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Pusha T vs. Drake: the long history of rap’s feud of the moment

Pusha’s epic Drake callout includes explorations of black identity, decades-old grudges, and street fashion wars.

Photo collage by Aja Romano; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for TNT, Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Adidas
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Drake’s new double album, Scorpion, is out, and one of its recurring themes is fatherhood — specifically, Drake reportedly fathering the son of a French actress. “That shit is in stone, sealed and signed,” he raps in the song “March 14.” “She’s not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine.” Elsewhere on the album he works out his contentious feelings toward the child’s mother, his overwhelmed reaction to learning he was a dad, and his resentment at the publicity around the event.

The news that Drake is owning his parental status is big — so big it’s overshadowed nearly everything else about the sprawling album, including what is apparently new vocals from the late Michael Jackson. But there’s a lot more to Drake’s rhymes on this subject than his own personal reflections on what it means to be a dad. It might be a stretch to say that the 2018 album Scorpion only spends as much time on fatherhood as it does because Lil Wayne wore Bape once — but then again, it might not.

Such is the delightfully labyrinthine rap feud behind the story of Scorpion — which starts with “The Story of Adidon,” the mystifying killer diss track of Drake that Pusha T released in May.

Like many rap artists, Drake is no stranger to beef. But the latest involving Pusha T and “The Story of Adidon” has left some fans and onlookers scratching their heads. Why was Drake in blackface? Where did Pusha get that photo? Does Drake really have a secret love child? And what’s all this about invoices and fashion wars, again?

Pusha T dropped “The Story of Adidon” on YouTube without a lot of fanfare, but it immediately caused a sensation, garnering 2.5 million views in less than a day. And no wonder — was that Drake in blackface on the cover? (Yes. Yes it was.)

Pusha’s track was a full-on Drake diss, containing lyrics like, “Let’s have a heart-to-heart about your pride / Even though you’re multi, I see that your soul don’t look alive.” The song mocks Drake’s dad, skewers Drake’s attitude toward blackness, and accuses Drake of being a deadbeat dad to Adonis, the son he’s rumored to have fathered with a French woman named Sophie Brussaux, a former porn actress, in October 2017. Drake seems to have publicly acknowledged the relationship at last in multiple tracks from his new album Scorpion, in which he raps that “the kid is mine,” apparently in response to the uproar.

If Pusha going all in on Drake’s approach to fatherhood seems a little harsh, hold up. In fact, the feud between Drake and Pusha may be all about an entirely different set of rappers — but we’ll get to that in a minute. For now, let’s break down the many things happening in “Adidon,” and what led to Pusha turning in one of the most glorious installments in rap feuds since the halcyon days of 50 Cent.

“Adidon” tackles complex, intermingled themes of fatherhood and blackness

Pusha T’s thesis for “The Story of Adidon” is basically twofold: Drake’s confusion about his biracial identity has led him to adopt a hypocritical attitude toward fatherhood. The result, so sayeth Pusha, is that Drake is simultaneously abandoning his son while clinging to his own father for a sense of authentic blackness, even as he enjoys the privileges of wealth and his ability to “pass” as a white man.

Pusha achieves this complex layering by structuring “Story of Adidon” after Jay-Z’s 2017 track “Story of O.J.” Pusha raps over the “Story of O.J.” backing track, and both songs explore the intersection of class, wealth, and black identity in America.

Quoting O.J.’s famous apocryphal claim “I’m not black, I’m O.J.,” Jay-Z fills his video with cartoon racist stereotypes. The song serves as a wry critique on gentrification and modern attempts to use wealth to overcome one’s perceived blackness.

The song also samples Nina Simone’s famous song “Four Women,” which explores the generational impact of slavery and skin-tone prejudice in America. Each woman is without a surname, left to speculate about who her father could have been based on the color of her skin. This basic theme — of being connected and/or disconnected from black identity through paternity — plays out directly in “Story of Adidon.”

