This was not the response everyone was expecting. Last night, a little over a day after Pusha T dropped one of the most eviscerating diss tracks in recent hip-hop history, Drake responded to the artwork released with the song… with a statement written on the notes app of his phone. Again, this is not what we were expecting.
The artwork in question shows Drake in blackface, mimicking imagery from the Jim Crow era. It’s a jarring image, especially without context. Here’s Drake’s attempt to provide context:
.@Drake's statement pic.twitter.com/q50vKNPlgY— Complex (@Complex) May 31, 2018
“I know everyone is enjoying the circus.” Is it just me or is there contempt in that sentence? It feels like a judgment on the way people are joyously dissecting this rap beef that Drake actively contributed to – in fact, he’s the one who escalated it. So yeah, we’re enjoying the circus, Aubrey. Quit judging me. Starting his statement by calling the battle a “circus” and then very seriously addressing the blackface photos seems to be Drake’s way of rationalizing why he hasn’t dropped his retaliation track yet. His priority is to clarify why he posed in blackface at all. Interesting strategy. I’ll come back to this decision.
Drake’s explanation of the photos is what I was expecting. There was no point where I thought that Drake was intentionally trying to make a mockery of black people, especially after it came out that the photoshoot featured clothing by the Toronto label Too Black Guys, which is known for, as Slate puts it, “creating designs that attempt to slyly re-contextualize and subvert racist imagery”. Too Black Guys has been a staple in hip-hop for a long time and the label is well respected (Mary J. Blige wore their sh-t in her “Real Love” video.) It helps Drake that they have a connection to these photos—though they say the photoshoot was not their idea—and that the label’s founder, Adrian Aitcheson, released his own statement in tandem with Drake’s.
The subtleties of Drake, a young black man, mimicking how white men used to mimic and dehumanize black people may be lost in a rap battle but we should not be distracted from the issues that are still affecting our communities.
OK. While I assumed that the explanation would be something like this, it’s still not a good look. As Drake notes, yes, black actors are stereotyped and struggle to get roles. Especially in 2007 when the photos were taken, black actors were “wrongfully portrayed in entertainment.” I can understand what Drake was trying to do. I understand that being a frustrated young black actor staring down another audition for a stereotypical role would force you to want to do something drastic and make a bold political statement. But bold political statements are not something Drake is known for. He’s been criticized for how little he addresses social issues in his music and throughout his career. At times, Drake’s silence has been deafening. So, this photoshoot, no matter what the intention, seems like a convenient justification coming from a guy who hasn’t stood up for these issues in the past. To me, that’s the difference between this photoshoot and what Childish Gambino did with This Is America. Donald Glover’s use of minstrel imagery was, in my opinion, a nuanced and definitive political stance from an artist who uses his work to provoke difficult conversations.
There’s also the fact that Drake is a light-skinned black man. Of course, Drake still has had to deal with prejudice and racist bullsh-t but there is a privilege that comes with looking like Drake. Seeing someone who looks like Drake in blackface, which is the mocking of dark-skinned black people specifically and reducing them to caricatures, does not evoke the intended message. It’s not just intent that should matter in situations like these, it’s also about reception. See also: Zoe Saldana essentially in blackface playing Nina Simone. This photoshoot was ill-advised and not fully thought through. It’s bad work, which is disappointing since Drake usually is really great at showing his work.
Let’s get into Drake’s work. Last night, I had every intention of focusing this post on Pusha T’s Breakfast Club interview where he calls out Drake’s alleged upcoming Adidas campaign. According to Pusha, that campaign was supposed to be the “unveiling” of Drake’s son Adonis, and it was to be called “Adidon.” Instead of focusing on that today, we’re talking about Drake in blackface. Coincidence or conspiracy?
Drake’s statement on blackface feels like he’s scrambling. He’s trying to buy himself some time to figure out his next step. His next steps are supposedly coming soon. Drake hasn't lyrically retaliated yet but according to TMZ's Van Lathan, he's ready.
Have it on an incredibly good source that Drake is about to "Deal With The Situation."— VanLathan (@VanLathan) May 30, 2018
I'm not sure what Drake "dealing with the situation" looks like. Pusha T was RUTHLESS. Can Drake be just as cutthroat? Like I said yesterday, even if he does go as low as Pusha did and launches a personal strike, will anyone care? What trumps “Drake has a secret baby”? Pusha T came for Drake’s personal life and image but he also came for his business. If we believe Pusha T, and I’m inclined to since he’s also signed to Adidas, Drake was planning to use a campaign for a massive company to tell the world that he’s a father. As Pusha put it, he’s using his son to sell sneakers. If this is true, it would also explain why we don’t have an official Drake response yet. Drake not only has to hire Jessica Jones to dig up dirt on Pusha Tea, he also has to renegotiate an entire Adidas deal. Allegedly. And re-jig an album rollout.
In the past 24 hours, Pusha T turned Drake into the subject of a million memes and made him break out his notes app, which is never good for a celebrity. Pusha T is winning. If we’re making basketball analogies here, is Pusha up 2-1? Is this going to Game 7? Are you, like Lainey and me, refreshing your Twitter feeds every 30 seconds to see what’s coming next? Oh I am thoroughly enjoying this circus.