A month ago Kanye West released his latest album, Donda. A week later Drake released his latest album, Certified Lover Boy. We’re meant to read a furious rivalry into these near release dates. Kanye and Drake are fighting again. Todd Rundgren says he worked on Donda but grew disillusioned with West as his contributions languished and a firm release never materialized. “Drake was running the whole process,” Rundgren said in an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock. “[Kanye] was too afraid that Drake would one-up him, so he hurried up and released the album the weekend before Drake could get his out.” So the latest chapter in the Kanye vs. Drake contest began with signs of the inevitable retreat. The day after CLB dropped, Drake leaked Kanye’s song “Life of the Party,” whose lyrics include a tirade against Drake. Why did Drake do this? Who knows. Who cares?
Frankly, this beef sucks. Kanye and Drake have both elevated hip-hop in commercial terms but they’ve also debased a great pastime: rappers antagonizing each other on records. This isn’t BDP repping the Bronx, 2Pac showing out for California, Jay-Z angling to succeed Biggie, Gucci Mane and Jeezy nursing a blood feud, or even Eminem, 50 Cent, and the Game trolling everyone to death. These aren’t titans trying to reinvigorate the genre with a good, old-fashioned duel to dramatize some larger regional claims or creative principles in conflict. These are multimillionaires playacting a struggle in an otherwise charmed, post-peak existence. We’ve come a very long way from “Beef is when I see you / Guaranteed to be in ICU.”
What’s the conflict here? It’s developed a bit like World War I, beginning a decade ago as a beef between Lil Wayne and Pusha T but over the years escalating into the primetime matchup, Drake vs. Kanye, due to affiliations: Lil Wayne recruited Drake to Young Money Entertainment, and Pusha T runs Kanye’s vanity label, G.O.O.D. Music. In summer 2018, Pusha T rehashed Drake’s reliance on ghostwriters—the pretext for Drake’s earlier feud with Meek Mill—despite Drake himself writing the only decent song, “Yikes,” for that year’s Ye, as well as other writing credits for Kanye. More importantly, on “The Story of Adidon,” Pusha T publicized Drake’s involvement with a French adult film actress who gave birth to the Canadian rapper’s first and yet-undisclosed child. He thus characterized Drake rather savagely as a deadbeat dad. Presumably, Kanye could have restrained Pusha T from divulging Drake’s paternity drama, but he chose not to; in fact, Drake believes Kanye first told Pusha about his son, so Drake has held that fiasco against Kanye ever since. That’s the closest this feud has ever gotten to being worth anyone’s time: A cocaine cowboy sucker punched the biggest rapper on the planet, and for once, in his arrogance, he faltered. Could he recover? Next time on Dragon Ball Z!
Drake sulked away for the rest of the year, offering only the most low-key commentary about Pusha T on Scorpion, and so that was that. The moment passed. The beef expired—or would’ve expired were Drake not so determined to speak with the manager. Drake and Kanye have been rivals since Drake’s breakout moment in summer 2009, but they’d always played off one another constructively and even collaborated. We’re now watching the long falling out between chart-topping frenemies, their relationship too shallow, their disagreements too esoteric, their rhetoric too cowardly, and their lives too charmed to permit a champion to emerge from this high-status, low-grade nonsense. So here we have the most transparently phony feud since Kanye West vs. 50 Cent on the eve of Graduation’s release. That was a marketing farce drawing two rappers into an arbitrary comparison in order to create a sales “battle” at retail. This is similar but worse for the lower stakes and worse contrast in combat skills. In the one corner we have Kanye West, a stone-throwing, hand-hiding cry-bully who has played the fool too many times in recent years to win anyone’s sympathy in any more interpersonal conflicts. His quarrels with other artists—Taylor Swift, Wiz Khalifa, Kid Cudi—have always made him look a bit ridiculous and wrong-footed. The beef with Wiz began when Kanye misread a tweet about weed as being about his wife, Kim Kardashian. It’s just prohibitively difficult to humor any rap beef involving Kanye West at this point.
In the opposite corner we have Drake, a rapper who will never in his life go beyond the “passive” in “passive-aggressive.” Granted, six years ago Drake eviscerated Meek Mill outright on “Back to Back,” but even that song was immediately preceded by an angsty whiff, “Charged Up,” exhibiting Drake’s evasiveness. But then Drake beat Meek so quickly and lopsidedly, and then reconciled with him so cynically during his criminal rights crusade in Philly, that the feud wasn’t resolved so much as memory-holed. Three years ago Pusha T lured Drake into the most embarrassing episode of his career, but neither Pusha T nor Drake were prepared to press the conflict beyond the initial shock-and-awe phase. For several years Drake and Kendrick Lamar have repressed whatever animosity is always being rumored between them, and now the implied genre contrast—the relentless hitmaker vs. the didactic artiste—seems quaint. That beef expired, too.
So Kanye vs. Drake materialized out of boredom, the very last channel in a bloated cable package, stranding us in the most obscure and unwanted titles at the margins of reality television. Surely there’s a housing association or community board in Calabasas accustomed to managing this sort of neighborly dispute. Lest I file the noise complaint.