The name “Adidon” refers to Drake’s long-rumored upcoming partnership with Adidas. Pusha T’s track fuels rumors that Drake had intended to name his forthcoming sneaker line “Adidon,” a hybrid of Adidas and Adonis, after Brussaux’s 7-month-old son.

Pusha thinks that’s a bit hypocritical of Drake, for a few reasons. For starters, he says Drake is a “deadbeat mothafucka, playin’ border patrol” when it comes to his alleged son. “Adonis is your son / and he deserves more than an Adidas press run, that’s real,” he admonishes.

At the time of Pusha’s diss, Drake had yet to publicly acknowledge any connection between himself and Adonis. If he had been planning to do it with a line of shoes, it would have been an odd start to fatherhood; but in Scorpion, Drake instead defends his actions in what is apparently a direct response to Pusha.

“I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world,” he protests, “I was hiding the world from my kid” — specifically from “empty souls” like Pusha who just want to “debate” him:

From empty souls who just wake up and look to debate

Until you staring at your seed, you can never relate

Pusha argues on the track that it would also be in keeping with Drake’s history with his own father. See, Drake’s father, Dennis Graham, abandoned Drake and his mother in Toronto when Drake was 5 years old. Drake spent much of his rap career publicly working out his well-known issues toward his father in song. In recent years, however, the two seem to have fully reconciled. Drake frequently appears in his dad’s celebrity Instagram and put Graham’s picture on the cover of his 2017 song cycle More Life. Graham, for his part, recently got a giant tattoo of his son’s face.

All good stuff, right?

Not to Pusha. In “Adidon,” he claims that Drake is basically using his dad to bolster his own black identity. Drake — whose mom is Jewish and whose father, Graham, is a black Catholic — has spoken often about his biracial identity, sometimes as a positive and sometimes as a negative, and sometimes both. In a 2011 interview with the Village Voice, the Canadian appeared baffled by Americans’ perpetual emphasis on skin tone and lightness, noting that American fans frequently viewed him as white, not black.

Pusha’s argument is that Drake doesn’t have any authentic connection to black identity and so has to “parade” his father, described in the song as a Steve Harvey look-alike who embodies a cultural stereotype of cartoonish blackness.

And speaking of caricatures of blackness ...

WTF is up with that blackface photo?

In the tweet above, Pusha is referring to the startling cover image he included with his video, which is one of a pair of portraits that celebrity photographer David Leyes made of Drake. Drake apparently had the idea to style himself in blackface wearing a Jim Crow T-shirt, according to Leyes in Instagram comments as the diss track was going viral.

Leyes at first was positive, stating that he’d “captured Drake’s idea” and that he was “proud to be part of a strong statement made by a black man about the fucked up culture he is living in.” That pride didn’t last long, however; soon he tweeted at Pusha’s manager asking him to have the photo removed from Pusha’s Twitter. Later, he apparently initiated a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown of Pusha’s album cover on Instagram. The portraits still remain public on archived versions of Leyes’s website, however, and were captioned “Drake Us & Them.”

On Thursday, May 31, Drake responded in a note published in an Instagram story. In the note, he clarified that the photo was 11 years old and produced in the context of him being an actor (he was a regular on Degrassi: The Next Generation at the time) frustrated by the limited and heavily stereotypical roles available to black actors in the industry.

At the time of the photo, 2007, Drake was involved in producing a bizarre short film that was also titled Us & Them.

The Jim Crow T-shirt Drake wears in the photo is part of a subversive clothing line called Jim Crow Couture, created by the Toronto label Too Black Guys. In response to the uproar, Too Black Guys released a statement to Slate supporting Drake’s use of the imagery.

“Too Black Guys has a history of representing the black experience in an unapologetic way,” the statement read. “Although this was not an image from any of our photoshoots, we feel that Drake, who is a long-time friend of the brand, was brilliantly illustrating the hypocrisy of the Jim Crow era. The subtleties of Drake, a young black man, mimicking how white men used to mimic and dehumanize black people may be lost in a rap battle but we should not be distracted from the issues that are still affecting our communities.”

