Now that the dust has settled on the blockbuster release of Drake’s fifth full-length Scorpion, it’s time to take stock of 2018’s watershed moment in hip-hop. We are of course referring to Drizzy’s little tussle with Pusha T, which you may have heard a thing or two about if you’re an avid reader of this publication.
The historic rap feud finds its origins in a dispute over who wore the brand A Bathing Ape better back in 2006: Lil Wayne or Pharrell. Attentive readers may note that neither of these offended parties are Drake or Pusha T, but label loyalty runs thicker than blood in the world of hip-hop. Regardless of their friends’ respective sartorial choices over a decade ago, it is fair to say that this year’s shockingly fierce repartee between the two has well-eclipsed (pun intended) the initial clashes, giving way to the most notable rap beef in recent history.
Now that both rappers have their new albums out into the world (and with Pusha himself indicating that the feud is “all over”), we’re using a highly complex, scientific metric to judge who has emerged victorious in this landmark spat. Both Drake and Pusha are wonderful, but in the words of the great cult film Highlander, ‘there can be only one.’
Round One: The Backlog
Before digging into the proverbial nitty-gritty, points should be allotted to both players for their sly digs that have been levied at each other over the past several years. Already covered extensively in our analysis of their beef, let’s briefly revisit the highlights:
Says Pusha on Drake’s contractual mishaps: “Contract all fucked / I guess that means you all fucked up,” along with, “You signed to one n***a that signed to another n***a / That’s signed to three n***a, now that’s bad luck.”
Says Drake on Nothing Was the Same-opener “Tuscan Leather”: “Here’s a reason for n*ggas that’s hatin’ without one / That always let they mouth run / Bench players talkin’ like starters, I hate it.”
The ball in Pusha’s court: “It’s too far gone when the realest ain’t real / I walk amongst the clouds, so your ceilings ain’t real / These n***as Call of Duty ’cause they killings ain’t real / With a questionable pen so the feeling ain’t real,” continuing with, “The bar’s been lowered / The well’s run dry / They beefing over melodies, but no, not I / See, I’m so top five / If they factor in the truth / I just might blow by.”
The ball in Drake’s court: “But really it’s you with all the drug dealer stories / That’s gotta stop, though / You made a couple chops and now you think you Chapo / If you ask me though, you ain’t lining the trunk with kilos / You bagging weed watching Pacino with all your n***a / Like, ‘This what we need to be on,’ but you never went live / You middle-man in this shit, boy, you was never them guys / I can tell, ’cause I look most of you dead in your eyes / And you’ll be tryna sell that story for the rest of your lives.”
Score – Drake: 2, Pusha: 2
Round Two: L’Entrée de Boeuf
Years of parries and exchanging blows now come to a head on “Infrared,” the closing track on Pusha T’s new album DAYTONA.
“The lyric pennin’ equal the Trumps winnin’ / The bigger question is how the Russians did it / It was written like Nas, but it came from Quentin,” raps Pusha, referring to the claims of ghostwriting that have hovered over Drake like a vengeful spirit for years.
Impressively, Drake dropped a response within 24 hours of the release of Pusha’s latest. “Duppy Freestyle” lays into him, “And as for Q, man, I changed his life a couple times / N***a was at Kroger working double time / Ya’ll acting like he made the boy when I was trying to help the guy / Yeah, who gassed you to play with me? / Man, you made this shit easy as ABCs / Whoever supposedly making me hits, but then got no hits sound like they need me / My hooks did it, my lyrics did it, my spirit did it.”
Which of course brings us to the infamous, instantly-iconic “The Story of Adidon.” Like a cobra waiting patiently to snatch his prey, Pusha delivered this sermon of rage and hate, clearly intending for Drake to come for him. The rest (from unearthing a photo of Drake in blackface to revealing his secret child to lambasting his failed fatherhood to taking aim at innocent bystander Noah “40” Shebib’s debilitating disease) is history.
What was once an exchange of blows was revealed to be a grand design of Pusha; a lean, mean stratagem whose purpose was to eviscerate Drake’s image in the public eye forever. 2 points for Pusha’s well-placed bait, 5 points for Drake’s efficient response, 15 points to Push for the greatest diss track of the decade. Drake’s extremely-delayed response on Scorpion and sorry excuse of a press release regarding his blackface image are too pitiful to be scored.
Score – Drake: 7, Pusha: 19
Round Three: The Albums
Now that both full-lengths are here, it is only fair that we judge the quality of the records they released on purely musical terms (For a deatiled take on both, be sure to read our reviews of DAYTONA and Scorpion).
