With gangster rap in decline, and Kanye refashioning the parameters of rap stardom, Drake arrived right on time. But his success has made him one of the most polarizing figures in music. Lil Wayne anointed him the best rapper alive, and he’s rhymed alongside some of the greatest—Bun B, Jay-Z, Jeezy—yet some insist that Drake isn’t hip-hop; that he’s too soft; that he sings too damn much; that he doesn’t sing enough—and should stop rapping; that he wears silly outfits.
“They nitpick at everything,” he says, shaking his head. “I can’t do anything. All they want me to do is dress so they can make fun of me. Otherwise, it’s hard for them. I don’t give people many reasons to dislike me. They have to find shit. They’re like, ‘Aw man, sweaters! He wears sweaters too much.’ Like, what?”
No other good rapper—because, let’s be honest, Drake’s one of the best doing it— draws the same amount of love and ire. It’s enough to drive a person crazy. For every three who applaud him—Nas has likened Drake to “fresh water on dry land”—there’s one looking to shoot him down.
If someone wants to bring a problem to me, it's strictly based on their immense amount of hate for me.
Most recently it was Pusha T, the newest G.O.O.D. Music recruit, throwing thinly veiled jabs (“The swag don’t match the sweaters”) in a freestyle over Drake’s Jai Paul–sampling “Dreams Money Can Buy.”
Which is not to say that Drake doesn’t play the same game. When he dropped “Dreams” last May, he ruffled feathers with the line “I feel like it went from top five to remaining five/My favorite rappers either lost it or they ain’t alive.” Since he once said he’d cry if Jay-Z died, it’s safe to assume Hov would make his top five. But when pressed, Drake neither confirms nor denies whether Jay and Kanye were targets.
“It wasn’t meant to be a shot at the five rappers that I love,” he says. “I’ve never even sat down and pieced together a top five before. I just feel like I’m really good right now. And I’ve never felt like that before. I’ve always felt reluctant to say anything like that, but I’m very confident in these new raps that I’m about to give the world.”
Drake’s also very confident in the strength of his YMCMB team. When he says, “They trying to bring us down/Me, Weezy, and Stunna,” he may be referring to “H.A.M.,” the first single from Watch The Throne, on which Jay-Z took unnamed rappers to task for having “baby money,” and not even as much as his lady. Lil Wayne wasn’t the only listener who took that as a reference to Cash Money CEO Bryan “Baby” Williams. Five months later on DJ Khaled’s summer banger “I’m on One,” Drake proclaimed that “the throne is for the taking” before advising listeners to “watch” him take it.
Careful listeners may have noticed that Kanye West (who’s worked with Drake in the past) employed the “hashtag flow”— which Drake popularized—on “Otis,” the biggest single from The Throne’s recent album. Many wondered who he was referring to when he said: “Niggas talking real reckless / #Stuntmen / I adopted these niggas, Philip Drummond them.”
The cold war heated up when Wayne returned fire on “It’s Good” from Tha Carter IV. In the song, which also featured Jadakiss and Drake, Weezy presumably talks about kidnapping Beyoncé. Jada declared neutrality immediately after the song leaked, stressing that he had no idea what Lil Wayne was going to say. His denials sounded reasonable enough, but what about Drake? “I’m his soldier,” he says, affirming his loyalty to President Carter.
Still, Drake does his best to remain diplomatic—sort of. “Rapping is about being young and doing your thing and being fly,” he says—the implication being that if older rappers catch feelings, so be it. “I’m sure people took it that way and that’s good, man. That’s great. Wake the fuck up. I hope it makes you go harder. I hope it makes you get mad at me and write a song with me in mind. I hope Kanye’s verse on ‘Otis’ was with that in mind. Everyone tried to tell me ‘Oh Jay is going at you.’ I don’t hear it, but I hope it was man, that song is fucking incredible. Making each other go harder, that's what this shit is about.”
The very fact that rappers with more mileage in this game see Drake as worthy of dissing is noteworthy. If the adage “never shoot down” holds any weight, Drake should interpret all this verbal turmoil as high praise. No one’s taking the time to go at Wiz Khalifa’s neck, or to chop Big Sean down to size.