SlateWhy Is This Song No. 1?

Why Is Future, Metro Boomin, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Like That” No. 1?

Rap beef records were once too inside baseball to touch the Hot 100. Now they’re topping it.

Growing up listening to New York radio in the ’80s, I was exposed to a parallel universe of rap singles that missed the pop Top 40 but were treated by local deejays as if they were mainstream hits. Grandmaster & Melle Mel’s “White Lines,” Newcleus’ “Jam on It,” Shawn Brown’s “Rappin’ Duke”—these records were played on the Z100s of the day alongside the latest by Madonna or Duran Duran. But the underground-gone-overground rap hit that really detonated across the airwaves in 1984–85 was Brooklyn crew UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a shady tall tale of a hard-to-please fly girl who’s “all stuck up” and wouldn’t give any of the troupe’s three members the time of day. The record was so notorious it drew a response. A Queens teenager named Lolita Shanté Gooden, who fancied herself an MC and regarded UTFO’s song as an affront to women and an empty boast, redubbed herself Roxanne Shanté and recorded a seven-minute freestyle dissing the trifling trio for their wack come-ons. Titled “Roxanne’s Revenge,” it sold a quarter-million copies in New York alone.

“Roxanne’s Revenge” wasn’t the first hip-hop beef recording—there are examples that date back as far as 1981—but it’s arguably the one that established the rap diss record as a popular, if not pop, phenomenon. On Black radio, the so-called Roxanne Wars of the mid-’80s were good for both UTFO and Roxanne Shanté: Their record hit No. 10 on Billboard’s R&B chart, hers reached No. 22. But the singles, issued on small independent labels, stood no chance of scaling the Hot 100. In the years that followed, as hip-hop graduated to the majors, other rap beefs ignited on wax—KRS-One vs. MC Shan’s “Bridge Wars,” Kool Moe Dee’s LL Cool J diss “How Ya Like Me Now,” Ice Cube’s rip on his former N.W.A bandmates “No Vaseline,” 2Pac’s taunting of Biggie “Hit ’Em Up,” the Jay-Z vs. Nas tit for tats “Takeover” and “Ether,” 50 Cent’s career-making multirapper diss “How to Rob”—but they were typically minor hits, B-sides, mixtape tracks, or album deep cuts. Pushing a single onto radio playlists and up the pop charts was a major undertaking, and even when a rap beef was the talk of hip-hop radio shows, the records were regarded as too parochial, foul-mouthed, or indecipherable to the general public to scale the Hot 100, much less hit No. 1.

But that was before the streaming era on the charts, when controversy means clicks and no beef is too inside baseball. After a 2023 that found rap off its game on the charts, in 2024 hip-hop is staging a Hot 100 comeback via the diss record. In a historic first, two rap beefs hit No. 1 on the big pop chart just in the past two months: Megan Thee Stallion’s visceral, Nicki Minaj–directedHiss” in early February; and, this week, an all-star team up of rapper Future and producer Metro Boomin with special guest bars-dropper Kendrick Lamar. Sporting the seemingly innocuous title “Like That,” America’s new No. 1 song takes lethal lyrical aim at two of rap’s kings, and there’s evidence the millions who streamed it last week were mostly poring over Lamar’s withering one-minute verse. Rap beefs, too parochial for pop? How ya like ’em now?

“Like That” arrives with such massive streaming numbers—59.6 million, the biggest one-week streaming sum since Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” in early 2023—there’s a good chance it will hold in the penthouse. Which is saying something, because a certain cowboy-themed album by a certain Ms. Carter will make its chart debut next week. Beyoncé will surely enter atop the album chart—she always does—but it will take a lot for a Cowboy Carter track to oust “Like That” from the apex of the Hot 100. Billboard reports that streams of the Future-Metro-Kendrick track are holding strong in Week Two. Maybe, among us olds, Queen Bey’s foray into country, Americana, and Paul McCartney is generating all the cultural chatter. But for the young, the very online, and the hip-hop heads, “Like That” is the story. This is what happens when a major rapper decides to diss Drake.

Yup, the verse that the heads are already calling “Diss of the Year” finds Lamar eviscerating the man born Aubrey Graham as well as veteran rapper’s rapper J. Cole. The trouble started last fall when Drake dropped his album For All the Dogs, and its showcase track, “First Person Shooter,” which featured Cole, debuted atop the Hot 100. Typically, a rap beef starts because somebody accuses somebody of something—biting the rapper’s style, having lyrics ghostwritten, sexual transgressions, being a punk-ass jerk—but what’s remarkable about this beef was how benign the instigating offense was: J. Cole was actually paying Kendrick, aka K-Dot, a compliment. On his “Shooter” verse, Cole rapped: “Love when they argue the hardest MC/ Is it K-Dot? Is it Aubrey? Or me?/ We the Big Three, like we started a league/ But right now, I feel like Muhammad Ali.”

