Pusha-T Used Drake's Strengths Against Him and the Results Are Delicious
On "The Story of Adidon," Push used history, the present, the tasteless, and the unknown to take round one in his battle with Drake.
Pusha-T credit: Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images. Drake credit: Photo by Prince Williams/WireImage/Getty Images.
There’s a stomach-touching-your-back appetite for historical beefs that every rap fan has. That hunger is rarely satisfied but as of last night, we’re in the midst of one that will have our bellies on full for the foreseeable future. Tuesday night on Hot 97, Funkmaster Flex premiered a scathing Drake diss by Pusha-T called “The Story of Adidon.” The song answered shots taken in Drake’s exceptional “Duppy Freestyle,” a diss that he made in response to being mentioned on Push’s new album DAYTONA. It’s a spat that’s been simmering for the greater part of this decade and now that gloves are off, we’re shaping up for the best rap feud in recent memory. There’s some crucial context that has shaped the course this rivalry has taken, though.
In 2015, when Meek Mill took to Twitter to reveal that Drake had been getting help on his lyrics by a guy named Quentin Miller—including on their collaboration “R.I.C.O.”—he woke up a giant that we knew might have been somewhere deep down in the Toronto rapper’s core, but hadn’t quite witnessed yet. Within a week of that, Drake made easy work of Meek with two responses in “Charged Up” and “Back to Back.” The latter was especially seething as Drake made a club anthem out of it, forcing millions to recite lyrics about Meek riding the coattail of Nicki Minaj’s work and him being more active on social media than the streets. When Meek did respond, he played Quentin Miller’s reference track for Drake’s “Know Yourself” and went on about Drizzy’s lack of street credibility. That information could have gone over amazingly with spectators if Drake hadn’t already showed Meek up immediately after the call out. By then, nothing Meek mentioned in his response held enough weight to shift the momentum. It left a permanent mark on the Philly rapper’s legacy, too.
There were a couple lessons to be learned about Drake from that exchange. The first was that, Drake, whose best music regularly transcends the sphere of rap (both commercially and sonically), is held to a different standard than the majority of his peers when it comes to songwriting. There is a general understanding within rap that Drake is, at his core, not historically cool or interested in upholding the unspoken guidelines of hip-hop culture. But he’s used his child actor and borderline nerd past to his advantage by chiming in on jokes at his own expense. This has made it difficult for anyone to dig any dirt on him that’d stick. The second lesson was that when calling Drake out, it’s best to be prepared for him to bite with quickness. Meek, thinking that everybody operated under his personal moral code, was not prepared for either and ultimately suffered for much longer than he should have.
Those lessons were internalized by G.O.O.D. Music president Pusha-T, when on his new album DAYTONA, he brought attention back to Drake getting assistance with his bars on closing track “Infrared.” And now, after a pair of pointed diss tracks from both sides, it shows that Push is the first adversary of Drake’s to have successfully used his quick-draw tendencies against him.
In Drake’s stellar same-day, receipt-pulling rebuttal, “Duppy Freestyle,” he goes at G.O.O.D. music and their affiliates as a unit, highlighting that he’d been assisting Kanye in writing The Life of Pablo’s “30 Hours” and more for at least a couple years. The song, in energy, is a similar effort to 2015’s “Back to Back” considering that Drake made a formidable song out of a diss. Specifically for Pusha, Drake proposed that the outlandish drug raps that he’s made a career out of are more likely recounting the actions of his cousin and brother No Malice instead of him (“you act like you sold drugs for Escobar in the 80s”). And in tastelessly inserting a woman associated with his opponent—like many of rap’s most celebrated beefs have—Drake brought Pusha’s fiancè into the fold with “I’ma let it ring on you like Virginia Williams.”
It could already be argued that Push had the upper hand in the battle by that point. In all actuality, “Infrared” was hardly a Drake diss. Most of the song’s venom was intended for the strained relationship of Birdman and Lil Wayne—the latter with whom the Virginia rapper has been trading bars with since Lil Pump was a six-year-old. Drake’s acceptance of help with songwriting was a casualty in the line of fire. It was a perfect set up in retrospect, though. Push has been prodding Drake for years. In 2011, he sampled Drake’s “Dreams Money Can Buy” for “Don’t Fuck With Me” in which he slyly mentioned “Rappers on they sophomores / Actin’ like they boss lords.” In 2012’s “Exodus 23:1” he pointed out to Drake: “You signed to one nigga that signed to another nigga / That’s signed to three niggas, now that’s bad luck.”
During his career, Drake has placed so much emphasis on getting the upper hand on people who have tried to play him for being a child actor, or a Canadian, or biracial, etc, etc. And it has worked up to this point because people like Meek Mill, Common, and Tyga reacted in Drake’s preferred way: with emotion. Pusha took a different route.