Pusha, however, seems to be reading Drake’s minstrel performance as unironic internalized racism — as a straightforward example of a light-skinned man who’s engaging racist caricatures of blackness in order to feel authentic, even as he’s able to enjoy the privileges of appealing to white culture.

His statement in response to Drake’s explanation of the photo seems to support this. In an interview Thursday morning on the Los Angeles radio station Real 92.3, Pusha said, “I don’t believe it at all. You are silent on all black issues, Drake, with a huge platform.”

Yes, this is all complicated. But that doesn’t even touch the thorny backstory that led us here: a story of ancient beefs, culture clashing, competing production companies, and — oh, yes — invoices.

Here’s what led to “Adidon”

Pusha’s “Adidon” is a response to Drake’s recent, relatively sweet-tempered diss “Duppy Freestyle,” which is itself a response to the recent Pusha track “Infrared,” which is a response to the 2017 Drake track “Two Birds, One Stone,” which is a response to 2016’s “HGTV” from Pusha, which is a response to Drake’s 2013 “Tuscan Leather,” which is a response to Pusha’s 2012 track “Exodus 23:1,” which extends a feud that dates back to the mid-aughts.

Got all that?

Okay, let’s back up a few years. Pusha T and his brother Malice (later known as No Malice) formed the rap duo Clipse in 1992 when they were still teens living in Virginia Beach. Though they were breakout successes, they ran into trouble in the mid-2000s due to issues with their record label, Jive. Eventually the two each went solo, and Pusha signed with GOOD Music, a notable record label founded by Kanye West in 2004 and boasting a litany of famed artists from Common to Big Sean to Kid Cudi.

At odds with the GOOD crew is the crew collectively known as YMCMB — that is, all the rappers and artists signed to, or affiliated with, Lil Wayne’s label Young Money Entertainment and the label Cash Money Records, co-founded by Birdman (a.k.a. Baby) and his brother Slim Williams.

As early as 2006, Pusha took issue with members of the YMCMB crew. Initially, as chronicled in the 2006 Clipse track “Mr. Me Too,” he directed his irritation solely at Lil Wayne. But this ire also swirled amid a culture of nearly constant back-and-forth taunting between various members of YMCMB and GOOD, most notably between Lil Wayne/Drake and Kanye/Jay-Z (who isn’t on GOOD but is loosely affiliated through his work with Kanye).

Part of this animosity seems to have stemmed from general ribbing and one-upmanship — it’s worth noting that most of these artists have collaborated repeatedly over the years — and occasionally from disagreements over style similarities and perceived theft of lyrics and musical elements.

Pusha did his part to pitch in, taking an apparent swipe at Lil Wayne and his father-son relationship with Birdman in his verse on 2008’s “Re-Up Intro.” Then he came out hard against Drake, starting with his 2011 freestyle “Don’t Fuck With Me,” which he rapped over Drake’s “Dreams Money Can Buy.”

Pusha’s attitude toward Drake in this early offering is one that stays consistent throughout his work: namely, Drake is a lyrics stealer, a shameless opportunist, and kind of a pussy.

Moreover, he crucially opens this song with what would prove to be a proverb: “Re-up gang, G.O.O.D. Music, Def Jam / I love my family.” Pusha clearly sees the YMCMB crew as disloyal, a theme he’d go in hard on in the 2012 track “Exodus 23:1.” In this track, he launches a full-scale onslaught at the YMCMB crew, whom he describes as prone to cribbing other rappers’ musical styles and production elements. He portrays Drake as being a weak character surrounded by disloyal sycophants, and Drake and Lil Wayne as fake thugs reliant on Birdman’s talent and influence.

In response to this track, Lil Wayne famously responded, “Fuck ’em”:

In the years since, the beef between Pusha and Drake has generally gone like this: Pusha claims Drake steals his best stuff from other artists while he searches for authentic identity; Drake implies Pusha exaggerates the seriousness and extent of his life experience as a drug dealer in order to seem more street than he actually is.

