In regards to everything you wrote:
I completely agree about your reading of the two characters, it’s so fascinating to see both sides of the drug game in the same song. It’s even more fascinating that it really does read like a personal narrative– we can only guess at Kendrick’s true-to-life history, as well as Pusha T’s. Seeing the way slanging has affected both parties is both soul-crushing and intensely real. But I disagree that Pusha’s verse is better than K. Dot’s, so get your gloves out.
The one thing you didn’t touch on that I wanted to was the idea that as rappers they are still dealing. They’re just dealing in a different kind of addiction– the love of the verse.
I think by making this sort of song, Kendrick’s reinforcing himself as King. It’s all very meta. He’s trying to say (at least, I think) he (like Coke) will destroy you so much, tear you apart in his verse, leave your life obliterated with nowhere to go, nowhere to turn,
but at the end of it
you’ll be asking for the next hit.
I think that’s the strength of Kendrick’s metaphor right there– is that he’s pulling a sort of crack = my raps equivalence without even having to explicitly say so.
I mean, that’s power right there. To be able to say my raps are as good as cocaine,
without even saying it.
I think King Kendrick wins this one.