Drake is currently as big as it gets in music, enjoying as good a first half of the year as any modern artist in history without an album. He’s had two number one records already this year, with two other top 10 showings in “Diplomatic Immunity” and “Yes Indeed” with Lil Baby. His “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” videos were universally lauded. “Nice for what to these n—-s” was ripe to be the phrase of summer ‘18, but now it may be “you are hiding a child,” the barb Pusha T made sure to deliberately enunciate while burning Drake’s soul on “The Story Of Adidon” diss he delivered earlier this week.
Drake is going to come back with another diss of his own, and Pusha promises to continue to “peel back the layers” on the self-proclaimed 6God, but as I write this, I can’t help but argue the antithesis of Aaron Williams’ take that Pusha T “can do better” than “Story of Adidon.” On the contrary, the song was perfectly executed, and represents the first time that Drake, the “Back To Back” chessmaster, was outmaneuvered and has his back against the wall. Pusha’s craftiness isn’t just in the bars laid within the diss, but how well Drake was set up for them.
Pusha laid the “Infrared” bait, dropping a couple-bar response to Drake’s “2 Birds One Stone” track from 2016, which called Pusha a “middleman” and not the bigtime drug dealer he proclaims to be throughout his music. It seemed like the two were going to trade errant subliminals forever, but Drake replied to “Infrared” with his “Duppy Freestyle,” where he went all the way in and laid out Pusha for being “older than the n—- he’s running behind” and acting like he “sold drugs for Escobar in the ’80s.”
With Drake dropping a full on diss track, Pusha then had the ammo to go full steam back at him. If Pusha would’ve dropped a full, unprovoked diss out of nowhere like Joe Budden in 2016, he would’ve came off looking desperate for publicity. Pusha played his cards right, knowing that he’s too well-respected to be ignored if he throws out enough bait.
Drake took the bait, went fishing and ended up fishing a shark. As the adage goes, you can’t start something and complain about how someone finishes it. Drake crossed a culturally accepted line when he mentioned Pusha T’s fiance Virginia Williams. Jay-Z said last August that when Kanye mentioned his daughter in an onstage tirade in Sacramento, he had “a problem” with it that they still haven’t publicly reconciled. Once the family line was breached, it was fair game for Pusha to go in on Drake’s mother, father, and his producer 40, who is dealing with MS.
Not only did Pusha go in on Drake’s known family members, he exposed Drake for allegedly having a secret child. Entertainers have long been accused of having kids by random people whom they’ve had casual dalliances with on the road. Rosee Divine could be falsely accusing Drake of having her kid like Celina Powell did Offset, but a recent TMZ report speculates that Drake indeed is the father of Adonis. Pusha noted on The Breakfast Club yesterday that he heard the boy would be making a veritable debut as a model for Drake’s upcoming Adidon Adidas line, which is the basis of his “you are hiding a child” line and the song’s title. The reference to Drake’s alleged son essentially torpedoes the surprise of his upcoming line and whatever disclosure he was or wasn’t planning for the child.
Pusha also messed up Drake’s upcoming album rollout with “Adidon’s” song art, which is a picture of Drake in blackface. Drake came out last night to note on his IG story that the photos were from a project he and a friend were working on “about young Black actors struggling to get roles, being stereotyped and type cast.” He says the photo represents “how African Americans were once wrongfully portrayed in entertainment.”
David Leyes, the photographer of the shoot, also contends that it was Drake’s idea, and he was intending to make “a strong statement” about the “f*cked up culture he is living in.” It seems like Drake had good intentions to “raise awareness,” but the mere optics will likely start another cultural conversation about his place as a biracial artist in a Black artform.
Drake rhymed on “Diplomatic Immunity” that what he’s been achieving is “Black excellence, but I guess when it comes to me it’s not the same though, all goodie,” which reflected an annoyance with not being being seen in the same light as Jay-Z, Beyonce and other Black musicians who are lauded for what their strides mean for Black people. Perhaps he’s not seen in that light because Drake has never delivered much social commentary in his music or risked alienating fans like Jay-Z or Beyonce to advocate for racial justice, only once lazily addressing police brutality on “5PM in New York” by opining, “maybe we should try and help somebody or be somebody / Instead of bein’ somebody that makes the news.”
Those looking at the picture in a vacuum can feign confusion about why Pusha used it, but no matter the context, the image of Drake, a Canadian with a white mother, wearing Blackface effectively hammered home bars like “confused, always felt you weren’t Black enough / afraid to grow it ’cause your ‘fro wouldn’t nap enough.” Aaron noted that Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and Little Brother’s Phonte (who Drake is, or was a big fan of) both used Blackface to make social statements in their work, both those are two artists did so with plenty of things to say about the state of Blackness — Drake has not, and didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even after his explanation, he still will have skeptics, based on the very racial dynamics Pusha referenced in his diss.
