Drake is America's sweetheart.
He didn't have us at hello. It's been a slow press — one that involved 3/4-tempo crooners one after the other, getting denied at the gates of the Miami Heat locker room, dressing like your grandpa, and rooting for a basketball team that plays in Toronto whose mascot is a dinosaur. Quietly and softly, like a whisper caught between two cotton balls, Drake has crafted an image for himself as the kind of guy who interlocks his fingers with yours when you give him high-fives, kisses you on the forehead, and burps in a napkin. It's impossible to hate Drake.
Yet someone has attempted to do him harm.
Over the past 10 days or so, Meek Mill, a Philadelphia rapper and Nicki Minaj's maybe (depending on whom you ask) fiancé, has asserted that America's sweetheart isn't writing his own raps. Meek's assertion put everything we think we know about Drake into question.
Has Drake been faking this whole time? What if he's not as soft as we think? What if the whole team wasn't there like he rapped it? What if he wears none of his chains while he's in the house? What if he doesn’t open potato chip bags with scissors?
This has been a truly upsetting week for Drizzy fans — the gentle man that they love might be a fraud. Ultimately, Drake's rapping and lyrics are the reason a man this kind can endure and thrive in an industry that is notoriously difficult — and now that's been thrown into question.
Since then, Meek and Drake have been engaged in a fight that spans Twitter, Instagram, and diss tracks, ensuring sure that everyone is and will be watching for a next move. There have been insults about prenups, Drake's writing ability, and Nicki Minaj.
What this fight comes down to is a pressing and ever-changing question of authenticity in hip-hop and, perhaps, a brilliant marketing strategy.
Who is this human who hates Drake? Why does he hate him?
For most of humanity, the most animosity one could feel toward Drake — a.k.a. Aubrey Drake Graham — is one of neutrality. Meek Mill was, at one point, on the same page as the rest of us. The two had collaborated on Meek's song "R.I.C.O.," and until last week, we didn't really have any reason to suspect that there might be bad blood between the two.
Meek dropped his album Dreams Worth More Than Money on June 29, and Drake apparently didn't tweet out support for the release. So, weeks later, Meek began his assault on Drake in the middle of the night on Twitter; fans were criticizing his music, and he was being compared to Drake:
Stop comparing drake to me too.... He don't write his own raps! That's why he ain't tweet my album because we found out!— Meek Mill (@MeekMill) July 22, 2015
The verse he's tweeting about is part of the song "R.I.C.O.," the song that we thought represented goodwill between the two:
He ain't even write that verse on my album and if I woulda knew I woulda took it off my album..... I don't trick my fans! Lol— Meek Mill (@MeekMill) July 22, 2015
The man alleged to be Drake's ghostwriter is a man named Quentin Miller. Miller has defended Drake's honor, saying that Drake wrote his own songs.
Is Drake sad?
Drake could have easily ignored all of this. He's more famous and bigger than Meek. Surely Drake has heard — as have we all — the warning that you will inevitably look like a fool if you fight on the internet. And Drake looked like he was sticking to that conventional wisdom, keeping quiet on Instagram and Twitter. However, a rapper named Hitman Holla published an alleged private DM (direct message) exchange he had with Drake addressing and brushing off Meek's accusations:
Drake's official public response came in a song called "Charged Up," released on July 25:
In the song, Drake raps about being so popular that people are now gunning for him, and about how his lyrics are so good that Meek thinks he couldn't possibly create them:
Wow, I’m honored that you think this is staged
I’m flattered man, in fact, I’m amazed
The perfect start to the summer, man this shit is a doozy
This shit a twist in the movie but don't jump to conclusions
(Before continuing, let's take a moment to be wary of Drake's concept of time. It's almost August, and he's rapping about the beginning of summer? Sure.)
Meek was not impressed by the track, stating that he believed the song's subpar raps were indicative of Drake's skills as a lyricist:
Baby lotion soft......— Meek Mill (@MeekMill) July 26, 2015
I can tell he wrote that 1 tho......— Meek Mill (@MeekMill) July 26, 2015
Then, on Wednesday, July 29, Drake released another diss track entitled "Back to Back Freestyle":
Personally, I like "Back to Back" better because it's more forthright, but there's also strange comedy in its bones. Drake raps about Meek's relationship with Nicki Minaj and how Minaj is more successful than the man she's with:
You love her then you gotta give the world to her
Is that a world tour or your girl's tour?
I know that you gotta be a thug for her
This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more
He's referring to Minaj's Pinkprint Tour, where Meek is the opening act. To be clear, anyone not named Beyoncé or Rihanna or, yes, Drake, would be lucky to open for Minaj. Minaj is just that big of a star.
But Drake makes it sound like a charity gig, like Minaj is giving Meek a ride to the mall. This track also plays on the knowledge that Drake and Minaj were part of an industry showmance,where rumors about them dating are always around the corner.
