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If you happen to be clued up on rap beef, then you ought to be aware that OVO Sound frontman Drake is currently engaged in a fierce back and forth with Pusha-T. The G.O.O.D. music signee, who recently released his third album DAYTONA, fired shots at the Toronto rapper for ghostwriting, among other accusations.

It should come as no surprise that call-out culture has become a staple in the rap game, especially among Drake and King Push, who’s rap beef is longstanding. Drake’s response, titled “Duppy Freestyle”, has raised a few eyebrows, notably over its title. Despite praise for the rapper’s clapbacks, (including this one directed at Kanye West and Virgil Abloh) many have remained hung up on the word “duppy,” and what it actually means.

If, like many people, you’re curious about its definition, then look no further – we have the full breakdown right here.

What does Duppy mean?

Plain and simple, “duppy” is a Jamaican Patois word (with Central African origins) that means ghost or spirit. According to Jamaican folklore, duppies often manifest a dead person’s soul by taking on a human or animal form.

Jamaican islanders also believe that people have two souls: a God-given spiritual soul and an earthly, secular one. Upon death, the spiritual soul leaves the earth to await judgment, while the earthly soul remains in the body for three days. When three days have passed, the earthly soul will rise out of the grave into smoke and out arises a duppy, unless certain precautions are taken to pin it down.

Moreover, it’s important to note that duppies can be both good and bad. The former camp includes the souls of loved ones that often appear in your dreams to provide wisdom, advice, and closure. The latter camp – of which people are more acquainted – include malicious energies that haunt and disrupt earthly beings. This ‘good vs bad’ binary is symbolized by the Patois expression, “Duppy know who fi frighten, an’ who fi tell good night.”

Where have we heard it before?

The word “duppy” in that sense isn’t new or made up. In fact, music and literature dating back to oral storytelling have incorporated the word in songs and texts stemming from Afro-Caribbean traditions. It would be fair to argue that the duppy figure is central to the Jamaican cultural identity, specifically in one of the island’s biggest exports – music.

In 1971, Bob Marley and The Wailers released the song “Duppy Conqueror”. The story goes that Marley was in conversation with fellow reggae artist Lee “Scratch” Perry about his sudden found success after writing the song “My Cup”. Marley referred to his new found fans and acquaintances as “duppies,” as they were draining his energy. Thus, the song was born.

So don’t try to cold me up on this bridge, now
I’ve got to reach Mount Zion –
The highest region
So if you’re a bull-bucker,
Let me tell you this –
I’m a duppy conqueror, conqueror!

The chorus of the song (as printed above) includes reference to a popular duppy manifestation, The Rolling Calf, which appears with chains around its body. Here, Marley talks about his desire to reach Jah, even if it means defeating duppies to get there.

In 2011, Kingston artist Tony Matterhorn released “Dancehall Duppy”, which is likely to have been a source of inspiration for Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle” – at least contextually. Matterhorn’s song discusses the nature of music beef (in the Jamaican scene) and how quick artists are to call out each other, but not address the underlying issue face to face.

In the opening lyrics, Matterhorn writes: “Is like a duppy inna di business/Everybody a war wid/Mi waan fi know, how much bad man him a par wid/Everybody a throw word, nuh name dem nah give/So wha dem a do di song fa?”

Roughly translated, there are many diss records circulating, but no one names the person it’s for. Thus, he likens their arguments to fighting with a duppy – you know its there, but it’s not clear who you’re battling against. Similar to Drake and Pusha-T’s predicament, neither artist names each other in their respective records, but they make very pointed jabs so that you get the point.

Integration of dancehall into contemporary music

As mentioned, reggae and dancehall have become important exports from the island – so much so that contemporary music has often borrowed sounds typically found within Jamaican music. The likes of Popcaan, Spice, and Vybz Kartel have continually pushed to bring dancehall to the mainstream. Western artists such as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj (who are also of Caribbean descent) have picked up on the rhythms, integrating it into popular streams. Perhaps the most prime example is Rihanna’s “Work” which, interestingly enough, features Drake.

In Drake’s case, his native country of Canada has one of the largest Jamaican expat populations in North America. Numbers from The Canadian Magazine of Immigration suggest that in 2015, around 25,000 Jamaicans resided in the country, with a large population living in the Greater Toronto area – Drake’s home city. To say he knows a thing or two about dancehall (and Patois) would be an understatement.

The rapper has made continued references to Patois slang, which is often interchangeable with British slang. His last project, More Life, featured the song “Gyalchester” – a mashup of the word “gyal” and the English city of Manchester. He was also filmed saying “Mans never been in Marquee when it’s shutdown, eh? Trus mi daddi,” back in 2015. The clip was then featured on Skepta’s track “Shutdown.” (Notably, the grime artist himself also dropped a song called “Duppy”).

Needless to say, Drake’s connection with Jamaican-Canadians and his love for Black British culture, (as expressed through his Instagram), is a key signifier into the artist’s relationship with Patois. While the context of his recent diss record title remains unclear, it could be argued that he’s saying that he “ghosted” or “killed” Pusha-T on the track with his retort.

What’s next for Drake?

In “Duppy Freestyle”, Drake notes “Don’t push me when I’m in album mode.” So, as you can imagine, the artist is gearing up for the release of his fifth studio album, Scorpion, dropping sometime in June.

In the run-up, Drake has gifted a number of celebrities a custom Scorpion Varsity jacket, and has released a slew of singles, including, “Nice For What” and more recently, “I’m Upset”. Whether dancehall sounds or Patois itself will become a noticeable feature on the album remains to be seen, but at least now you know what “duppy” means.

Now that you’re all clued up, re-visit this breakdown of disses in “Duppy Freestyle”.

A Berlin-based gal from Brum.

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