Last week on Joe Budden’s podcast, Pusha T reminded us that rap beef may not have rules, but they can have nasty consequences. Pusha was on Budden’s podcast responding to Drake’s appearance on LeBron James’ The Shop show in which he retrospectively discussed their war of words that unfolded this past spring on diss tracks like “Duppy Freestyle” and “Story Of Adidon.” Most of the hip-hop world was awestruck by Pusha’s latest revelation — that a woman close to Drake’s producer 40 told Pusha about Drake’s baby Adonis — but another portion of the interview struck my attention.
Nearly two hours into the interview, Pusha played several clips of who he said were people he knew speaking to Drake’s team, who were allegedly offering $100,000 for dirt on Pusha. One of the men in the tapes bluntly stated that $100,000 wasn’t enough for him, and “I gotta be able to move my family because it’s nothing but gunplay after this.” Though Pusha said he didn’t “condone” the man’s statement, the implication was that there would be violent consequences for pushing the contentious beef further into what Drake’s nefarious investor and Rap-A-Lot music founder J. Prince deemed “the pig pen.”
Hip-hop is more mainstream than ever, but it’s still a genre teeming with artists, label heads, and entourage members whose traditional method of conflict resolution can get way more intense than a diss track. While hip-hop fans reveled in the hysteria of the Pusha T vs. Drake feud with memes, speculation and armchair advisory, there was a real chance of violence that would have likely never reached the public. Sometimes rap beef simply dissipates with time, but when the wrong people are involved they can lead to fights and gun violence that rarely reach the blogosphere. “This is something you’d never hear about,” Pusha noted about the tapes. Budden agreed, and later noted that, “the listening and viewing public only ever cares about the bloodshed.” That bloodlust can put undue pressure on artists to supply it, but it does no one any good to let things get that far.
Drake’s alleged dig for dirt was simply aiming to reciprocate the sting of Pusha’s “Story Of Adidon” diss, which exposed his child and possibly torpedoed an impending Adidas deal, but it could have ended up with people aiming and digging in totally different manners.
It wouldn’t have been the first time that a beef Drake was involved in turned nasty beyond the public eye. In the heat of Drake’s 2015 clash with Meek Mill, Drake shouted out Meek’s fellow Philly rapper Ar-Ab on “Back To Back.” Ab and his OBH (Original Block Hustlaz) crew already had tension with his friend Meek’s Dreamchasers crew based on local, non-rap beefs and rumors that Meek was telling industry people not to sign Ab. Drake seized the moment to use their fracture to his advantage on “Back To Back,” rhyming, “I came through in the Wraith bumpin’ Ar-Ab.” The line compelled Meek to say “f*ck Ar-Ab” at his next show, and from there, tension between the Dreamchasers camp and OBH spilled over in Philly.
Ab, who was nabbed by the FBI last week on drug trafficking charges, reflected to DJ Vlad last October that before they squashed their issues on a 4-hour phone call, it got “bloody” between the camps with shootings and fights. While hip-hop fans saluted Drake’s “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” chess move, then moved on to the next story as the beef died down publicly, there was real violence taking place. People could have lost their lives or freedom because of music — a genre created as an alternative to violence. And while the reaction of people in Meek and Ab’s entourage isn’t in Drake’s control, he had to have known that violence was a possibility when he shouted Ab out, as he was previously involved in a fatal shootout that nearly cost rapper Cassidy his freedom in 2005. Was fueling that fire worth a pseudo-tactical advantage in a rap beef that’s now squashed?
The last thing Drake, Pusha T, or any artist needs on their conscience is the realization that their rap issues cost somebody their freedom or life. It happens too often in rap. Most recently, Yo Gotti’s friend Corey McClendon was charged with attempted murder of rapper Young Dolph, a Yo Gotti rival, who was shot multiple times in a Hollywood shooting incident. Blac Youngsta, a friend of Yo Gotti and signee to Gotti’s Collective Music Group, was charged in connection with a 2017 incident in which Dolph’s bulletproof sprinter was hit with over 100 bullets in Charlotte, N.C.
Those who clamor for former G-Unit colleagues 50 Cent and Game to reunite probably haven’t factored in the death of Lowell “Lodi Mack” Fletcher, a G-Unit affiliate who was shot and killed on orders of Game’s former manager Jimmy Henchman. Allegedly, Mack and G-Unit rapper Tony Yayo accosted Henchman’s then 14-year-old son in the heat of Game and 50 Cent’s quarrel. It’s been speculated that the 2007 shooting of the home of Yayo’s mother was also retaliation from Henchman. Game acknowledged in a 2016 Instagram post that “lives have been lost on both sides” of their beef, which has since simmered. It’s safe to say that even if Game and 50 can now be in each other’s vicinity, their issue went far past the point where musical collaborations seem possible.
Similar can be said for Atlanta rap icons Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy, who were embroiled in a controversy over their “Icy” song that led to Jeezy putting a “bounty” on Gucci Mane’s chain and a subsequent shooting in which Gucci murdered rapper Pookie Loc, who was signed to Jeezy’s CTE label, in self-defense. Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, who are involved in a beef that has already gotten physical, should also take note of the rift between Foxy Brown and Lil Kim, which persisted until a 2001 shootout between their crews took place outside of New York’s Hot 97 headquarters over Brown’s jabs at Kim on “Bang Bang” with Capone-N-Noreaga. These incidents exemplify why the contentious energy that excites fans can turn sinister when the wrong forces get into play.
Ultimately, the responsibility lies on artists to realize that their displays of power during a beef isn’t worth putting people in harm’s way. In their schemes to dig up dirt and pit people against each other, these hip-hop artists end up mirroring the tactics of dirty police and other nefarious figures throughout history who’ve engineered and benefited from Black-on-Black violence. As DJBooth notes, rap is a primary vehicle for people to break their family’s cycle of generational poverty. No actual “gunplay” needs to disrupt that circumstance. It’s on dueling artists to come to that mutual realization before they reach a breaking point, where random people are getting hurt, or thinking about moving their family to escape bloodshed.
Recently, Brooklyn rappers Tekashi 6ix9ine and Casanova squashed their beef, which had already caused multiple reported shootings. The two realized that the heat wasn’t good for either of them, as both men were being followed by the NYPD and had their performances affected. And while gritty “Set Trippin” rapper Casanova faced criticism for squashing it with Tekashi, but he previously noted on Instagram that “I’m off this internet sh*t can’t afford the indictment that comes along with it” and “they won’t trick me I like being free.”
“They” includes not just fellow rappers, but journalists and fans who agitate controversy between artists with sensationalism and hyperbole. Irresponsible commentary like the onslaught of bad “Drake gotta shoot Pusha” jokes in the wake of “Story Of Adidon” puts pressure on even the most level-headed artists to avenge a figurative L by any means. Overzealous spectators of beef are a reflection of today’s flawed cult of celebrity, where fans live vicariously through artists and spectate their every move — but experience none of the consequences from their negative outcomes.
Just because rappers aren’t publicly violent doesn’t mean their affiliates aren’t, especially if they’re based in the same city. Perhaps if artists and fans were more cognizant of the collateral damage of rap beef, on street corners worlds away from the lap of luxury that major entertainers enjoy, there would be more discernment between all parties involved. Everyone loves a good rap beef, but at what cost?