But there are also some silly parts to the song too. Drake raps about Meek's punk Twitter moves, again hinting that Minaj is the one bringing home the bacon in that relationship:
Yeah, trigger fingers turn to Twitter fingers
Yeah, you gettin' bodied by a singin' ni**a
I'm not the type of ni**a that'll type to ni**as
And shout-out to all my boss bitches wife-in ni**as
Make sure you hit him with the prenup
Yes, that is actually a threatening rap about Twitter and tweeting. We've come a long way from the Tupac and Biggie era of diss tracks, when artists rapped about murdering people and people were literally getting murdered:
The Meek and Drake fight is different in that it isn't an obscure, intra-genre fight. It's public, mainstream. And you fight differently when a large chunk of your audience consists of white bros in Sperrys. Lyrics about Twitter, and fights like this, are now part of that mainstream reality.
Does it matter if Drake didn't write his stuff?
It depends on whom you ask. Some people care a lot, some people only care if he didn't write certain songs, and others may not care at all. People who live, breathe, and obsessively consume hip-hop are ultimately very different from people who simply enjoy the music that Drake and Meek put out. This was actually discussed by Slaughterhouse, a hip-hop Justice League of sorts, who visited Hot 97 and were asked what they thought about Meek's accusations:
"It don’t stop the music from being great. It don’t stop you from being successful. I don’t lose respect for you personally, but just in my comic book hero, rapper baseball card collection, I can’t put you [in that league/conversation/category]," Crooked I said. "Being from that cloth where you get your stripes from writing, you do kinda step down a few, in my mind as a fan, if you’re not writing."
The idea of authenticity in hip-hop and its importance doesn't start with Drake and Meek. Hip-hop, like blues and soul music, has a history of personal narrative that transcends construction — these lyrics and these songs come from the guts of artists, reflecting what they've been through.
Mary J. Blige got at this idea of realism and artistry when describing Beyoncé. She told Women's Wear Daily in 2013:
It’s not like Beyoncé can’t sing … But what’s missing is the personal. Those girls are groomed to be pop artists, to be perfect, to go to modeling school and learn how to walk and talk. Whereas we had to go through the trenches and get beat up and knocked down by life to learn how to articulate ourselves properly. And there’s no school for that. There’s no school for organic.
Pop music, as Blige explains, is a different game, where no one cares about authenticity. But we're at a point now where the line between hip-hop artists and pop artists has blurred. You have a rapper from Australia with a voice that sounds like it was dug out of Georgia mud, a former corrections officer who brags about being a drug trafficker, two theater kids who went to LaGuardia and became Azealia Banks and Nicki Minaj, and, of course, Macklemore.
Questlove wrote an essay for Vulture in 2014 explaining the idea of authenticity waning in hip-hop and that the genre has become hollow:
The music originally evolved to paint portraits of real people and handle real problems at close range — social contract, anyone? — but these days, hip-hop mainly rearranges symbolic freight on the black starliner. Containers on the container ship are taken from here to there — and never mind the fact that they may be empty containers ...
And then there’s the question of where hip-hop has arrived commercially, or how fast it’s departing. The music industry in general is sliding, and hip-hop is sliding maybe faster than that.
How you view Meek and Drake's fight over authenticity, and how much Drake's alleged ghostwriting bothers you, likely depends on how you view Drake as an artist. If you think he skews more toward Iggy Azalea and other pop artists, then the accusation doesn't concern you. You likely thought his music was fake right from the start. But if you're looking to Drake as someone closer to an artist like Kendrick Lamar, whose authenticity and ability to tell stories in his music defines his art, then it's all been one great fraud.
Is this the most brilliant marketing scheme ever created?
The grand truther theory to all of this drama is that this is just a huge publicity stunt. Meek wasn't a household name before his allegations, and I'm not quite sure if he's there yet. But it has raised his profile, upgrading his cred from the man who might be engaged to Nicki Minaj to the rapper who is fighting with Drake.
The fight coincided with Meek debuting the video to his song "All Eyes On You," released on Tuesday.
It has more than 3 million hits on YouTube now, and it's been online for two days. Fans are were also anxiously awaiting Meek's own diss track, and vigilantly camping out on his various social media platforms. On Thursday, he released the track, titled "Wanna Know":
And this isn't a one-way street. Drake is benefiting too.
The benefit, as Complex's Frazier Tharpe explains, is that this beef, even if it is happening on Twitter and would make Biggie groan from beyond the grave, gives Drake legitimacy. Tharpe wrote:
The Boy is basically embraced, accepted, and championed from all ends. Sure, there was a Common diss, a Puffy scuffle, and the rap purists who will never be down, but overall the fan-to-hater ratio is exceedingly lopsided. Now his defensive raps have been legitimized.
Drake’s now in the position of having to defend and uphold his role as both the nicest out and prove that, as the NWTS bonus track says, it’s all him … Warning shots at all of his detractors in one versatile bundle.
The fight gives Drake a chance to establish himself again, this time with more edge and less emo. People will be paying even more attention to his lyrics and his delivery, eager to see what he has in store. And there's an implication in "Charged Up" that more tracks will be released.
So who's the winner in all of this?
Everyone, with Drake doing a bit better than Meek. Even Nicki Minaj is getting a nice boost (she should totally dump Meek).
But are any of these songs as good as the "Trap Queen" remix?