‘There’s been one winner – this restaurant’: Toronto eatery is victor in Kendrick-Drake beef

Estimated read time 5 min read

When he arrived for dinner with his mother at the New Ho King, Averie Taylor Francois, 14, didn’t need to read the menu.

Neither did the dozens of others waiting patiently for a table at the bustling Toronto restaurant. The dish everyone had come to enjoy – and to post about on social media – wasn’t on the menu.

“I ordered the Kendrick special,” he said. “The staff knew what it was.”

A man serves food to a table of restaurant patrons.View image in fullscreen

Over the past few weeks, rappers Kendrick Lamar and Drake have been locked in an escalating feud releasing a string of ad hominem “diss tracks” – a lyrical spectacle that has captivated hip-hop fans and possibly confounded the broader public.

Lamar took the feud to Drake’s home town of Toronto when, on 30 April, he released the song Euphoria. Nestled alongside the biting attacks on the Canadian was a reference to an unassuming Chinese restaurant in the city’s downtown core.

Lamar raps: “I be at New Ho King eatin’ fried rice with a dip sauce and a blammy, crodie,” mockingly using Toronto slang.

Catapulted into the spotlight, the restaurant almost immediately saw its business surge and staff were left scrambling to make triple the normal volume of fried rice.

Interest reached a fever pitch days later when Drake responded with Family Matters, filming part of the accompanying video at New Ho King. In a dark, empty restaurant, the rapper and his friends sit before an array of dishes spread out on the table – including the fried rice.

New Ho King, which has operated in the city’s Chinatown for nearly five decades, is still grappling with the newfound fame. Until recently, its tables would be sparsely populated on weekday evenings, picking up pace on the weekends as late-night crowds wandered in.

But on a Thursday evening, a line snaked out the door as diners clamoured for a table. Passersby stopped outside the pink glow of the restaurant’s neon sign and posed for photos.

“We’ve been selling a lot of fried rice,” said a server as she juggled plates, including the now famous rice. “A lot. Most people come here to order it.”

Taylor Francois, 14, a self-described “obsessed” fan of Lamar, was among the Torontonians drawn to New Ho King after the reference.

“Kendrick is not one of those rappers who only talks about America or only talks about what he gains. He also talks about people, he talks about society. And to see him reference a Toronto restaurant – it’s really great. I even love that he made fun of the Toronto accent,” he said. “Drake has done a lot within the city. But Kendrick is spreading Toronto out to different points. It’s not only in Canada now. It’s become bigger than that.”

A young man grins in front of a Chinese restaurant.View image in fullscreen

While the restaurant has benefited, not every diner agrees that Kendrick was acting out of goodwill.

“He just showed he knows this city – he can make references to specific places,” said Jenny Min. “At the end of the day, Drake has done far more for this city.”

Min, who lives close by, said that until now, New Ho King had never really distinguished itself from dozens of other Chinese restaurants nearby.

“I’ll admit it,” she said. “The song that made us come here and try the fried rice.”

Neither Lamar nor Drake specify which rice dish diners should order from the 14 menu options: the most popular is the Ho King Special Fried Rice, a mix of shrimp, pork, eggs, peas and lettuce.

“It’s a bit overhyped, if I’m going to be honest” said Min. “It needs a bit more salt and a bit more char.”

Despite Drake’s strong ties to the city – and his role as its biggest global cheerleader– there is a strong sense within New Ho King that Lamar has emerged lyrically victorious.

“If you analyze the songs line for line, it’s pretty clear Kendrick is coming out on top,” Min said.

Lamar exists in the pantheon of rap’s most gifted lyricists. In 2018, the Pulitzer committee praised him for “affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African American life” in the album Damn when it awarded him the prize.

“Quite simply, Drake is playing against someone he cannot beat,” said Bruce Liu, who came to New Ho King with his friends for the fried rice.

But the recent shooting of a security guard in front of Drake’s sprawling estate that left him “seriously injured”, as well as two attempts by residents to seemingly gain access to the mansion, have prompted concerns that the lyrical feud, imbued with increasingly provocative and unsubstantiated allegations, might spill over into the public with violent consequences.

“I think the beef needs to end. Both their images have taken a hit from the allegations each have made. No one is really coming out on top.” said Liu. “Well, I guess there’s been one winner – this restaurant.”

Source: theguardian.com

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