Rap, by and large, is basically theater and most rappers are playing to the cheap seats. No one is ever quite as gangsta or sensitive as they seem. To borrow a term from our cousins over at With Spandex, 90 percent of what you hear and see in hip-hop is kayfabe, an exaggerated form of playacting, each rapper selling their role as a kingpin or a sad clown with the aim of endearing themselves to fans as a babyface or antagonizing them as a heel.
So, watching Drake and Pusha T duke it out in a war of words this past week has been a lot like watching our favorite wrestlers cut promos before the main event. There’s some verbal jousting of a different variety, with each participant trying to position himself in a more flattering light after returning to their respective corners in the wake of their summertime dustup. The future promises more fireworks, but for now, it appears they’ve settled into a cautious cold war of words, each angling to mitigate the damage done in their lyrical battle or get in a little gloating before the reescalation of hostilities — which will likely be caused by at least some of the commentary each has provided. And so, it’s time to take stock and see who’s ahead in the battle after one and a half rounds — although I refuse to hand out points because both sides have yet to produce any new tracks. We’ll call this a half round.
To recap: Pusha T threw shots at Drake on his album Daytona, which prompted a response from Drake with “Duppy Freestyle.” This move appeared to put Drake exactly where Push wanted him. Pusha produced a few daggers in the form of “The Story Of Adidon” and proceeded to sling accusations of Drake “hiding a child” — accusations which turned out to be true when Drake confirmed his new fatherhood status on his own album, Scorpion.
From there, Drake seemingly backed down at the behest of Houston rap impresario J. Prince, who insisted that things were escalating too quickly and had to be tamped down before a “pig pen mentality” took over and the two rappers — or their representatives, more likely — came to blows. That didn’t stop Drake from taking his story to HBO and LeBron James; during his appearance on the NBA star’s talk show, The Shop, he brushed off Pusha’s lyrical haymaker as a trash song, but a genius chess move, and shared his feelings of betrayal after he believed Kanye West manipulated and played him to gain the upper hand in the summertime release wars — which Drake pretty decisively won after Scorpion sold almost more records in two weeks than all five of GOOD Music’s Wyoming projects combined.
Of course, Pusha, never one to take anything lying down, stopped by Joe Budden’s podcast and in a three-hour interview, dropped bombshells in response to Drake’s latest allegations, not the least of which that the leak in Drake’s personal life came, not from Kanye, but from Drake’s longtime collaborator and friend, 40 Shebib, who Pusha says spilled the beans to a loose-lipped paramour.
To figure out the real winner here, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Pusha’s antagonism only keeps his name buzzing in the news cycle, but hasn’t seemed to produce much in the way of sales or continued attention for his music. Not that he needs it; he’s probably still spending the bag he got from writing that McDonald’s jingle years ago, so he’s good. However, the more time and energy he devotes to pursuing the petty, the less he seems to be dedicating to his GOOD Music artists like Sheck Wes and Valee, who’ve both suffered as a result of his rescheduled Daytona tour. Pusha’s not the first rapper to reshuffle dates this year, but considering the reasons for Nicki Minaj’s and Iggy Azalea’s postponements seemed to be low sales and general lack of interest, that bodes ill for Push. Also, any move that gets you dissed by Steve Harvey of all people could hardly be considered a win.
Meanwhile, Drake’s insistence on maintaining an iron grip on his highly curated, polished public image has had the unintended effect of making him look like a liar. While he insists he’s not really worried about what “rap purists” think of him, if that were really the case, he wouldn’t be trying to redirect the narrative. For one thing, it’s already been pretty firmly established that J. Prince called the fight, so Drake acting as if it was his unilateral decision to shelve his “career-ending” response in favor of creating new bops for his album (the ones that everybody actually likes, no less) chips away at whatever credibility he hoped to rebuild. Meanwhile, by again playing into Pusha’s hands, he proved that while Push may not be entirely truthful about his standing in the drug game, his chess skills are out of Drake’s class. By casting doubt on Drake’s own team, he could potentially throw things into disarray over at OVO central, or at the very least, plant doubt in the minds of Drake’s supporters about the veracity of Drake’s Kanye claims. Whether or not Pusha is lying doesn’t matter. The seed of the idea’s out there, and now, like a weed, it will grow and choke the life out of every move Drake tried to make from here on out.
For that reason, I have to call Push the winner of this particular section of the beef, though reluctantly. In 2018, no one has (or at least, no one should have) the time for a three-hour podcast and honestly, I feel like that man owes me restitution for the emotional distress of exposing me to that much Joe Budden. There’s no doubt that it was effective though; the important sound bite was propagated widely, and almost no one is going to sit through that whole recording for context other than fans who were predisposed to enjoy curmudgeonly hip-hop shop talk. However, despite the poison pill nature of Pusha’s latest bombshell, all this talking is frankly quite boring. The thing that makes rap beef fun is the raps. Both combatants would be better served to take their lingering grievances to the booth. The promos are done. It’s time for some action.