an artist working in mediums that include painting, writing and speaking for over 20 years. His most recent journey included working as a pastor in Chicago for 13 years and founding a not-for-profit, Forgive.Us., an organization dedicated to encouraging artists to speak out about injustice. It’s founding was followed by a 20,000 mile RV trip around the country to host Forgive Us events. His heart is to build a bridge on which division in America can heal. Bam is now embarking on his next mission, to motivate and inspire businesses, organizations and schools into forgiveness, resilience and creativity. His work has been also been featured in WBBM ChicagoRV Today, Rootless and Rova Magazines. He currently resides in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife and 5 children.