“The Story of Adidon” dropped as an answer to “Duppy Freestyle” and it goes over Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ.” In the track, Pusha follows Drake’s lead by bringing people closest to him (some known and unknown) into the situation. He goes through a list of stinging lines. That includes going in on Drake’s dad Dennis Graham largely being an absentee father for the bulk of his life. He points out that Drake’s mother has yet to be married. He makes light of Drake producer 40 having multiple sclerosis. And, most juicy of all, he alleges that Drake has a son named Adidon with an adult film star that he’s hiding. The phonetic breakdown of “You-are-hiding-a-child” feels like a burning reality check from a family elder.
“OVO 40, hunched over like he 80, tick, tick, tick
How much time he got? That man is sick, sick, sick”
It’s a touch over the going-too-far nature of many rap beefs, but considering that Drake brought Pusha’s fiancè into the equation, he effectively invited Push to go the extra mile in answering him. "All bets are off because of that," Pusha said on The Breakfast Club. "That alone causes all bets to be off. Everything else is fair game." In 2016, Drake did his fair share of below-the-belt posturing when he made a joke out of Kid Cudi’s mental illness in “Two Birds One Stone.” On that song he also took shots at Pusha’s credibility as a drug dealer, which the Virginia rapper admitted was the main reason he mentioned Drake in “Infrared.”
Rap has a long, ugly history of going overboard in lyrical bouts. In 1996’s “Hit Em Up,” 2Pac made fun of Mobb Deep member Prodigy’s sickle cell anemia, which tragically caused his death more than 20 years later. During arguably rap’s best battle, Jay-Z took the opportunity on “Super Ugly” to mention that he slept with the mother of Nas’s daughter and left a condom in her carseat. During the early 2000s heated battle between The LOX and Roc-a-Fella, many believe that Jadakiss made a disgusting mention of the late Aaliyah when he directed “I’ll see to it that you visit your man’s girl” at Jay-Z.
With “The Story of Adidon,” Pusha T did the only thing that could put a dent in Drake's armor. He battled him in detailed personal attacks, or as Push continues to call them, “truths” in recent interviews. Where Drake’s previous challengers failed is that they’ve continued trying to uproot him with information that is already public. Everybody knows that Drake isn’t from the streets. Everybody knows that he was a child actor. And everyone knows that he’s gotten help writing his songs. Though Pusha used some of this to get Drake to come out and play, his plan was never to rest there.
“The Story of Adidon” came right at the peak of people’s readiness to shrug Push off into Meek territory, but he ended up packaging a diss song, gossip, and previously unseen, humiliating photos for impact. It frames Pusha as one of the more internet savvy veterans of rap. In the past, the old embarrassing photo was a crucial part of a diss. The video for Eazy-E’s 1993 “Real Muthaphuckkin G’s,” a diss to Dr. Dre, uses a photo of pre-N.W.A. Dre in a sparkly disco outfit. At 2001’s Summer Jam festival, Jay-Z projected an image of the late Prodigy in a ballerina outfit as a kid. Push brought that to the internet era with a previously unseen image of Drake wearing blackface—which has already birthed thousands of memes. The most taxing blow in all of this is that by naming the song Adidon, which is inspired by the alleged name of Drake’s alleged son Adonis, and the name of his upcoming Adidas line, Push has effectively ruined an entire branding campaign. You won’t be able to google that name without this diss coming first. Unlike Meek who wasn’t thinking in terms of the long term effect something like this would have on his reputation, a guy who called his debut album My Name is My Name analyzed every aspect of this undertaking and it shows.
This hasn’t been a landslide at any stretch of the imagination. In sound and flow, “Duppy Freestyle” is much more entertaining than “The Story of Adidon.” Drake has a great knack for making disses that dually work as just good songs. Still, the track’s best jabs actually come at the expense of Kanye West and not Pusha-T (“Father had to stretch his hands out and get it from me”). But considering the context of Pusha’s rebuttal—him rapping over a song that implies weeding out weak links of the black community, a line about Drake’s racial insecurities, and a photo of him in blackface—he one-upped the perceived cattiness of Drake by taking things a step further, showing that he too can be masterfully strategic in his shots.
This thing is far from over, though. Without this feud, the summer of 2018 was already shaping up to be one of rap’s most eventful seasons in recent memory. Rap is starting to feel like an NBA playoff bracket and all the major players are still eligible for competition. Now with this standoff sparking the summer (and Push noting it as “volume one”) there’s a way for each Drake, Pusha, Kanye, Nicki, and Lil Wayne to all rise to the occasion, add their piece to the conversation in bars, and take advantage of the hype that will carry on for at least the next month. It could also be a chance for any one of them to blow a golden opportunity. At worst, from this point forward, maybe none of them will move the meter either way. Regardless, the prospect of anything being added onto this moment is a rare jolt in exhilaration in rap that we all hope to feel with more regularity.
Correction: This article previously stated that Drake's alleged son is named Adidon. The correct name is Adonis.
Follow Lawrence Burney on Twitter.