Cole’s boast was fairly convivial —like, Hey guys! We’re all the best!—but Lamar wasn’t having it. In his guest bars on “Like That,” K-Dot shoots his shot: “Motherfuck the Big Three/ N****, it’s just Big Me.” Well, then! A couple of lines later, Lamar directly targets Drake, who’s been known to liken his long list of chart records to those produced by Michael Jackson in his prime. As far as Lamar is concerned, he is the Prince to Drake’s Jackson, the more advanced, less pop-thirsty auteur, and Drake’s work is featherweight: “Your best work is a light pack/ N****, Prince outlived Mike Jack.” (This is … not a perfect analogy, if you’re a pop nerd like me; Prince survived Jackson by only seven years, for starters. But the way Kendrick invokes Prince’s well-chronicled beef with Michael as kindling for his own beef with Drake is sort of delightful.)

Boys, boys! Whence this animosity? And why is Lamar using a Future-Metro track to launder his grievances? If you are building your own crazy red-threads wall diagram and want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, there’s no shortage of material. Lamar has actually been boasting about his mic prowess while poking at Drake for more than a decade, ever since his legendary guest verse on Big Sean’s 2013 single “Control.” (Shadily, Aubrey claimed to be unmoved and unimpressed by that one.) As for Future, though the former Nayvadius Wilburn once teamed with the former Aubrey Graham on a whole album—2015’s acclaimed Drake–Future LP What a Time to Be Alive—the two rappers have reportedly fallen out over … something: maybe a woman, maybe a later Drake album with 21 Savage that overshadowed his prior Future collab … whatever. And there is no love lost between Aubrey and Leland Tyler Wayne, aka Metro Boomin, who is apparently pissed Drake won some awards Metro thought should go to his last album … are you exhausted yet?

Again, all this is gossip and speculation, normally decoded only by avid readers of XXL magazine and listeners to podcasts like Joe Budden and Drink Champs. (On Friday, just as this article was going to press, J. Cole appeared to respond with his own anti-Lamar track. The hypebeast will continue to be fed!) What’s remarkable, as far as this No. 1 hits series is concerned, is that this minutiae found an audience huge enough to body the Hot 100. And even in our cynical age of “industry plant” accusations, this hype seems truly organic: “Like That” was not supposed to be a single.

The song is from Future and Metro Boomin’s new album, their first-ever collaborative long-player We Don’t Trust You. Somewhat more predictably, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week with the biggest numbers of any album so far this year. As individuals, the two men have scored multiple prior chart-topping LPs, and Metro—who is emerging as the DJ Khaled of the ’20s, a producer who sells like a frontline artist—is coming off his acclaimed soundtrack to 2023’s animated blockbuster Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. So the new team-up album’s big numbers were a foregone conclusion.

But in the leadup to We Don’t Trust You, Future and Metro focused on other tracks, shooting glossy music videos for the actual first single, “Type Shit” featuring Travis Scott and Playboi Carti, and the second single, “Young Metro,” featuring the Weeknd. There’s no official video for “Like That,” which would feel like overkill. Like Drake’s summer 2018 champ “In My Feelings,” the beneficiary of a viral challenge, and Roddy Ricch’s winter 2020 smash “The Box,” which took off thanks to a fan-generated TikTok meme, “Like That” is a nonsingle that the public turned into a hit all by themselves. And with the track currently unshareable on TikTok, thanks to Universal Music’s ongoing boycott of the micro-video platform, the blowup of “Like That” was about as old-school as they come: focused on the song, not a meme.

When streams for the Future-Metro album’s first week were tallied, “Like That” took No. 1 in a walk—nearly twice the streams of “Type Shit” (which debuts on the Hot 100 at No. 2) and almost three times as many as “Young Metro” (which opens at No. 9). For the record, Spotify counts streams if you play at least 30 seconds of a track. So if all folks did last week was zap midsong to play and replay Lamar’s roughly one-minute verse (which takes up less than one-fourth of the song’s running time), those feverish replays count for the charts. Which is a bit of a shame, because as beef records go, “Like That” (in full) is fairly catchy, if a bit low-tech. Kendrick’s old-school boasts aren’t the only thing tying “Like That” to ’80s hip-hop. The song is built entirely around a sped-up sample of Rodney O and Joe Cooley’s “Everlasting Bass,” a 1988 synths-and-scratching classic that’s been sampled dozens of times by everyone from Lil Wayne to Three 6 Mafia. Building a diss record out of this well-worn sample in 2024 is, I’d argue, a statement in itself: The beat is legit, but the lyrics are what matter. Like all classic beef records, it’s meant to sound immediate, not elaborate. Tracks like this should feel like a bulletin from the streets. They’re not designed for a long shelf life, even if all the diss records I’ve listed in this piece are now considered rap milestones.

