By now, it’s likely you’ve heard Pusha T’s scathing diss track responding to Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle,” “The Story Of Adidon,” and equally likely you’ve got an opinion. That’s what the track was meant to do: Provoke a reaction in the moment. It shocked some with its art, with its surprising revelation of a year-old, unproved rumor about a secret child, and with its controversial, derogatory darts toward Drake’s longtime producer, 40 Shebib. It did, by most measures, what a diss track is supposed to do.
However, while it was incisive, cold-hearted, mean-spirited, and cruel — as a good diss track should be — it was also disappointing, all flash, little substance.
It was disappointing because its barbs were surface level, shock tactics more appropriate to a Love & Hip-Hop catfight than a rap battle, and because at the slightest scrutiny, its disses and snipes reveal that Pusha isn’t fighting from the high ground here. In fact, Pusha has taken up residence in a great, big glass mansion with a pocket full of stones and seems to be doing his best Henry Rowengartner impression and if he’s not careful, he might bring the whole thing down around himself. “The Story Of Adidon” may have “revealed” a secret about Drake, but it probably says more about Pusha — and the rap audience clamoring for more juicy “dirt” than actual battle-worthy rhymes.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. There is no evidence that any of what Pusha has said regarding the “secret child” of Drake is true and the audience’s unquestioning acceptance of his claims as fact is a problematic look into a wider problem whose problems are still plaguing many of us to this day. We just received an object lesson in the dangers of believing unsourced, “fake” news and while this situation isn’t quite as urgent as, say, a presidential election, I’d just as soon wait to receive confirmation from a more reputable source than Bossip before repeating Pusha’s claims verbatim.
His claims, and the reaction to them remind me a bit of an old idea called The Big Lie, which is that if you make a lie audacious enough, people will believe it without an ounce of skepticism because “who would tell a lie that big?” Even in something as frivolous as a rap battle, I’d prefer the contestants come with their facts straight, as well as at least some evidence to back up their boasts, or then anything goes. How hurtful can “dirt” be if it can’t be proven and what’s to stop the claims from getting bolder and wilder as the battle continues? There has to be some sort of standard or it becomes impossible to judge a winner or loser.
And since when is it gangsta for a forty-year-old, ex-drug dealer to sit around reading gossip blogs all day like a housebound grandmother? Where I come from, the gangsters generally frown on that sort of behavior, and in previous eras of battle rap, the salacious bits at least related to things the rappers did to each other, ie. Jay-Z’s relationship with Nas’ ex. Does Pusha want to be a reporter for US Weekly or a rapper? It’s unclear.
The other part of “The Story Of Adidon” that drew attention was its provocative art, apparently taken from a ten-year-old photoshoot featuring Drake in a T-shirt from now-defunct streetwear brand Too Black Guys and wearing Blackface. Yes, it’s a shocking image! Gasp, pearl clutch, etc. Unfortunately, as with the other linchpin of Pusha’s diss, it doesn’t bear out too much of the faux-outrage that follows it, because as far as facts go, it’s light. There’s no explanation for it, and acting as if there couldn’t possibly be one is obtuse, intellectual dishonesty bordering on actual stupidity.
In 2000, Spike Lee put a pair of Black actors in Blackface for his blistering satire of television’s typecasting and insidious racism, Bamboozled. The entire point of the film was to shine a lot of Hollywood’s seemingly insatiable thirst for stereotypes of Black ignorance, a point that was later revisited by hip-hop trio Little Brother on their Atlantic Records debut album, The Minstrel Show. Both used the age-old, offensive tradition of vaudevillian minstrel shows and their use of Blackface actors to comment on America’s continuing tradition of prejudice against Black people.
Drake, an admittedly huge Little Brother fan (he worked with the band on two tracks on his second mixtape, Comeback Season), would undoubtedly know the history of minstrel shows and Blackface in the US. As an artist with ties to the American South, he could have wanted to comment on the same ideas in a similar way to his heroes, however, without the full project in question, we have no idea how the pictures were used or what they were connected to, so jumping to conclusions is a performative action at best.
Besides, I’m not sure how many points I’m willing to grant Pusha for unearthing (or more likely, holding onto) a contextless photo from a decade ago while his label boss is actively pushing racist propaganda as shock value-fueled marketing gimmick. Remember Kanye’s Confederate-flag branded tour merchandise from a few years ago? Glass houses abound.
While Pusha’s goads toward Drake’s supposed “tragic mulatto” racial sensitivity are ostensibly funny, we can’t talk out both sides of our mouths about Black people not being a monolith, then switch up to endorsing an hierarchy of Blackness determined by proximity to criminality. Tossing in the random misogyny of slut-shaming Drake’s supposed baby mama doesn’t say much about Drake, but it does undermine Pusha’s aggrieved, moralizing stance. And while taking shots at 40’s multiple sclerosis (just a day before National MS Day, no less) shows how ruthless he can be besides being the only real example of wordplay on display here, it doesn’t really say anything about Drake or poke at a weakness Drake has so much as it indulges his impulse to duck addressing any of the weaknesses Drake already pointed out on “Duppy.”
What truly disappoints is that we all know Pusha is better than this. The prospect of beef between him and Drake was exciting because of the potential for the heightened lyricism from both. It would be an opportunity to see both pushed to their limits and rising to the occasion. This ain’t that. As Pusha’s entire attack hinges on feigned concern over more integrity, it just isn’t as much fun to delve into. With the persona of an unrepentant former drug dealer, Pusha’s position to tut-tut Drake is shaky; either he’s as real as he says he is, meaning he regularly broke the law in the pursuit of money, peddling a destructive product that contributed to the downfall of the Black community he purports is so important to him, or he didn’t, which violates the cardinal rule of keeping it real in hip-hop — the same rule he accuses Drake of breaking himself.
An uncritical audience that won’t demand more of their rappers than gimmicks and publicity stunts — even just in terms of battle rap — is never going to receive the best of any artist, which defeats the point of competition in the first place. Watching stars cruise along at half speed isn’t any fun. If the goal is to determine the best rapper, they need to bring their best rhymes. Pusha T can do a lot better than this, but only if rap fans stop settling and demand that he bring his A game.