The photos were immediately removed from photographer Leyes’ website and Pusha’s Instagram post containing the photo was reported. If the picture was from a thought-provoking project, why were they removed so swiftly, and why did the simple explanation take over 24 hours? Doubters will also ask why the only time Drake’s made a provocative statement on race was a decade ago, and why he’s only addressing the photos after being dissed about them. Drake frequently posts throwback pictures and even shared his first press kit in January.
In 2007, the photo may not have been as bad of a look. But in 2018, with social consciousness being trendy, Drake will have distrusting people who “cancel” him. Fans “canceling” Drake won’t actually affect his music career, but they could hurt the sales of his rumored Adidon line. As journalist Toure noted, Pusha — who is signed to Adidas — attaching the name of Drake’s line to his scathing diss ruins Drake’s branding and may send he and Adidas back to the drawing board, which could cost money.
A good diss hurts your feelings. A great diss hurts your pockets, and that’s what Pusha did. He started the song off by saying that he was going to deliver a “heart-to-heart,” then unleashed a shotgun pellet which sprayed at Drake’s character as a father (bore by his own father being an absentee), his racial insecurities, and tactically titled the track to mar his upcoming business venture with the stain of unforgettable allegations.
All of Pusha’s bars — and the picture — fit within the context of the tone he set at the beginning of the track, which elevates it above a “publicity stunt,” as Aaron deemed the song. A publicity stunt would have been Pusha merely tweeting this information with no provocation, or using the blackface photo as the art for his Daytona album. Aaron may have been expecting “heightened lyricism,” which is entirely subjective, but from Drake basically calling Pusha a fake C-list rapper to Pusha’s pointed barbs, they were both trying to raise each other’s blood pressure before anything else.
Kendrick Lamar said in his lauded “Control” verse that, “I’m tryna murder you n—–s / tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n—-s / they don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n—-s.” Pusha is trying to do the same, but he actually brought along more than just wordplay and punchlines. There’s nothing wrong with that.
That’s the name of the game when it comes to rap beefs. The definition of diss isn’t “disrespect someone with an arbitrarily acceptable amount of skill,” it’s simply to “disrespect someone.” Jay-Z succinctly noted after his beef with Nas that, “heavyweights throw heavy blows.” Artists have always thrown such blows that had a tabloid-level element to them. Tupac said he was having an affair with Biggie’s wife. Biggie in turn replied that Tupac was raped in jail in the subliminal “Long Kiss Goodnight”. 50 Cent put the chain he took from Ja Rule on the cover of his Guess Who’s Back mixtape. Jay-Z’s “Takeover” came complete with a reference to a picture of the late Prodigy wearing Michael Jackson outfit that was misrepresented as a “ballerina” costume and presented to thousands at the 2001 Hot 97 Summer Jam.
Artists trading disses aren’t trying to strictly outskill their opponents, they’re trying to have the other person come out of the scrum looking different — by any means. That’s what Pusha, a student of the game, did with his diss.
It sounds noble to harken to a day before viral images and meme-factor swayed the public, but that day only existed because there was no social media in the ‘90s. Rappers generally rely strictly on bars only when they have no other ammo to rely on. How many memes would KRS One’s “The Bridge Is Over” have engendered? Does anyone think Eazy E wouldn’t have done an IG live session showing the contract that gave him a percentage of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic sales? It’s basically a foregone conclusion that Tupac would have incorporated social media into his anti-Bad Boy tirade if he had the chance.
Drake himself triumphed over Meek Mill not just because of lines like, “is this your world tour or your girl tour” and “trigger fingers turn to Twitter fingers,” but because his back-to-back disses became fodder for memes like the ones projected on the screen behind him at the 2015 OVO fest. It’s the sensationalism that made Meek Mill’s lyrical defeat feel even more momentous than just the music would have, and will prove Pusha’s one diss record more damaging than Joe Buddens’ four in 2016. Drake understands the power of utilizing the internet’s thirst for salaciousness to his advantage, which is why it rings hollow to try to dig up reasons to discredit the same thing being done back to him.
Sure, some of hip-hop’s greatest disses have been exhibited with the precision of a pugilist — but other disses harken to Mike Tyson’s famous observation that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Pusha didn’t dance around on “Adidon” because he didn’t have to, he had haymakers in tow. Right now Drake looks down for the count, and complaining about the gut punches won’t help his cause — so why should we?