Why Does Kendrick Lamar Want Drake to Return Tupac Shakur’s Ring?


When Kendrick Lamar made his entrance to his sold-out show at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Juneteenth, he did so with a bang. He performed “Euphoria,” a track he released in April during his well-documented feud with Drake, adding a new lyric: “Give me Tupac ring back and maybe I’ll give you a little respect.”

The internet went wild.

This was Mr. Lamar’s first time performing since his testy dispute with Drake escalated into a volley of diss tracks this spring. For the show, titled “The Pop Out: Ken & Friends,” he brought out fellow West Coast artists such as Dr. Dre, YG, Tyler, the Creator, Schoolboy Q and Steve Lacy, the next generation of musicians from the region after Tupac Shakur. It was a victory lap after unofficially winning the war.

Mr. Lamar had been questioning Drake’s authenticity and status among Black musicians and fans, and adding the line about Mr. Shakur’s ring only doubled down on that message.

The ring is one of the most iconic jewelry pieces in hip-hop history. It features a 14-karat crown encrusted with cabochon rubies and pavé diamonds. It also bears the inscription “Pac & Dada 1996,” referring to his engagement to Kidada Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones. The ring, which he designed himself, commemorates both the founding of his media company, Euphanasia, and his romance with Ms. Jones. He wore it at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, his last public appearance before his killing.

In August 2023, Drake purchased the ring from an auction at Sotheby’s for $1.01 million. That irked Mr. Lamar, who has taken the baton of West Coast rap from Mr. Shakur and has been influenced by his legacy.

According to Vikki Tobak, author of the 2022 book “Ice Cold; A Hip-Hop Jewelry History,” jewelry has long been a symbol of allegiance and brotherhood in hip-hop.

“Drake just sort of buying his cred — it doesn’t sit well with a lot of people,” Ms. Tobak said.

She added: “By saying, ‘give me the ring,’ he means ‘me’ in a bigger sense. ‘Me’ as in hip-hop, the real hip-hop. ‘Me,’ the real legacy of what Tupac stands for. Kendrick is using jewelry as a way to disrespect Drake and say, ‘We are the ones that should be the holders of that ring because we are the true representatives of what Pac and that ring stood for.’”

But Mr. Lamar’s added lyric also raises this question: Where do hip-hop artifacts get placed, and who takes ownership of them?

Ms. Tobak also curated “Ice Cold: An Exhibition of Hip-Hop Jewelry,” which is on exhibit at New York’s Museum of Natural History until January. She tried to include Mr. Shakur’s ring and some of Pharrell Williams’s early jewelry, which Drake had also purchased in auctions. She said that she made a request to Drake through a representative but he declined.

“I think when it comes to hip-hop, it’s really important to keep certain pieces accessible to the communities that the music is from,” she said, adding that the purchases indicate a move toward artifacts “being taken out of the public eye and into private hands.”

Last year, Drake purchased several pieces of Mr. Williams’s old jewelry via the online auction platform Joopiter. He then released “Meltdown,” a song with Travis Scott, in which he takes jabs at Mr. Williams and his camp — “a sign of some good old hip-hop disrespect,” Ms. Tobak said.

The point that Mr. Lamar is making, and has been making, is that he is “the culture.” His live show on Wednesday was an ode to “the culture” and to West Coast hip-hop.

There was speculation that even the outfit Mr. Lamar wore — a red sweatshirt, white hoodie, jeans and a massive cross chain — was replicating Mr. Shakur’s outfit from a 1994 performance. (Mr. Lamar doesn’t typically wear flashy chains.)

And at the end of the show, he brought out scores of notable Los Angeles figures — like the N.B.A. players Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan — and gang members, regardless of section. (“You ain’t seen this many sections on one stage keeping it together and having peace,” Mr. Lamar said at the show.) He dapped up person after person while playing his hit song “Not Like Us,” another Drake diss, which he performed five times in a row.

“I promise this won’t be the last you see of us,” Mr. Lamar said, before walking off the stage.





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