It did, however, get an especially fun twist with “Duppy Freestyle.” In the song, Drake jokes that Pusha owes him money for the extra attention his diss track will bring Pusha’s new album, noting, “Tell Ye, ‘We got a invoice comin’ to you’ / considerin’ that we just sold another 20 for you.”

Pusha clapped back on Twitter, “Send the invoice for the extra 20 ...” and that’s exactly what Drizzy did, via Instagram, the same day “Duppy” dropped. The invoice requests $100,000 for “promotional assistance and career reviving.”

You’re welcome.

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And of course, Pusha T’s response with “Story of Adidon” has vaulted the feud into the stuff of legend which itself helped lead to Scorpion.

How did we come this far? Is all this really just about record label rivalry?

Kinda yes, and kinda no.

Here’s what really led up to “Adidon.” (Hint: it’s about money, contracts, and who wore Bape first.)

So why did Pusha T hate Lil Wayne and fam so much? Apparently, two reasons.

Around the time of 2006’s “Mr. Me Too,” he was annoyed at Lil Wayne for stealing the street fashion style, including specific labels like Bape, expressed by Clipse and their pal Pharrell. You may not think that sounds significant, but you’d be wrong. Lil Wayne famously wore Bape in his 2006 video “Hustler Musik,” and posed in Bape for the cover of Vibe:

While this feud was happening, Lil Wayne went off in an interview with Complex about the perception that he was somehow stealing Clipse and Pharrell’s street style. “I don’t see no fuckin’ Clipse,” he said. “Come on man. ... This is a fucking legend you’re talking to right here. ... Who the fuck is Pharrell?”

(Well, it was 2006.)

In response, Pusha bit back hard in a 2007 interview, including roping in homophobic rumors about Lil Wayne’s relationship with Birdman (the pair famously kissed a couple of times) to imply that Lil Wayne wasn’t a real legend:

“You can’t kiss other men, you can’t wobble dee-wobble dee, and and you can’t bite styles,” he said. “You can’t bite everybody’s styles. You can’t try to rap like Jay-Z, dress like the Clipse, become a coke dealer after 5 albums, and now dress like Jim Jones. You can’t do all that and be a legend. You have to be a trendsetter and he ain’t setting any trends.”

So part of this is about clothes, and part of it seems to be about the kind of hustle you have to bring to be a real (straight) rapper, and who’s bringing it better.

But the other reason, according to Hot 97’s Ebro, arose in 2001, as a result of the Pharrell-produced collaboration between Birdman and Clipse, “What Happened to That Boy?

Though I could find no sourcing for this beyond the wisdom of Ebro, the word is that Birdman didn’t pay Pharrell for his work on this track, which is why Pharrell has rarely, if ever, worked with Birdman’s family of artists since. Pusha’s longstanding animosity for all Cash Money artists, then, is a show of loyalty to Pharrell.

As of April, Drake seemed to be teasing an upcoming Pharrell collab — but it never materialized. If in fact this decades-old nonpayment is the source of all Pusha’s animosity, his timing may have had something to do with his pal’s absence from the album.

All that really matters in the end is that this is truly excellent beef

Of course, most of this decades-old context isn’t making it into the mainstream; most onlookers are just enjoying an old-school, epic rap battle of the sort not seen since the ’90s — like Tupac’s legendary “Hit ’Em Up,” his hilarious diss of Biggie Smalls — or the various shots that Jay-Z, Nas, and 50 Cent traded across the early aughts. These were diss tracks that could escalate the conversation and the genre along with the argument. Similarly, “The Story of Adidon” isn’t just a diss; it’s great rap, and it’s hard not to sit back and soak up the creative energy being produced by all this drama.

To say this has excited the populace is putting it mildly. Fans are gearing up for some kind of Super-Saiyan-y leveling up of the conflict:

The irony of all this? Years ago, Drake was a huge, adorably geeky Pusha T fan.

We’re guessing if Drake is still using that autographed Pusha T microphone, he’s only using it to sing sad songs. Meanwhile, Pusha made it clear in an interview with the Breakfast Club that “all bets are off,” and this is only the beginning.