Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake Beef Crashed the Genius Website

The furious exchange of diss tracks and the rush to interpret each song briefly overwhelmed Genius, where users can annotate lyrics to songs.

Drake, left, and Kendrick Lamar were responsible for nearly every entry on Genius’s list of the top 10 most-viewed song lyrics this week.

Alexandra E. Petri

Cole Swain was scrolling through his phone one morning before school last week when he received an alert from YouTube. It was 8:24 a.m. in Los Angeles, where Mr. Swain is a university student, and Kendrick Lamar had just released “Euphoria,” a highly anticipated diss track targeting Drake in the escalating showdown between the two rappers.

As Mr. Swain’s group chats and social media feeds blew up, he logged onto Genius, a website where users can transcribe and annotate lyrics to help explain their meaning. A volunteer editor for the site and a fan of Lamar’s, Mr. Swain was ready to dig into the track.

But Genius was apparently not ready for Mr. Swain and the crush of visitors. After nearly two weeks of silence after Drake’s diss record, Lamar’s response on April 30 drove swarms of traffic to Genius, causing it to crash temporarily just as fans were clamoring to pore over what the artist had to say.

“This is crazy,” Mr. Swain, a 19-year-old who is studying bioengineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, recalled thinking. “Everyone is scrambling to write the lyrics as much as everyone wants to read them.”

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A screenshot of a website’s homepage with several headlines about music releases.
A screenshot of the Genius homepage.

The feud between Lamar and Drake hit breakneck speed over the weekend, with both musicians trading songs packed with heavy punches. All the while on Genius, a small, collaborative corner of the internet built for those who love music, users like Mr. Swain worked furiously to deconstruct the songs as the hype around the releases exploded.

While many lyric websites include only the transcriptions of songs, Genius is a Wikipedia-like site that allows users to break down complex lyrics, connect the dots to previous songs and provide historical context.

A user’s status on the site, determined in part by the quality and quantity of their activity, grants them different privileges, like the ability to approve or reject other users’ annotations. Editors like Mr. Swain are not paid; the platform is a hobby.

Big releases always cause some chaos, but the volleys between Lamar and Drake have brought a rare level of attention. Editors, moderators, administrators and others were racing to deliver the correct lyrics with smart, sophisticated notes to thousands of followers in real time. Genius’s list of the top 10 most-viewed songs this week was dominated on Wednesday by Lamar and Drake’s series of diss tracks: “Euphoria” had garnered more than seven million views on the site since its release on April 30, according to Genius.

“It’s like N.B.A. finals,” said Jalin Coleman, 21, who edits under the username @spillretro and uses “they” pronouns. They added, “There is that added pressure.”

There’s also schoolwork and jobs. Mx. Coleman, a rising senior studying creative writing and communications at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, often works simultaneously on annotations and homework.

“I can’t focus on my homework when I know this is happening,” Mx. Coleman said. “I end up procrastinating on it, because I want to be part of this huge thing.” (No assignments were late and no classes were missed, they said.)

Ian, who edits under the Genius username @ibmac26 and asked that only his first name be used for privacy reasons, helped transcribe “Like That,” a song released by the Atlanta rapper Future and the producer Metro Boomin in March that featured a surprise appearance from Lamar and kicked the feud with Drake into high gear. He also worked on the lyrics for Lamar’s “Meet the Grahams,” released on Friday night within an hour of Drake’s “Family Matters.

“It feels like either one can throw another punch at any moment, and anticipating what’s going to be said next isn’t even worth it,” Ian said.

Jonathan Goens is a Lamar fan who had been waiting for his response to Drake’s diss tracks. “Especially after the things Drake asked for in ‘Taylor Made Freestyle,’” Mr. Goens, 32, said, referring to the Drake song in which he attacked Lamar using A.I. voice filters to mimic the rappers Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.

Mr. Goens uses Genius to study the lyrics on surprise releases, particularly when artists don’t include them with the songs, and to reflect on his own analysis through other users’ commentary. He turned to the website to help him pick apart “Euphoria.”

“I was curious to see if things I thought had a deeper meaning could have another meaning — if there were things he was saying that I could not see at all,” Mr. Goens, a forklift driver, said. Mr. Goens said he had been shocked to see Genius down. He continuously refreshed the site without luck, so he instead spun “Euphoria” a few more times until the website was running again.

“The fact that it was down illustrated to me how big it was to so many people to see an artist like Kendrick Lamar respond,” he said.

Ian said there were other times when the website had crashed, including in 2022 after Lamar released his studio album “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers” and in April after Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” arrived. But a single song crashing the site is rare, he added. Representatives for Genius or its parent company, MediaLab, could not be reached for comment.

Both Lamar and Drake continued to put out multiple songs after “Euphoria,” but the volley has sat at a standstill since Drake’s release of “The Heart Part 6” Sunday evening.

Mr. Swain plans to take a break from his work as an editor — his roommate has been poking fun at how much time he’s spent on Genius lately, he said.

Unless, of course, Lamar takes a victory lap and drops another track, Mr. Swain added. That would surely pull him off the sidelines.

William Murphy

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