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Drake reflects on a decade of friction in ‘Rap Radar’ interview

Drake was involved in the decade’s two biggest beefs. What he takes from them is vastly different.

Even beyond most everything else he’s done for the past decade, Drake’s all-encompassing Rap Radar Podcast interview was a cardinal moment.

Artists of Drake’s stature rarely give interviews — and certainly not in-depth examinations. The interview was nothing short of fascinating. One of the biggest stars in the world opening the doors to his home and even more intimately his life in general.

The holiday, turn of the decade confessional provided a multitude of insights orbiting in his fame’s solar system — including the two most damning impediments of his career. One with a friend-turned enemy-back to friend in Meek Mill and the other with an idol turned rival in Pusha T. Proof that happiness, even for the previous decade’s leader in No. 1 albums, comes with a roadmap.

Joy wouldn’t be joy without pain. Love wouldn’t be love without heartbreak. Peace wouldn’t be peace without war. Rap’s greatest hit maker has skeletons in his career’s closet that, no matter his net worth and no matter the Billboard sovereignty, will forever be part of his life’s curriculum vitae.

Drake never honored his own promise. Diss me, he vowed on 2009’s “Successful,” “and you’ll never hear a reply for it.”

The line is as noteworthy as it was a pipe dream. In part because it was never possible to begin with despite Jay-Z’s warning a year later on “Light Up,” saying, “Drake, here’s how they gon’ come at you/ With silly rap feuds trying to get at you.”

Drake quarreled with Common in 2012, remembered most for Drake’s testy verse on Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin’.” DMX went from disliking Drake to gaining respect for him after Drake called him to receive his blessing to sample “What These B—-es Want” and “How’s It Going Down” for 2016’s “U With Me.” And Joe Budden’s harsh critique of Views ignited a brief back-and-forth. Drake and Chris Brown’s 2012 clash at New York nightclub Club WIP, reportedly over Rihanna, effectively shut down the establishment. And what began at the start of the decade stemming from the use of a fashionable rapping style at the time ignited his falling-out with Ludacris. Both squashed their beef in 2017.

Without question, Drake found himself front and center of the decade’s two most publicized rap battles. His clashes with Pusha T and Meek Mill yielded conflicting results.

Drake and Pusha T’s war of words had been brewing for years with a host of subliminal disses that never migrated to the mainstream. By the time it boiled over in the spring of 2018, the angst was well beyond musical antagonism. It was deeply personal in a way that hadn’t been seen much since the height of Ja Rule and 50 Cent’s animosity in the early 2000s.

There were pictures of Drake in blackface. Allegations of Pusha T’s street past being embellished. Drake writing for Kanye West, and then posting an invoice on Instagram.

The fractured relationship between Drake’s parents and brutally harsh critique of producer Noah “40” Shebib’s multiple sclerosis. Drake name-dropping Pusha T’s wife Virginia Williams. Yet, by far the napalm that set fire to pop culture was Pusha T revealing Drake had recently become a father on the merciless cut “The Story of Adidon.” Public reaction against Drake was swift.

“I tip my hat to the chess move, it was a genius play. It definitely warranted my first ‘loss’ in the competitive sport of rapping,” Drake said. “By choice, obviously, because I bowed out after realizing that the gap between us allowed him to drop a bomb on the world that was all anyone cared about.”

The Rap Radar interview marked the first time Drake addressed the situation at length. He spoke with clarity, admitting his role in escalating the beef. Mentioning Pusha T’s wife on “Duppy Freestyle” — “I told you keep playin’ with my name/ And I’ma let it ring on you like Virginia Williams” — caused all bets to be removed from the table.

From left to right: Kanye West, Kenny Burns and Drake attend at Compound on June 20, 2015, in Atlanta.

Photo by Prince Williams/WireImage

Rap is a competitive sport and somebody was bound to catch him slipping at some point, he surmised. A response record was in motion, but ultimately scrapped because Drake knew there was no bigger trump card than what Pusha T had already thrown down. According to Drake, he didn’t want to make a decision based on emotion he might later come to regret. A year and a half removed from the battle moves Drake, in his own words, at peace. Moving on, however, doesn’t equal forgiveness.

“I have no desire to ever mend anything with that person,” Drake said, a feeling that is likely mutual on both sides. “There is no turning back.”

At the root of the friction, though, and where the brunt of his angst burns, is West. Much like the conflict with Pusha T, their history is as long and detailed as it is passive-aggressive and irreparable. Drake believed the battle was manipulated by the man he once saw as an idol, though West would claim his own innocence months later. Where rumors of a joint album between the two buzzed only a few years ago, all that is left now is bad blood and a “Sicko Mode” feature from Drake that he confirmed was directed at West.

“I think he definitely recruited a guy with similar dislike for me no matter what he says in interviews,” Drake said of West. “He can tell whoever ‘I got love for [Drake].’ But it’s not love. It’s something there that bothers him deeply. And I can’t fix it for him.”

“Certain s— is just too wild to reconcile,” Drake said on “4 P.M. In Calabasas.” And while the line accurately describes his relationship (or lack thereof) with Pusha T and West, it’s the polar opposite with Meek Mill.

