After years of subliminal disses toward each other, all hell broke loose in hip-hop on the May 5th  weekend as everyone who loved hip-hop — and even the casual heads — had their eyes glued to the internet to see which rapper — Drake or the Chicago-born, Compton bred Kendrick Lamar — would drop his diss track next after the two finally went bar for bar. 

Their feud became historic as it crossed over cultural and virtual barriers in a way that no rap beef ever has. Each of the songs Kendrick and Drake released has topped the Billboard charts, with K. Dot leading the way with “Not Like Us” which broke Drake’s Spotify record for most streamed rap song in a single day, while “Euphoria” reigns over Drake’s “Push Ups” at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. And on social media, “Not Like Us” has spawned a wave of dances and reaction videos on TikTok.

Per usual, it caught the attention of the usual suspects in fringe rap media, such as DJ Akademiks and VLADTV CEO and owner DJ Vlad, among others. The culture vultures were out and about throughout that nearly sleepless weekend of diss tracks and, to the surprise of many, Akademiks was sampled on “Push Ups” and was name-dropped on Kendrick’s “6:16 In L.A.” 

“Yeah, somebody’s lyin’/ I could see the vibes on AK/ Even he lookin’ compromised/ Let’s peel the layers back,” Kendrick raps on “6:16 in L.A.”

What makes a culture vulture, a loosely used term popularized by Roc-A-Fella co-founder Damon Dash, is the subject of much debate. The common idea is when a person from a different cultural and class background, enters a space — often one built by and for people of color — and exploits it for personal and monetary gain, often without the original creators or their community benefiting equitably from the outsider’s success. 

Often, we see the term associated the most with white men like DJ Vlad, Adam 22, owner of hip-hop platform No Jumper, and other white-owned hip-hop content farms such as Rap TV. They’ve infiltrated hip-hop spaces over the years and built relationships with rappers, executives, gang members, and other celebrities, gaining power in rap without having to deal with the hurdles of being Black while doing so. These entities have built a strong following by heavily covering the darkest aspects of street and hip-hop culture, with Chicago violence generating millions of views for them across social media.

I spoke to Jabari “DJ First Class” Carter, a Westside native who’s a DJ, blogger, and content creator for Illinoize Radio and who was a former contributor for No Jumper in 2021. Throughout his six months as part of the company’s social media team, he would often try to contribute fresh ideas that were different from the sensationalized clickbait hip-hop coverage that their social media pages, but according to him, those pitches rarely went anywhere. While he says he was already aware of the culture of No Jumper, it became more blatant the deeper he got involved in the company.

“When I got on, I start noticing more – it was just a bunch of clout-chasing sh*t that I used to peep all the time. I just used to think ‘Eh, this is kind of some weird goofy sh*t, but whatever.’ Everything we did was for clout. Literally everything,” he said.

“That’s how they eat. It’s as simple as that. And it’s not only them, you got [VLADTV] and you got all these other platforms that profit off of Black culture for years now. And then it’s more so the bad stuff versus the dope sh*t”, he said. “You’ll get more clicks on a nigga getting his ass shot in broad daylight versus someone walking across the stage. They know that and they see that so they probably think why not just keep it going,” he said.

“[Adam 22]  will exploit you for some bread no matter who it is or what it is. He found a little way to weasel his way into hip-hop and make a name for himself, to capitalize on the shit that Black people are really living. It’s him, Vlad, all of them,” he said.

DJ Vlad, real name Vlad Lyubovny, has been a seasoned veteran of the indie multimedia space in rap media since 2006, during the height of the blog era. He built his name as a popular mixtape DJ in New York and sold underground hip-hop DVDs in the early 2000s. He went from vlogging gangster rappers and porn stars to a full-fledged interview show and digital hip-hop tabloid where he holds one of the largest catalogs of interviews with Black entertainers, infamous gangsters, former police officers, and especially gangster rappers of multiple generations —  many of the latter who share details, voluntarily, to Vlad of their current or previous criminal histories.

As an emerging hip-hop journalist, looking to get on, I was a contributor for VLADTV from 2017 to 2018. At that time he would pay contributors a dismal wage of $10 per assigned news story and $15 for an original idea. With few opportunities within my reach, I’d write for VLADTV while heavily contributing to VIBE for free, voluntarily, hoping to land a job. 

I thought Vlad was an ally for the culture in my younger years, a step up from WorldStar Hip Hop. I saw a balance between informative and entertaining interviews, but my perspective began to change when an editor at VIBE advised me to take my name off of the articles I was writing and to never mention VLADTV on my resume. Vlad and many other white-owned platforms wouldn’t have been able to build their brands without exploiting Black and young labor.

So when Vlad posted a comment on X criticizing the mixing of “Not Like Us” amid the Drake and Kendrick Lamar diss drops, I wasn’t surprised that Black Twitter piled on. Morgan Jerkins, an author, and Princeton University adjunct professor, who also happens to be the niece of mega music producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, replied to Vlad with, “You are white, this is a Black folks affair.” 

