Drake is too popular to fail. His singles automatically leap to the top spot of the charts; his guest spots can elevate new artists to a level far beyond what any other rapper could do for them. This isn’t just by chance: He is on a years long brand-building mission, his life and career as carefully curated as an Instagram feed, the filters tweaked and the angles tilted just so that we might never, ever thinking about the messiness behind the scenes. Does it matter that he occasionally uses a ghostwriter? Does it matter that he culture vultures hot rappers, discarding them when they no longer serve a purpose? Not really; it’s only about the next hot song and an unwavering commitment to unfazed cool, an emotional state fetishized by listeners who haven’t quite learned how to be vulnerable human beings.
Like Kim Kardashian, another curation expert who delights in snatching the last word in any feud, it takes a lot to faze him. Remember the beef with Meek Mill, from a few years ago? If, two decades ago, you told an XXL editor that the future of rap beef was a Canadian child star getting over on a real deal drug dealer, their eyes would’ve bugged Looney Tunes style. But in an era where authenticity matters less than ever to mainstream audiences, Drake has never suffered someone trying to call him out. That was until Tuesday night, when rival Pusha-T dropped “The Story of Adidon,” which may be the most jaw-dropping diss track a famous rapper has aimed at another famous rapper since Nas’ “Ether” (way back in 2001) or even Tupac’s “Hit Em Up” (back in 1996).
Pusha-T and Drake have been at odds for years, but the feud picked up again last Friday, when Pusha’s new album Daytona included “Infrared,” a song reviving the old charges of ghostwriting against Drake. Later that day, Drake released “Duppy Freestyle,” in which he went at Pusha’s boss Kanye West and slammed Pusha for coasting on his old stories of dealing cocaine while not being all that successful as a rapper. It sounded like Drake had declared the advantage, as his ability to accuse other people of not being as rich as him has won him shocking traction amongst his fans.
“The Story of Adidon” is leagues beyond petty sniping of chart numbers — a full-throated fuck you in which Pusha accuses him of being anxious about his biraciality, hiding a son fathered in secret with adult film star Sophie Brussaux, being a deadbeat father, and thus repeating the same trauma exacted on him by his own deadbeat father. “A baby’s involved, it's deeper than rap,” he raps plainly over the beat from Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ,” “We talkin’ character, let me keep with the facts / You are hiding a child, let that boy come home.” The cover art is a real photo of Drake in blackface, apparently shot a decade ago by photographer David Leyes, who asked Pusha’s manager to remove the artwork in a since-deleted tweet and whose website temporarily crashed from all the attention before he took the photo down.
Please stop referring to this picture as “artwork”...I’m not an internet baby, I don’t edit images...this is a REAL picture...these are his truths, see for yourself https://t.co/gd6vRS3HM8pic.twitter.com/2el58HEZ8F— King Push (@PUSHA_T) May 30, 2018
As a song you’d listen to for pleasure, “Duppy Freestyle” is a little more fun, which underscores the reason why Drake usually comes on top: At the end of the day, he makes music that’s a little more fun. But “The Story of Adidon” is breathtakingly vicious in its accusations. Being an old rapper in love with his glory days is one thing, but being an absent father is another, especially as Pusha levies the charges with the clinical tone of a guy doing his taxes. That’s what resonates the most with me: He doesn’t even sound that mad about what he’s saying. “My truth was questioned, and I’m gonna deal in truths all summer long,” Pusha said in a New York interview released earlier Tuesday, teasing the almost reasonable tone he’d take on his diss track. “If everybody wanna deal in that, then I have no problem with that, I think it’s great. Think the world needs truth.”
The song is ugly, too. Pusha mocks Drake’s right-hand producer Noah “40” Shebib for his multiple sclerosis, evoking the time Tupac dissed Prodigy for having sickle cell anemia on “Hit Em Up.” This is hitting below the belt by every standard, even if Shebib has helped sharpen Drake’s arrows (including a callous dismissal of Kid Cudi’s mental illness on 2017’s “Two Birds One Stone,” in which he also dissed Pusha). Pusha also refers to Brussaux’s career as something Drake is ashamed about (though his secrecy would seem to imply as much), and drags his mom into it — two women reduced to cannon fodder in a fight between grown millionaires. On Tuesday, two people I was texting with expressed reservations about all the masculinity on display, and indeed you can already find a counter-narrative to this narrative online, as rap fans express confusion that anyone could expect something more gentlemanly from a rap feud.
Anger is a corrosive, malignant feeling; you are much, much healthier when you’re able to come to a less violent conclusion than wanting to whip a table through a window. But if you sort through those feelings and still decide that you’re pretty mad, what you say next can cut to the real, bitter heart of the issue, leaving no doubt about how far you are willing to go to advocate for what you believe. Famous or not, who ever says the absolute cruelest thing they can? Is it healthy to? Probably not, but it’s fascinating to watch, and the direct salvo against Drake’s moral character is leagues more effective than any attack on his artistic shallowness. On Tuesday night, talking about this song was truly fun because of how taboo this all felt, both in lyrical and emotional content. Twenty years ago, this level of surgical anger probably would’ve invited real life violence; it may still, even as Drake’s career has typically avoided that type of escalation. At any rate, he’ll have to do something to regain the upper hand — maybe even get mad.
To listen to an interview with Jeremy Gordon and his additional thoughts on Pusha T and rap beef tracks, listen above or in your favorite app below.