“I bled for garbage.”
Fifty-three years ago, Brownsville, NY produced the fiercest American athlete to have ever been born, “Iron” Mike Tyson. During his prime, he was one of the greatest boxers to ever lace ’em up. His back and arms connected like a mountain chain. His punches were lightening fast and thunderous. And he had the face of a bulldog. He was a menace, in and out of the ring. While his dominance isn’t worth speculating or questioning (not even in the least bit), “Iron” Mike was always more interesting as man than myth.
Picture this roller coast ride: Growing up poor and black in East New York in the 70’s… Tyson’s rise under trainer and mentor Cus D’Amato and his sudden passing early in Mike’s career… becoming the youngest heavyweight champion at 20 years old… the public spectacle that was the terrible marriage to Robin Givens and the subsequent divorce… the three year jail stint… his life post-boxing and seemingly resurrection… the tragic death of a young daughter… creating and performing in a hit Broadway show… a spiritual awaken via smoking DMT. Hearing this man speak about his life is equally intriguing and terrifying. He’s so raw with his emotions, even at a fairly young age, that you don’t know whether to cower, clap or cry. Tyson does an immaculate dance between rage and grief that humanizes his violent persona and gives you a glimpse of his continual conflict with his personal demons.
From his fights in the mid 80’s until now, you can see tangible growth over the decades, from the vicious fighter to the thoughtful father. We loved him then we hated him then we loved him again. Pretty standard for the celebrity life cycle.
Seeing the growth in people can be a rewarding and beautiful experience. Like meeting your best friend’s little 12 year-old niece and seeing that she already possessed an abundance of intelligence, wit and potential to crashing her Sweet 16 party and judging if the lil dude she liked would meet the approval of her father to seeing her become a law school graduate knowing, all the while, that she was destined for greatness. (Shoutout to Cassie.) While true growth is a sight to behold, watching degradation is as equally painful. Like watching your favorite artist go from rap savior to pop icon to Yeezus to an embarrassment. Extreme, overt examples are easy to dissect but what about when the growth isn’t as tangible? When enough time passes and you wonder if change is possible at all. What if the person you’ve been watching and studying for years is the best version of themselves and they fall flat? Where is there to go?
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.“
A pivotal year in recent hip-hop history was in 2009. Closing out the first decade of the new millennium, a wave of new artist began to rise, changing the tide youth American culture. None more important than the emergence of Aubrey Graham and his classic mixtape So Far Gone. A decade later, Drake has risen to become the most popular musical artist North America has given us since Michael Jackson. This is not hyperbole. Four songs from 2018’s Scorpion (“God’s Plan,” “In My Feelings,” “Nonstop” and “Nice For What”) have combined for nearly three and a half billion streams on Spotify. “One Dance” just eclipsed 1.7 billion streams itself. A far cry from a kid that was desperate to be taken seriously as a rapper while coming off of being Wheelchair Jimmy in Degrassi.
The mantra “men lie, women lie, number’s don’t” is something that Drake seems to take to heart. When his singles drop, they run the radio and streaming apps. When the albums drop, they run the conversation. When he makes public appearances, they run the timeline. What other rapper has his own imprint and logo embedded with a professional sport’s champion?
And while his numbers don’t lie, they don’t always tell the full truth. What’s to make of the fame Aubrey has amassed if his legacy is somewhere between pop icon and buffoonery? Yes, I wrote “buffoon” to describe someone more popular than Elvis while his career is still ascending. I couldn’t imagine describing Mike Jack as a buffoon after Thriller dropped or Beyoncé while I was Stan’ing over Homecoming but here we are. Yet how did we get here? Where’s the glitch in the Matrix?
Last year, Pusha T set the rap world ablaze when “Infrared” capped the critically acclaimed DAYTONA. Like most diss records, it was seemingly out of nowhere but completely welcomed. While the play was bait, it was strong enough to deliver a standing-8 count. The ref looked in Aubrey’s eyes, checked his gloves, and let the fight continue. Drake’s rebuttal “Duppy Freestyle” was the response record that Aubrey been avoiding a majority of his entire career.
Throughout the years, there was never an official response to jabs Pusha sent to him and Lil’ Wayne. There was never a direct reply records to Kendrick’s BET Hip-Hop Awards freestyle. In 2015, we were blessed with “Back to Back,” a record that stalled Meek Mill’s career for years and was a commercial hit record but, looking back, it’s easier to diss a rapper that’s clearly inferior than it is to clap at two of the best rappers of their time. In 2016, Drake sent four bars at Push on “2 Birds, 1 Stone” but that song is only memorable because of Drake dissing Kid Cudi for being a drug addict all while Cudi was in rehab for drug addiction. “Duppy,” though, felt like the shift.
Though Kanye West felt brunt of “Duppy Freestyle,” G.O.O.D. Music, as a whole, had to carry the L. Four days later, however, King Push went full scorched Earth on “The Story of Adidon”. And nothing was the same for Drake’s career.
For my money, “The Story of Adidon” is the greatest diss record in rap history. And before you think about “Hit ‘Em Up” as a contender, think about what makes that song memorable. While the lyrics of “Hit ‘Em Up” are scathing, Pac’s “I fucked cho’ bitch, you fat muthafucka” intro and outro rants are what puts the song over the top. Without that intro, how long does that song last in hip hop’s collective memory? When’s the last time you listened to “Bomb First”? With “The Story of Adidon,” there’s no question that the song and it’s lyrics will live forever in infamy. I’m not sure whose career could recover from “You are hiding a child; let that boy come home/Deadbeat muthafucka playin’ border control.”
