Has Drake mastered the art of beef?
The title of Drake’s upcoming album conjures imagery of a volatile creature. Either that or a B-list yet still formidable Spider-Man antagonist. Interpretation aside, the 6ix God’s Scorpion has been touted by Preme as heralding the return of “pissed off Drake,” a claim you’d think would be bolstered by new single “I’m Upset.” In reality, Drake’s “upset” status felt more tepid, a half-hearted proclamation void of any real emotion. A far cry from its predecessor, the incendiary “Duppy,” which took aim at Pusha T and Kanye West alike.
“Duppy” is certainly closer to “pissed off Drake” than anything we’ve heard thus far, and has been celebrated by many as a bloodletting first strike against the G.O.O.D Music empire. In fact, fan response has been damn near unanimous across the board, with talk of the next great hip-hop beef already flitting from eager mouths. Even veteran diss-track authors like Freddie Gibbs and Joe Budden have turned their eye toward the ongoing dance. In an era where tempers are more likely to flare on Twitter or Instagram than in the booth, the tete-a-tete between Drake and Pusha has reignited excitement in those nostalgic for the glory days of lyrical warfare.
Admittedly, “Duppy” has enough sting to merit similarities to Drake’s latest spirit animal. Drizzy wasted little time in targeting Kanye’s jealousy-driven animosity toward designer Virgil Abloh, while questioning the veracity of Pusha T’s acclaimed drug-dealer past, which has been laregely accepted as an authentic origin story. Of course, there’s plenty more to unpack throughout “Duppy’s” two plus minutes, but the biggest takeaway is this. Drake was hit with shots from a genuinely respected lyricist, and responded tenfold, not twenty-four hours later.
The post-”Duppy” atmosphere seemed reminiscent of the “Back To Back” era, with many buzzing over Drake’s decision to drop the subliminals and deal in direct assessments. In fact, it’s hard not to view 2015 as Preme’s original basis for “pissed off Drake.” Not only did the 6ixGod air out Meek with the “Charged Up”/"Back To Back” combination, but he also delivered some fighting words to Tyga on “6PM In New York.” In that case, he didn’t need much to remain effective, rapping “It's so childish calling my name on the world stage, you need to act your age and not your girl's age.” Subliminal, yes, but is it truly a sub if the world has no illusions about the intended recipient?
Despite a reputation as a docile romantic, Drake isn’t afraid to leave the Silver City Indigo days behind him. The man has amassed quite a repertoire of diss tracks under his belt, and has proven adept at delivering them. Whether he’s targeting Common on “Stay Schemin,” Tory Lanez on “Summer Sixteen,” or the aforementioned cuts, Drake has continued to solidify himself as one of the decade’s most accomplished diss-writers.
Yet looking back at hip-hop history, where does he stack up? The court of public opinion seems to speak on his battle prowess with a sense of reverence, claiming him capable of “ethering” foes with ease. To be fair, Drake has proven himself a daunting opponent, and his widespread reach and cult-like following ensures plenty of backup. There’s no disputing that. But the question still remains. When it comes to great hip-hop beefs, where does the 6ix God stand?
Charlamagne Tha God Dubs "Back To Back" A Top 5 Diss
Beef has been a longstanding part of hip-hop history, and the fierce competitive nature has led to many iconic moments. Naturally, song like 2Pac’s “Hit Em’ Up,” Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” Nas’ “Ether,” and Eminem’s original back to back, "The Sauce"/“Nail In The Coffin” have become immortalized within the canon, with each selection celebrated for its ruthless, no-holds barred approach. And those are but a few of the classics; diss tracks have damn near been around since chopping samples.
One doesn’t need to be a “battle specialist” to administer a fatal blow. For every Em or Joe Budden, there’s a Gucci Mane coming through with the Jeezy diss “Truth.” In beef, it’s not always about technical ability. For the most part, the disdain simply needs to stem from a genuine place. While lyrically simplistic, Guwop’s “Truth” is devastating in its directness, with a chilling allusion to Jeezy’s murdered associate Pookie Loc. For many, “Truth” has emerged as a classic diss track, yet Gucci Mane is rarely associated with lyrical warfare. Is one nuclear bomb enough to make a mark, or is consistency king?
Many of the aforementioned rappers weren’t afraid to get personal, but there’s something to be said about the delivery. Listen to any of the classic diss records, and you’ll certainly hear the restrained anger driving each rapper’s cadence. Compare that with Drake, who often approaches beef with a strangely laid back tranquility. Even on “Back To Back,” Drizzy’s restrained cadence makes a strange juxtaposition with his vitriolic message. Perhaps he simply takes no joy in killing, doing it strictly out of necessity. In that regard, he’s closer to a Jay-Z than he is an Eminem, although Jay’s “Takeover” was more ruthless than any of Drizzy’s disses.
Consider his introductory preface on “Duppy,” in which he marvels at Pusha’s sheer audacity; at once “why me?” and “do you know who I am?” Suffice it so say, Drake does what he has to do, and does it well. He understands the importance of reputation, and will react when tested by anyone other than Joe Budden. His intellect and affinity for articulation allow him to excel in combat, yet his biggest shortcoming cannot be denied. It’s difficult to sound convincing when one sounds equally detached. In fact, he's exhibited far more passion whilst calling Kelly Oubre Jr. the G-rated insult of "A Bum." Perhaps that’s why his cries of “I’m Upset” feel so hollow. If he truly is upset, is a little bit of conviction really too much to ask for?
Ask yourself this. In the pantheon of hip-hop’s great diss track creators, where does Drizzy stand?
Poll images by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images (yes) and Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (no)