According to Billboard: Drake’s reign as the top dog in rap and pop’s food chain has just as much to do with strategy as it does with talent. With an astute understanding of the internet, fan behavior, industry trends and quality music, he has put together a teflon career, while adding battle cred with his takeout of Meek Mill in the process. But in this past week’s battle with Pusha T, the 6 God appears to have been outsmarted for the first time.
We all know how the battle with Meek went, but let’s recap with some hindsight. When Meek took aim at Drizzy a few years ago, he acted impulsively: the Philly spitter figured that the mere accusation of having a ghostwriter would be a knockout punch. After all, this was hip-hop, right? Meek had also racked booming first week numbers for his album Dreams Worth More Than Money the month before, so he seemed impervious. He let his Twitter fingers do their work, but seemingly hadn’t thought about what move would come next. Funkmaster Flex later released reference tracks that showed Quentin Miller rapping and singing lyrics from Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, seemingly verifying Meek’s assertions.
Drake, on the other hand, planned multiple steps ahead. He knew that people were watching for his response, and three days after Meek’s tweets, he used his Beats 1 show OVO Radio to release a warning shot, “Charged Up.” “I stay silent when I’m at war, and I’m very patient,” Drake ominously warned over the murky production by Maneesh and 40. He played the song on repeat for what felt like hours that Friday evening, taking over the conversation of the weekend.
When four days passed without a response from Meek, who was on tour with Nicki Minaj at the time, Drake doubled down with the more pointed “Back To Back.” Drizzy had a bouncy beat that was perfect for radio and clubs, and he had a lineup of punchlines that were instantly tweetable. Even the cover art depicted his hometown Toronto Blue Jays defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1993 World Series.
Meek Mill released “Wanna Know” the following day with Funkmaster Flex, but it was too little too late: it relied on the same ghostwriting claims that fans had already shown they didn’t care about, and said that Drake was urinated on at a movie theater. But it wasn’t as bouncy or quotable as “Back To Back.” Drake’s song climbed to the top of the Billboard charts, further cementing his victory. He delivered the final kill later that summer at his OVOFest performance, using the big screen to show memes that fans had come up with to clown Meek.
Drake spoke to the audience on their terms with 140 character-ready bars and radio bangers, and used his own self-controlled outlets – OVO Radio and OVOFest – to assert his dominance. It was a classic chess vs. checkers situation, and Drake wasn’t only the better rapper in that battle, but he was better prepared.
But this time around, Pusha T was the rapper who got his Coach Popovich on. He and Drake had peppered subliminals toward each other for years, and now Pusha was ready for the kill. First, he released his new album DAYTONA, which ended with a song called “Infrared.” The track was bookended by accusations of Drake’s ghostwriting, while praising J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, but it was a great song first and foremost, a sinister Kanye West beat similar in tone to the stirring broodiness of “Charged Up.”
It was perfectly-placed bait for Drake: it used the ghostwriting accusations that Drake had already proved capable of overcoming, it pointedly refused to mention him in the same lyrical conversation as his contemporaries, and it was released a month before Drake was scheduled to release his new album, Scorpion.
Drake responded in less than 24 hours with “Duppy Freestyle,” a zinger that accused Pusha T of exaggerating his drug dealing past, called him out for being under Kanye West in rank at G.O.O.D. Music despite being older than him, and hinted that he’s less talented than the rest of the label’s roster. “I had a microphone of yours, but then the signature faded I think that pretty much resembles what’s been happenin’ lately,” he quipped. Ouch. He even mentioned Pusha T’s fiancee, Virginia Williams, by name.
And after ending the song by claiming he would be sending Pusha T an invoice, he did exactly that, posting an invoice addressed to Pusha T’s manager Steven Victor on his Instagram. Drake used many of the same ingredients that helped him defeat Meek Mill: timeliness, quoteables, a great beat, and an understanding of social media.
But Pusha T was better prepared. He responded with “The Story of Adidon” three days after Drake’s diss, using the same tactics Drake had three years earlier. And unlike Meek Mill, Pusha wasn’t relying on the ghostwriting barbs that were already proven to be insignificant to fans. He brought extra ammo, and took a shot at Drake’s integrity in a way that couldn’t be chalked up to creative differences: he accused him of hiding a child he had with a porn star, implying that Drake was a deadbeat dad.
Rumors of a Drake love child had previously made the rounds but never gained much steam, making the information brand new to most listeners even as it felt like confirmation for those who’d previously heard the gossip. And Pusha T used real names, making the allegations appear to be more than just lip service. “We’re talking character, let me keep with the facts,” he said. He then took shots at Drake’s loved ones, dissed his mother for staying unmarried and taunting his producer 40 for having the deadly, incurable disease multiple sclerosis.
He also dug up some skeletons from Drake’s closet: he accused Drake of being uncomfortable with his blackness as a child, and used a photo of Drake in blackface as the song’s cover. He also performed the song over the beat to Jay-Z’s racially-fueled “The Story of OJ” to keep up with the theme. He also expertly used social media, tweeting a link to the website of the photographer who shot the blackface photo to verify its authenticity.
Pusha T baited Drake with “Infrared,” and when it came time for his kill shot, Push responded with a full house. While his warning shot just used the same ghostwriting quips from before, “The Story of Adidon” completely ignored them to focus on new information. Pusha had quotables, but more importantly, he had tea and disrespect. The accusations were damning, and the disrespect was shocking — whether they were true or not, they were going to fuel people’s adrenaline for drama and make them scour the web to confirm the information. Dissing 40’s health condition the day before Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Day shows a heartlessness that no one expected, but that many crave after the nostalgia of songs like 2Pac’s “Hit Em Up.”
But aside from the shock value, Push found a way to further advance an age-old theme under fresh new terms. He and Meek Mill bring up Drake’s usage of ghostwriters as evidence of poor integrity: in an area like hip-hop that thrives off of authenticity, you’re supposed to write your own rhymes. But having collaborators can be chalked up as a difference in approach to creativity – an approach that has clearly been working for Drake with his historic runs on the Billboard charts, so many people were able to move on from it.
But “The Story of Adidon” accuses Drake of being a deadbeat dad – an allegation that snipes at Drake’s character in a way that can’t be so easily explained away. And in one of the most racially divisive times in this country’s recent history, blackface photos are equally jarring. Now, when Drake begins the press runs for Scorpion music won’t be the primary reason people are listening.
Interviewers will be asking Drake about this secret child, about the background story behind these blackface photos, and how he feels about beefing with Pusha T. (Drake used his Instagram story to release a statement about the photo shortly before this story was published, claiming that it was an artistic attempt to highlight racism in the TV and film industries.) Push didn’t just take over the beef itself, but he took over the narrative, and Drake is going to have to strategize well if he’s going to take it back by the time Scorpion drops in June.
But Pusha also took it further. As originally reported by Touré and confirmed by Pusha T on The Breakfast Club, AdiDon was supposed to be the name of Drake’s upcoming, as-of-yet unannounced partnership with adidas, named after his secret son Adonis. Drizzy likely couldn’t have planned for Pusha T to have that information, much less to use it. So titling this diss track “The Story of Adidon” may have interfered with the product production or the rollout for Drake’s apparel line with the fashion giant.
In the rap game, Drake is like LeBron James with more rings – so it’s not wise to ever count him out. Maybe the next few weeks will show that he was better prepared than he appears to be. But so far, it looks like music’s mastermind has been both outrapped and outstrategized.