The VLADTV owner reacted by trolling Jerkins and threatening to get her fired from her position, tagging Princeton University’s social media handle. He has since apologized to Jerkins on X saying, “After considerable reflection, I would like to apologize to Morgan Jerkins for tagging her job in my replies during our Twitter exchange last weekend,”

Morgan Jerkins is an author, Princeton University adjunct professor and niece of of music producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, repling to DJ Vlad
Morgan Jerkins is an author, Princeton University adjunct professor, and niece of music producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, replying to DJ Vlad. Graphic by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

This Karen-like behavior is in line with what we’ve seen from Vlad as a culture vulture. Because Vlad has often interviewed former criminals from street gangs, the mafia, former corrupt cops, ex-hitmen, and rappers who engaged in criminal behavior, he would often ask them about their past crimes. While Vlad has stated in interviews that he does not cooperate with law enforcement, some have confronted Vlad on this, earning him a reputation of being called “a cop.” 

In the same vein, Kendrick’s rebuke of Drake as a colonizer drives home the point that all skin folks aint kin folks and I tend to agree.

Black creators — Black Americans and Black immigrants alike, as is the case with DJ Akademiks who was born in Jamaica — can be careless and harmful in the handling of our culture as well. Beginning in 2013, we watched the way Akademiks heavily highlighted the most violent stories within Chicago’s drill movement through his now-defunct “War in Chiraq” channel on YouTube.

“When Chicago was a war zone for real [in 2012], I think it was easier for them to latch on to, especially with Chief Keef and Lil Durk on the rise and names like that just stand out. So, it’s easier for them to gravitate towards that and highlight aw yeah you got the drill rappers, they got 15 more bodies this weekend. Chicago this, Chicago that. And they know they’re going to get clicks on it, whether it’s from people who’s from here calling them out on it or people who ignorant who’s reacting to it,” said DJ First Class who added that these platforms intentionally exploit Chicago violence as a way to take their platforms “to the moon.” 

As his platform grew, Akademiks — real name, Livingston Allen — not only took this same style and applied it in his coverage of young street rappers across the country, but he aided in the spread of misinformation about Chicago’s Parkway Gardens allegedly being up for sale. The controversial personality holds a deal with far right-wing platform Rumble and was recently named in a lawsuit for allegedly raping and defaming former partner Fauziya “Ziya” Abashe in 2022.

Speaking on his experience writing for hip-hop blogs, DJ First Class said that they all have the same formula. 

“I can almost guarantee that if I was writing for Ak or Vlad, it would be some similar sh*t because they’re all essentially the same, but with different faces. They’re all about the same shi*, they came up off the same sh*t, and they’re just one in the same, to be honest,” he said.

On the flip side, one important way that culture vultures have always thrived was with the participation of Black artists themselves. When it comes to the exploitation of Chicago’s narrative, A-List drill pioneers like Lil Durk, the late King Von, FBG Duck and FBG Cash, 600 Breezy, Lil Reese, G-Herbo, and Rooga to other notorious gang figures like FBG Butta and FYB J- Mane have all appeared on each of their respective platforms. 

To DJ First Class, these artists are in turn using those platforms for promotional purposes and nothing more. “It’s to the point where everybody knows they’re vultures, but [artists] kind of just overlook it because aw they can help me with my brand or boost what I got going on so I’m going to overlook what they’re doing overall,” he explained.

The exploitation of hip-hop culture generates millions for those involved and “Not Like Us” felt like the beginning of a spiritual purge. The conversation surrounding it will influence how the next generation views hip hop and how the narratives behind our music, and our Black-assed stories will be told. The winner writes the stories, as is common in war, be it a battle of culture or human rights.

DJ VLAD’s profile picture on X shows him posing with Quincy Jones, legendary producer and the co-founder of VIBE Magazine.
DJ VLAD’s profile picture on X shows him posing with Quincy Jones, legendary producer and the co-founder of VIBE Magazine. Graphic by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

DJ Vlad’s profile picture on X shows him posing with Quincy Jones, legendary producer and the co-founder of VIBE Magazine. 

But we’re far from the golden age of Black-owned music publications like VIBE and high-quality legacy hip-hop publications like The Source and XXL, where Black culture and hip-hop narratives were handled with care, despite VIBE’s role in the “East Coast, West Coast” conflict. And with Chicago, Black-owned entities like EBONY magazine have long fled the city, while Black independently owned platforms face extreme inequity when it comes to raising funds. 

“It’s a sad thing to have witnessed in real-time, DJ First Class reflected. “If we had more Black outlets [in Chicago] that was on the same level as a No Jumper or a Vlad, if we had more of those kind of platforms, sh*t would be way different,” he said.

Among the many important takeaways from the Drake and Kendrick Lamar rap battle is that Black people shouldn’t be afraid to gatekeep hip-hop culture from outsiders and that it’s up to us to hold fringe entities accountable for exploiting the most disadvantaged for profit, while not properly crediting or nourishing the communities that shape the imperfect but beautiful culture that is Black America. Let Kendrick Lamar’s refrain “they not like us!” live on.

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.