Since “Adidon’s” released, we’ve seen a fissure in Drake’s foundation. While he’s never been considered someone cool like Jay-Z in 2001, the 6 God was viewed as being cut from a different cloth. His talent let him skate on the possessiveness of women in his life, misogyny and, to be quite frank, corniness. The fact that Drake proudly rapped about going through women’s belongings like a 6 year-old looking to grab a dollar bill out his momma’s purse was a sign of how telfon he thought he was. And he was right. But those traits that were hiding in plain sight where brought to the surface.
Since June 2018, we’ve seen Drake on a run of self-inflected embarrassing moves. A year removed from Scorpion and it’s legacy is the laughable and dubious “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid.” Even with the aforementioned staggering streaming numbers from the album’s singles, overall, Scorpion is rather forgettable. While A Side is solid, B Side was uninteresting and wearisome. A 90-minute, 25 song album feels like a jail stint, especially when the production is drab and lifeless for a majority of the album. The only original and interesting moment came from Jay-Z rapping over a DJ Paul beat (something 18 year-old Marc Rob would’ve gushed over [31 year-old Marc Rob did gush over, for full disclosure]). Other than that, what was the purpose of Scorpion?
Shortly after Scorpion’s release, on HBO’s The Shop, 6 God played little brother to LeBron James, trying and failing at defending his choice not to respond to “Adidon.” In summation, he thought Pusha’s lyrics toward producer and friend Noah “40” Shebib, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, went too far and led him to a dark place. Amazingly, having a man diss your child, mother and father are completely in bounds, but a sick friend is off limits. Though 40 may have been in extremely poor health or even near death, Drake failed to acknowledge that he had no issue with, two years earlier, dissing Kid Cudi who was in rehab fighting for his life. Ignorance is bliss and that level of contradiction is almost admirable.
Another baffling moment during The Shop came when Aubrey seemed to diss rap fans for wanting his response:
The chest move was genius. Back against the wall: I either go all the way filthy or fall back and I have this sort of chink in my armor for the rest of time to a rap purist. Which is fine; I can live with that.
The level of disdain in which he spit out “rap purist” is insulting to the culture that he built his career on. Drake wants to have it both ways but he can’t: for all the times Drake begged to be taken seriously as a rapper and wanted to dead rumors of ghostwriting to play into rap’s need for originality, you can’t then dismiss the biggest L of your career as a mere speed bump nor people’s resentment for not following the traditions of the culture.
For as introspective as Drake was early in his career, his lack of self-awareness a decade deep into his career is perplexing. For Drake to utter the lyric “Last year, niggas really felt like the rode on me” on last month’s “Omertá” makes clear that Aubrey isn’t cognizant that he hasn’t had a single song or project or positive moment as memorable as “You are hiding a child” and his credibility within rap is completely shot. Aubrey lost the battle against Push A Ton, regardless of him taking a moral high ground that’s as sacred as a Walmart parking lot. In rap and in battle, there is no morality; just winners and losers. However, something odd and unexpected happened. While Drake lost the battle, the war to maintain his career was still, somehow, won.
“He looks almost bored…”
What happened to Drake last year is what happened to Rick Ross a decade ago: for Ross, whose lies about his drug dealing past should’ve collapsed his career once the facade was exposed by 50 Cent, his career trajectory, actually, inclined. In 2008, Fiddy made waves by claiming Rozay was a correctional officer years before becoming rap’s biggest boss. In 2009, Ross evaded jabs and dropped Deeper Than Rap, an album that went #1 and was, arguably, the best album of his career. In fact, two of his next three albums went #1 (God Forgives, I Don’t and Mastermind) and the one that didn’t went #2 (Teflon Don) on Billboard 200, while 50 hasn’t had a top 20 single since 2008. Ross slayed the Goliath that was 50 Cent and it’s simple how he did it: he gave us fyah music in the face of his competition because his talent was undeniable. Drake took a page from Ross’ playbook: he waited out the storm, dropped popular music and kept it, forgive the pun, pushing.
Notice how I used the word “popular” and not “good” when it came to describing Drake’s post-“The Story of Adidon” musical career. Scorpion, which dropped a month after the scathing diss record, was bloated and boring. The double album was unfocused and fazed by King Push but Drake’s popularity was not. During the 2019 Billboard Awards, Drake won Most Streaming Songs Artist, Top Song Sales Artist, Top Radio Artist, and Top (overall) Artist. Even with looking foolish while courtside at the NBA Finals, his two-song EP after the Raptors won the championship has over 65 million Spotify streams and it’s barely two weeks old. In defeat, he won.
So, what’s left for The Boy that’s only 32 years old and he’s seemingly peaked (and piqued) as an artist? When he tries to go pop/R&B, he can never fully commit and has more mixed results as the years start to pass. Who can take his rapper persona seriously now that he can’t escape “Adidon”? For years, rumors swirled on how Drake was looking to take over the pop landscape and treat rap as a mere stepping stone. What does it say about us if we continue to support an artist that leeches every musical genre and talented artist just to further his own notoriety? Does this mean authenticity in rap is a straw man now that it’s biggest artist every but authentic? If Take Care is the apex of Drake, how sad would that be? As about sad as Tyson searching for his mouthpiece against Buster Douglas.
Drake can pick himself up off the ground, right? Or did he bleed for garbage?
Originally posted on July 1, 2019. Revised for minor grammatical errors, clarification and link updates on August 14, 2019.