Drake’s constant presence in his feelings is the driving force behind his body of work – an endlessly rich, emotional weight of slights and debts that hangs from him as heavily as the crown of pop stardom.
At its most inspired, Drake’s feelings-centric rap creates soap operatic confections of Cheesecake Factory whipped cream; at its lowest, it takes form of an underhanded shot at a rival’s public struggle with mental illness and addiction.
Kid Cudi sparked the feud that ignited rap blogs and social media recently by poking the same sore spot that Meek Mill bruised in the “Back to Back” beef: Drake’s use of ghostwriters. “Everyone thinks they’re soooo great. Talkin top 5 and be having 30 people write songs for them,” Cudi tweeted, and then went on to clear up any confusion about where he intended his punch to land: “My tweets apply to who they apply. Ye, Drake, whoever. These n—-s dont give a fuck about me. And they aint fuckin with me.”
Kanye can be as petty as anyone and, after a long history that includes their mythological 808s and Heartbreaks collaboration, he wasn’t about to take an insult from Cudi laying down. He addressed his former protege by name at his Tampa, Florida performance on the Saint Pablo tour and reminded him of the importance of a Yeezy cosign in his success. “You mad because I’m doing songs with Drake? Ain’t nobody tell Ye who to do songs with. Respect the god!”
After his initial irate response to Cudi’s accusations, Yeezus softened and displayed a measure of godlike forgiveness and benediction, calling Kid Cudi his brother and the most influential artist of the past 10 years at a tour stop in Houston and imploring another audience to sing along with The Life of Pablo‘s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.”
Drake, mordant and brooding in Gucci slides and silk pajamas, is showing no willingness to follow Ye’s example. He recently took to OVO Sound Radio to announce the collaborative playlist More Life and debut four tracks from the upcoming project, including the buckshot-loaded “Two Birds, One Stone.”
Bird number one? G.O.O.D. Music’s Pusha T. “You made a couple chops and now you think you Chapo,” Drake scoffs, calling out King Push’s well-worn drug dealer stories in retaliation for his long-running jabs at the Canadian rapper’s lack of gangster cred in songs like “Exodus 23:1” and “H.G.T.V. Freestyle.”
Bird number two? Kid Cudi. While no one disputes who instigated the beef, the timing was unfortunate – and seemingly deliberate. “Two Birds, One Stone” was released 20 days into Cudi’s voluntary stay in rehab for depression and suicidal urges.
Drake doesn’t bother couching his insults in the plausible deniability of a sneak diss, referencing Kid Cudi’s debut Man on the Moon so that there’s no question who he’s addressing. Neither does he shy away from explicitly referencing Cudi’s highly-publicized battle with mental illness and addiction:
“You were the man on the moon
Now you just go through your phases
Life of the angry and famous
Rap like I know I’m the greatest”
While it’s theorized that Drake may have penned his bars before Kid Cudi publicly announced he was stepping away from promoting his upcoming album to get treatment, it’s hard not to hear echoes of Cudi’s heartbreaking letter to his fans in his mockery.
“Two Birds, One Stone” goes on to harmfully characterize drug addiction as a display of weakness with the lines “You stay xanned and perked up / So when reality set in you don’t gotta face it.”
Researchers have found that stigmatization of drug abuse adversely affects the health of drug users, and surveys associate high levels of discrimination and alienation with poorer mental health outcomes. Much like Champagne Papi, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a health condition like diabetes or bipolar disorder.
In reality, drug dependance is a complex chronic health condition that is difficult to manage but can be treated successfully. Reducing misunderstandings and negative beliefs about addiction could have wide-ranging positive social effects, from making the public more likely to accept policies aimed at helping rather than punishing addicts to removing the barriers to accessing care created by discrimination by healthcare workers.
Drake continues to reinforce harmful stereotypes about mental illness with the lyrics “Look what happens soon as you talk to me crazy… is you crazy?”
Our view of mental health as separate and unequal to general health interferes with the ability of all members of society to participate on a relatively level playing field. Prejudicial attitudes about people with mental illness can lead to discrimination like landlords denying renters with mental illness, employers choosing other candidates and the piss-poor treatment of those experiencing homelessness by the public at large and political budget crunchers alike.