Speaking of shelf life, it’s interesting to compare “Like That’s” launch to the prior rap-beef No. 1, Megan Thee Stallion’s aforementioned “Hiss.” When it crash-landed at No.˘1 in the wintry doldrums of early February, it was not only Megan’s first-ever fully solo chart-topper—she previously led the list in team ups with Beyoncé on 2020’s “Savage Remix” and with Cardi B on “WAP”—it also made her only the third female rapper to debut atop the Hot 100 with a solo hit, after Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj. Ironic, since Minaj was pretty clearly the focus of Megan’s beef. For a full exegesis on what led Megan to sling haterade at her former friend and collaborator Nicki, my Slate colleague Nadira Goffe has you covered. Short version: Minaj took shots on wax last year over Megan’s brand partnerships and imprisoned ex-boyfriend Tory Lanez, and Megan finally got fed up with Nicki’s confected drama. The drama was every bit as inside baseball as the Kendrick vs. Drake vs. Cole vs. Future vs. Metro mishegoss, and hence about as impenetrable to a mainstream audience. And yet, raw anger translates: When Megan dropped “Hiss”—whose opening line is a pithy, “I just want to kick this shit off by saying, ‘Fuck y’all!’ ” and peaks with a rousing, “These hoes don’t be mad at Megan, these hoes mad at Megan’s Law!”—it opened to nearly 30 million streams in its first week. The track was even more skeletal than “Like That” would turn out to be: no obvious samples, just Megan’s dazzling flow over a dizzying 167 BPM track. It felt like a drive-by shooting, as any good diss track should; but because Megan is also a master of her visual brand, she actually shot a freaky-sexy video for “Hiss.”

Opening streams of “Hiss” were more than enough to lead the Hot 100 in its first week. And then, like a fever dream, “Hiss” was gone—it plummeted from No. 1 to No. 13 in its second week, out of the Top 40 in its third week, and off the chart entirely less than a month later. Honestly? To me, this was a feature, not a bug, of “Hiss.” (Don’t come for me, Megan! Nothing but love!) From the moment it arrived, the song felt immediate, high-drama but low-stakes, designed to detonate and then clear off like acrid smoke. It isn’t necessary for a record like “Hiss” to hang around on radio and Spotify playlists for months. The point of a diss record is cleansing anger, not perpetual rotation. It remains to be seen if Future, Metro, and Kendrick’s “Like That” will emulate this fast burnout—even if it holds for a couple of weeks, it might be truer to the spirit of the classic rap diss if it faded before summer.

I may be the only chart follower making this claim, but when “Hiss” rang the bell earlier this year, it read to me as the Hot 100’s first-ever No. 1 rap beef record. (Whether or not you agree depends on how you classify 2007’s Timbaland chart-topper “Give It to Me” featuring Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, which does sling veiled insults at the likes of Scott Storch, Prince, and Fergie but is mostly sung and always read to me as club-pop, not rap per se.) Both “Hiss” and “Like That” are true to the spirit and history of the hip-hop diss dating back to “Roxanne’s Revenge,” “How Ya Like Me Now” or “Hit ’Em Up”: low-tech, tossed-off but verbally acute, lyrics-first and music-second, irresistibly snippy and petty. The difference nowadays is rap beef can go all the way to No. 1—open at the top, in fact!—thanks to the same technological evolution that made it possible for “Old Town Road” or “All I Want for Christmas Is You” or “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” to hit No. 1: Streaming reveals niche songs’ cultural power.

By the way, even if you buy my argument about the firstness of “Hiss,” the word rap is key to this milestone—because when it comes to pop and rock, the Hot 100 was full of beef before hip-hop, and still is: from Carly Simon’s 1973 No. 1 “You’re So Vain” ripping Warren Beatty (and other unnamed egomaniacs); to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 Top 10 hit “Sweet Home Alabama,” which calls out Southern-man insulter Neil Young by name in the lyrics; to Gwen Stefani’s 2005 cheerleader chant “Hollaback Girl,” which insinuated that Courtney Love was B-A-N-A-N-A-S; to Taylor Swift’s 2015 diss-on-steroids “Bad Blood,” in which she was so pissed at Katy Perry she brought in Kendrick Lamar—this week’s beef king!—for the remix. (Swift is famously something of a beef queen; she’s also worked with Future, on a track that may or may not have been about Kim-n-Kanye.)

So, while 2024 really does mark a milestone in rap disses and the charts, really what’s happened more than half a century after the birth of hip-hop is a leveling of the playing field. When the Hot 100 was determined mostly by radio spins and singles sales, it was possible for Carly Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Gwen Stefani to give voice to their haterade. Now that our chart is largely determined by instant streaming gratification and social-media froth, it’s Kendrick Lamar’s and Megan Thee Stallion’s turn. Sure, the songs feel a little disposable—nobody’s claiming “Hiss” or “Like That” is as great as “You’re So Vain”—but if the Hot 100 is a heat check, from time to time the chart’s penthouse is going to be extra combustible.

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