Coming in the wake of Kanye West’s embarrassing fall from grace, expectations were tense ahead of the release of DAYTONA, the first in West’s G.O.O.D. Music rollout. Said expectations were instantly shattered by the sheer, expert musicality of the record itself. It is no stretch to say that this is the best release in Pusha’s career since Clipse’s Lord Willin’, a perfect storm of a rapper at the peak of his powers, production of the highest caliber, and a sound edgy and dark enough to suit these troubled times. At just seven tracks and 20 minutes in length, it is lethally-incisive in its impact, and currently stands as our best contender for the album of the year. 10 points to Gryffin- er, Pusha.
Scorpion, on the other hand, is punishingly long. A double album that clocks in at 25 tracks and a full 90-minute runtime (the length of a feature film if anyone’s counting), it is a brutal slog of a listen. It is not without its highlights, “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” are surely among the best Drake songs yet, but its bloated presentation is a serious detriment to its overall quality. Each Drake release continues to grow in size, which means that his next album should approximate to a symphony of murky beats that runs a solid three hours. 3 points to Drake.
Score – Drake: 10, Pusha: 29
Round Four: Show Me the Money
Considering the metric of sales is of such great importance to the late stage-capitalist carnival sideshow in which we live, we would be remiss not to account for some accounting.
DAYTONA debuted at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 moving 77,000 units in its first week, which is Pusha’s highest-charting release to date. He also nabbed four tracks on the Hot 100 simultaneously; by any measure, this is his best-selling showing in his illustrious career.
However, less than a week after release day, Scorpion is shaping up to be the biggest album release of 2018 (so far). It has shattered all records for single day-streams, and when factoring in physical sales, it is expected to move over 700,000 units and debut at the top of the charts. This doesn’t even touch on the ubiquitous singles released ahead of the album; “God’s Plan” and “Nice for What” both dominated the Hot 100, with the former totaling up to be Drake’s biggest run on the charts ever.
We’ll make that 4 points to Pusha, one for each of his Hot 100 hits, and a clean 15 for Drizzy.
Score – Drake: 25, Pusha: 33
Round Five: Flexing
Despite the extreme objective and factual nature of our tally thus far, we’ll need to consider the significantly more subjective concept of who hath wrought the biggest flex. Here, flex indicates the most lavish flaunt of personal wealth and/or cultural caché. Let’s begin:
With Daddy Kanye’s wallet behind him, Pusha flew in the face of good taste (are you noticing a pattern?) and cleared the use of a photo of Whitney Houston’s bathroom to use as DAYTONA‘s album art. Given its overt depiction of an abundance of cocaine, it is an extremely fitting choice for a Pusha T record, himself the patron saint of the devil’s dandruff. Houston’s family was up in arms over this choice, the G.O.O.D. Music team stuck to their artistic integrity-guns and brushed it off. Flex wise, that’s a good 7 points.
Meanwhile, an album’s worth of typical Drake-details of the life of luxury pale in comparison to his clearance of this unearthed Michael Jackson vocal. Take a moment to consider the price tag of purchasing an audio file from the vault of the King of Pop, recorded in his Thriller-prime in 1983. It would be one thing to sample it, but Drake shelled out the cash for this cut and made it the hook of the track “Don’t Matter to Me,” in essence, duetting with the late MJ. The song isn’t even that great, but that is a ridiculously showy flex. 10 points.
Score – Drake: 35, Pusha: 40
Final Round: Cultural Impact & Legacy
All in all, both Pusha and Drake have created some of 2018’s most essential albums; releases that have been benchmark moments in pop culture as a whole. But again, there can be only one.
Pusha T has been in the game for decades now and has crafted some of the most indelible hits in hip-hop history, and yet this year was an undeniable underdog story for the rapper. He had yet to make a true masterpiece as a solo artist, instead spending his days in the shadows of Kanye West records and releasing very middling projects of his own. DAYTONA is his moment, the exact release he had been waiting for delivered at exactly the right moment. That this Drake beef swelled in tandem with the album only furthered this narrative, making for a moment that solidifies Pusha’s place in hip-hop history forever. 10 points.
Drake has essentially become the biggest rapper in the game by technicality. Calling him one of the biggest stars on the planet is probably an understatement. And for all his huffing and puffing and emotional growth on Scorpion, this is the first of his releases that is entirely comprised of treading water, if not back-peddling to former sonic states. It perhaps would have had a greater impact had his entire public persona not been ripped from his clutches by a hungry Pusha T. He may have been strong enough to pull an about-face in time for its release, but Drake is battered; he will never carry the same clout again. – 5 points.
Final Score – Drake: 30, Pusha: 50
PUSHA T wins the beef.
If you haven’t already, get the full timeline of Drake and Pusha’s beef here.