J Cole Brought A Knife To A Gunfight On ‘7 Minute Drill’

Metro Boomin warned us before he and Future dropped We Don’t Trust You: “Pick a side.”

As J. Cole has learned over the past 12 hours, anyone not firmly on one side of the Drake and Kendrick Lamar divide is liable to get caught in the crossfire. Last night, he dropped Might Delete This Later, a surprise EP of tracks that might have been lauded as another solid offering from the rap vet — or maybe the conversation would be about his troubling (and trite) transphobic bars on “Pi.” But instead, the rap world is buzzing about “7 Minute Drill,” a song from the project where Cole responds to Kendrick’s now infamous verse on Future and Metro Boomin’s “Like That.” The streets are talking — but Cole might not love what they’re saying. 

Cole didn’t spend the whole song on Kendrick but threw what he deemed a “warning shot” at his one-time friend. He employed Jay-Z’s “Takeover” tactic, summing up Kendrick’s catalog: “Your first shit was classic, your last shit was tragic / Your second shit put niggas to sleep, but they gassed it / Your third shit was massive and that was your prime / I was trailin’ right behind and I just now hit mine.” Cole also criticized Kendrick’s sparse release schedule: “He averagin’ one hard verse like every thirty months or somethin’ / If he wasn’t dissin’, then we wouldn’t be discussin’ him.” But then he walked back the vitriol, also rhyming, “don’t make me have to smoke this nigga ’cause I fuck with him,” and on the track’s second beat, produced by T-Minus and Conductor Williams, he admits, “I’m hesitant, I love my brother, but I’m not gonna lie / I’m powered up for real, that shit would feel like swattin’ a fly.” If this was a 106 & Park Freestyle Friday competition, I’d imagine a judge asking Cole if he was actually battling or not. 

Cole’s reference to Jay-Z’s “Takeover” takedown of Nas’ discography ignores the fact that Jay-Z’s 2001 assertion that Nas had “one hot album every ten-year average” was wrong, too — Nas’ Illmatic follow-up It Was Written is a consensus classic. Ditto Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, which is considered by a notable sect of rap fans to be the best album of the 2010s. But “winning” a battle is about shifting public perception, which means manipulating public talking points you may not even believe. For some artists, it’d make sense to attack Kendrick for the same things that his detractors already knock him for. But for Cole, those same gripes have arguably applied to him even more. Cole says To Pimp A Butterfly “put niggas to sleep,” but the “J. Cole is boring” sentiment has been so loud that he’s fought it all his career. He defended himself in 2013 by saying that “the people who like Soul Plane are probably gonna think Shawshank Redemption is boring.” 

J. Cole has a history of passive-aggressively referencing other artists in ways that he can later dismiss as constructive criticism if pressed. He also steps close enough to the proverbial line to garner headlines and spur listeners to wonder if he’s taking shots at specific people. He’s done it to Jay-Z on “Rich Niggas,” Kanye West and Wale on “False Prophets,” and Noname on “Snow on Tha Bluff.” The latter track was the biggest backfire, as it amounted to off-base finger-wagging of Noname’s unabashed radicalism (that hit at an inopportune time after the tragic death of activist Oluwatoyin Salau). One has to consider that history when listening to “7 Minute Drill.” It’s clearly a diss, and Cole’s foot is on the line, but he’s not ten toes down. The song’s title alludes to the military’s seven-minute drill, during which officials discuss how to respond to an enemy threat. But it should also be understood that one doesn’t respond to a warning shot with another warning shot; it’s combat time at this point. 


The diss shows that Cole is in a precarious position, caught between two friends. He was just on tour with Drake, and they praise each other on any stage they find themselves on together. And though Cole hasn’t collaborated or been seen publicly with Kendrick in years, he even admits on “7 Minute Drill” that “I love my brother.” Before Future and Metro Boomin’s “Like That,” few would have batted an eye if Cole had gone on tour with Drake and then had Kendrick perform at Dreamville. But times are different. The battle lines have been drawn, and the fans want to see “the big 3” taking major swings. 

Even Drake, who pulled his verse from BFB Packman’s album last week, understands that fans want to hear him go crazy the next time he’s on a song. Cole may have thought he was doing the sensible thing by being measured on “7 Minute Drill,” but rap beef is a toxic, nonsensical arena. Rap fans want to hear artists take it all the way there, not be overly conscientious and almost deferential on the battlefield. If “7 Minute Drill” is in fact a reference to military deliberation, maybe the command decision should’ve been to stand down and not say anything at all. 

First appeared on www.rollingstone.com

Leave a Comment