Negative views about mental illness can also manifest as self-stigma: the guilt and embarrassment that can prevent people who are suffering from reaching out for help. Drake’s lyrics on “Two Birds, One Stone” normalize the shame that Kid Cudi verbalized in his eloquent admission that he’d hit rock bottom. OVO Sound Radio reaches further than Cudi’s headphones, and it can certainly be argued that mocking mental illness is a more irresponsible message to broadcast to vulnerable fans than all the references to Henny and casual sex in the world.
Backlash to the out-of-line diss was immediate, most notably with Kid Cudi’s manager Dennis Cummings calling Drake “corny as fuck.” Despite blowback from fans and music industry peers, Drake remains unapologetic. “Mans need to stop mentioning my name when they get geeked,” he wrote in a comment on Instagram. “Supposed to be all love out here word to my bro Pablo.”
Kid Cudi’s confession sparked a national conversation about how the pressures of masculinity can keep black men from being vulnerable and honest about their struggles. #YouGoodMan trended on Twitter as fans discussed the effect race has on mental health treatment, how to create safe space for healing and how rap has dealt with mental illness throughout the ages. After the release of Drake’s diss, the hashtag flooded with negative reviews of the track and disappointment about its message.
Some rap old heads were able to stop shaking their fist at Lil Yachty long enough to defend Drake, typing out hot takes about the rough and tumble nature of rap beef and invoking legendary tracks like Hova’s “Takeover” diss against Mobb Deep and Nas’ response “Ether” to argue that diss tracks are a longstanding hip-hop tradition, and decrying the “Two Birds, One Stone” controversy as political correctness run amok.
However, a lot has changed since the so-called “golden age” of hip-hop. It’s been 20 years since Tupac released “Hit Em Up,” which absolutely demolished the entire Bad Boy clan and threw in a boast about fucking Biggie’s wife Faith Evans for good measure. You don’t have to pull out back issues of Vibe magazine to guess that his jibe didn’t spark a content cycle about the detrimental effects of slut-shaming, like it would today.
Similarly, Mobb Deep’s eerily prescient diss “Drop A Gem On Em” was recorded while Tupac was alive and ultimately released two months after his death. The lyrics contained explicit threats and homophobic, victim-shaming references to rumors that Tupac was sexually assaulted while imprisoned on Riker’s Island. It’s hard to imagine any song as morbid being well-received today, in an era where celebrities are mourned both publicly and performatively; dripping tears and hashtags.
For better and sometimes worse, the way we consume and critique media has changed. These days, many young rap fans demand the same mandatory level of wokeness from their hip-hop heroes as they do from their distant relatives on Facebook – hence, Drake’s shots at Cudi are decreasingly acceptable.
It’s unclear whether fans that look to Drizzy for a warmblooded soca-inflected diversion from reality are as bloodthirsty for a rap beef where one party is so heavily underdogged as he seems to think they are. Likewise, the idea that Cudi – a kid in skinny jeans who got famous off a Crookers remix – needs to abide by the rules of ’90s gangster rap while cooling in rehab is questionable.
Drake may be perennially in-touch with his own self-absorbed emotions, but his inability to find forgiveness in his heart for a brother who was obviously going through some shit demonstrates callousness and a lack of empathy.
Ultimately, by being a case study in how not to be supportive to a peer in a mental health crisis, Aubrey may have played himself. Rather than embracing the chance to be the bigger man, he dealt a low blow and fought dirty against someone who wasn’t in the proper space to defend himself – and he did it in a way that stigmatizes others struggling with addiction and mental illness, too.
If there’s any bright spot in the “Two Birds, One Stone” debacle, it’s that we’re keeping the conversation about mental health in the hip-hop community alive. Drake would be wise to think twice about the harm and stereotyping he’s reinforcing before he takes aim in his next diss track. Let’s hope he learns some lessons before he finally goes after Kendrick Lamar.
Semi-relatedly, here’s why Nicki Minaj should be your role model (actually, though).