Drake was dubbed the victor in their 2015 beef that began once Meek Mill, upset that Drake missed a show of his he was scheduled to attend, tweeted that Drake employed ghostwriters. This resulted in the duo of responses “Charged Up” and the Grammy-nominated “Back To Back,” the latter of which was inspired by Serena Williams. Williams referenced her one-sided battles against Maria Sharapova, telling Drake, “You gotta finish it. I’m talking about done. Over. It’s gotta be something that everyone that [Meek Mill’s] with and him have to hear. She kind of put this battery in my back funny enough. I just went into demon mode.”

It is important to note that while Drake did walk away victorious in the battle, Meek Mill did damage Drake’s reputation. Even to this day, and in the Rap Radar interview, Drake balks at the notion of using ghostwriters. There’s a level of understandable annoyance that overcomes him. One, because he denies the assertion and while international fame and chart-topping success is part of who he is — rap credibility is something Drake is engrossed with. And two, perhaps more importantly, it’s something he knows that is now forever part of his legacy.

From left to right: 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Sean Combs, and Drake sit courtside during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on Feb. 16, 2014, in New Orleans.

Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

More than four years later, the beef is an albatross for Meek and Drake. There’s near embarrassment from both parties with Drake vowing never to perform the song again on New Year’s Eve 2016. Even before their public falling-out, the two were friends and occasional collaborators on 2012’s “Amen” and 2015’s “R.I.C.O.Seeds of a reconciliation were first made public in November 2017 when Drake said “Free Meek” at concert in Melbourne, Australia. A year later, Meek’s surprise guest appearance in Boston at a Drake and Migos tour stop officially ended the feud. Months later, their reunion song, 2019’s “Going Bad,” became a top 10 Billboard hit.

When I look back I might be mad I gave this attention,” Drake rhymed on “Back To Back.” Call it art predicting life, on both sides.

Two weeks before Drake’s Rap Radar interview aired, Breakfast Club host Charlamagne tha God traveled to Bermuda to interview Meek. Included in the barrage of topics they addressed, the Championships MC revealed he once had an addiction to opioids. Many assumed at the time that Meek Mill’s vexation over Drake stemmed from jealousy of Drake’s friendship with his then-girlfriend Nicki Minaj.

“If you ask me why I came at Drake, I don’t even f— really, really know,” Meek said. “I just ain’t really know when I look back. I’m just like, ‘F— I wanna do something like that [for]?’ … I’m making very bad decisions and not knowing I’m making these bad decisions. When I wasn’t high and I went back on YouTube and checked my file, [I was like] I don’t do s— like that.”

“I don’t like to glorify the situation or talk about it too much,” Drake said. “Meek’s really about that. I know obviously he’s made a change in his life, but I’ll be the first to tell you that Meek’s that guy for real. I wasn’t beefing with no punk. For us to be able to turn that around, [it] was a big thing. I think we both felt an obligation because we know how far it was going and almost went.”

LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (left) and Drake (right) ride the team bus during the Toronto Raptors’ championship victory parade on June 17 in Toronto.

Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

For the first time since roughly 2013’s Nothing Was The Same, Drake approaches a new album without controversy or an enemy. In 2015 with What a Time To Be Alive with Future, there was Meek Mill. In 2016 with Views, the aftereffects of his one-sided lyrical tussle with Meek Mill and the ghostwriting allegations were very much part of his storyline. In 2017 with More Life, the most disjointed project of his career, Drake’s anger and annoyance still bled through his work.

But it did provide the aptly-titled “Do Not Disturb,” where he opened up that he “ducked a lot of spiteful moves/ I was an angry yute when I was writing ‘Views’/ Saw a side of myself that I just never knew.” And in 2018 with Scorpion — despite its massive hits such as “God’s Plan,” “Nonstop,” “In My Feelings” and “Nice For What” — it was Pusha T and West who, purposely and/or inadvertently, eternally attach themselves to the album’s story. 2019’s Care Package was a collection of non-album material, never officially released, that he repurposed. Like its predecessors, Package immediately debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The arrival of a new year always provides resolutions and promises. The arrival of a new decade is, spiritually speaking, an opportunity to create a new artistic palette. Throughout the course of the interview, it’s Drake who hammers home his excitement for the emotional law and order in his life. He’s not beefing with anyone. Yet. He’s not paranoid. Yet. In a genre as competitive, and petty, as hip-hop, how long this feeling of tranquility will last is anyone’s guess. There’s always another battle, another foe on the horizon. Especially when you sit atop the artistic food chain.

But for now, living in the moment is both the appetizer and main course on his life’s menu.

“I think one of my biggest accomplishments is the fact that I didn’t let this massive, massive change in my life destroy me,” Drake told Elliott Wilson and Brian B.Dot Miller. “That’s my biggest accomplishment. I made a lot of money. I been a lot of places. I had a lot of opportunities to f— this up. And didn’t.”

Perhaps that is his legacy — an imperfect man, in an imperfect art, in search of perfection. Just like that the decade is over. One that began with debate whether Drake could satisfy the massive hype around his name. One that ends questioning when the run will ever end. And in between were roadblocks, land mines and battles that he either created for himself or took on from others because, in rap, that is the cost of doing business. Drake is the decade’s most successful artist in the world’s most influential genre. But even success leaves scars behind.

 

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.