Drake’s a lover, not a fighter. And if Common never attacked him on “Sweet” it might have been better for everybody.
Written by Touré. (@Toure)
In R&B it’s said that we separate the adults from the kids by how well they sing ballads. In hip-hop the proving ground is the battle rhyme. That’s where we find out something about you that we can’t see any other way. When MCs are barking at each other on wax and trading disses, we see another level of intensity and grit. A particular portrait of an MC’s true character emerges when he battles, and how you fare in a big battle becomes a permanent part of your image.
I like Common. He’s got hip-hop cred and crossover love. He can act in an AMC western like Hell On Wheels and perform at the White House and record with Maya Angelou. So how does battling anyone help his brand?
But that doesn’t mean everyone has to battle. Many of my favorite MCs have never battled and I’m fine with that. If battling’s not what you’re about, if it doesn’t fit with who you are as an MC, I won’t hold it against you that you haven’t. It’s a great, fascinating part of the culture but it’s not a necessary rite of passage for every single MC.
Common’s 1996 battle against Ice Cube aided his career by showing us another side of him and injecting a new level of respect into his image. But if he’d never battled Cube I wouldn’t have thought less of him. And if he’d never attacked Drake I think it might’ve been better for everyone.
Common vs Drake is one of the silliest battles ever. I mean, really? I know Common. I like Common. I respect Common. He’s an elder statesman and a thoughtful dude, a great guy and a musical seeker who’s intelligently explored new sonic avenues throughout his career. He’s got hip-hop cred and crossover love. He can act in an AMC western like Hell On Wheels and perform at the White House and record with Maya Angelou. So how does battling anyone help his brand? And does battling Drake in particular help his brand at all? I think not.
Drake’s a lover, not a fighter. He’s the Ladies Man, a hip-hop/R&B hybrid. Is he “sweet,” as Common alleges? Well, yeah. But he’s never claimed to be hard. One of the best possible disses in a battle is a variation of “You’re not who you say you are.” That unmasking is embarrassing.
Drake’s the Ladies Man, a hip-hop/R&B hybrid. Is he 'sweet,' as Common alleges? Well, yeah. But he’s never claimed to be hard.
Hip-hop’s supposed to be suffused with honesty and integrity and when someone reminds me an MC is actually more of a professional wrestler playing a role, that damages how I feel about them. It sticks in my mind and as I listen to their rhymes I perceive them differently.
But Drake is indeed “sweet”—as in, emotional, sensitive, un-hard. That’s what he’s trying to be! His fans love him for his emotional openness, so calling him “sweet” is pointless. It would make about as much sense as someone calling The Weeknd or Maxwell sweet and trying to battle them.
This battle is silly—even if Drake was first to send out subliminals, which would also be ridiculous. Drake shouldn’t be dissing anyone. That’s not what he’s about and it’s not what he needs to be about. Chasing ladies and baring his soul works for him. Playing the dozens with other MCs is unnecessary. Subliminals (whether real or perceived) happen all the time and just because someone sends a subliminal your way doesn’t mean you have to say, “Well, allow me to retort!” and pull out your lyrical weapons.
Drake vs Common is kinda like two Harvard graduate students in those letter H sweaters placing down their books and putting up their dukes to throw soft punches at each other. Or maybe like two cute puppies woofing at each other.
Does Common actually score points on “Sweet?” I always feel that in a battle you score points by saying embarrassing things about the other guy. If you make him look ridiculous, and make the crowd laugh, you score points. If you can express such a deep level of disdain for your enemy that the audience is forced to see him in a new way, you score points. Ultimately, disses must have the force of truth behind them to really work.
Think of Ice Cube in “No Vaseline,” making it hard to take N.W.A seriously when you recall their white manager Jerry Heller is in control—“White man just ruling/The Niggas Wit Attitude?/Who you fooling?”
In a battle you score points by saying embarrassing things about the other guy. If you make him look ridiculous and make the crowd laugh, you score points... If the audience is forced to see him in a new way, you score points. Ultimately, disses must have the force of truth behind them to really work.
On “Second Round K.O.,” Canibus reduces LL Cool J to a lesser rapper with, “Mad at me cause I kick that shit real niggas feel/While 99% of your fans wear high heels.”
On “Ether” Nas literally sonned Jay when he said, “My child, I’ve watched you grow up to be famous/And now I smile like a proud dad, watching his only son that made it.”
On “The Bitch In Yoo” Common unmasks Cube as “a Muslim drinking brew” who’s not nearly as hood as he presents himself: “Hypocrite, I’m filling out your Death Certificate!” So what from “Sweet” could be added to this litany?
Not much. It’s mostly a resume song, a chest-beating rhyme about how great Common is, how long he’s been around, how hard he used to be. His best diss in the song is, “hip-hop Master Cleansing/I’ma get my shit off.” It’s a nice double entendre and a smart, funny metaphor that posits hip-hop as a body and Common as the cleansing agent that enters the body and makes it better, healthier, stronger, and clears out the toxic elements. Following the metaphor to its literal end Common makes hip-hop go to the bathroom and shit out Drake.
But I don’t relish seeing Common in this posture at this point in his career. If you are attacked by an MC like Ice Cube you have every right to respond. If you feel like your city has been dissed you have every right to respond. If you want to jolt yourself up the fame ladder by attacking a top-level lyrical MC—ie, KRS vs MC Shan or Canibus vs LL—that’s cool. If you want to attack the King of New York to puff yourself up—as Tupac did or as Jay-Z did (back when Nas was the King of New York)—that’s cool. But if you want to remind us how bad-ass you are by beating on Drake, what does that really prove? Just say no.
Common’s respect and attention levels are high. He didn’t need this. Surely he knows how important it is to choose your battles wisely. You want to be battling people who it’s good for you to be battling. Common vs Cube was a great look for Common that improved his brand and became a sterling part of his resume. Common vs Drake is a smudge on his resume that he may one day wish he could erase.