Last night, Drake literally put Meek Mill and his career on the OVO Screen.
Between countless memes floating across the stage at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre and Drake's performance of his diss track, "Back to Back," it's safe to say it's quiet for Meek today. How did it all start? Let's summarize: Meek found out Drake had part of his "R.I.C.O." verse off Dreams Worth More Than Money ghostwritten, allegedly by Atlanta artist Quentin Miller. Between that, what seems like a brief spat with Nicki Minaj, and Drizzy not tweeting Meek's No. 1 album, the Philly rapper hit Twitter to air out his grievances. Then came "Charged Up" and "Back to Back," both solid efforts from Drizzy to respond to Meek—and, what will most likely become two of the biggest tracks of the year. Meek's response, "Wanna Know," wasn't as mean as his fans hoped. Then OVO Festival went down last night, and in the mean time, Meek was somewhere promoting a teeth whitening kit on Instagram.
What happens now? We're not sure. Like we said, diss tracks don't end careers, but does blasting memes of your enemy on stage during one of the year's biggest festivals do it? Well, we've never dealt with meme beef before so, again, not sure. Therefore, we hit up New York-based corporate and crisis PR firm Group Gordon. Principal and Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Robinson-Leon, who regularly advises clients (including consumer brands, financial and professional services firms, NGOs, and individuals) on reputation management matters, spoke to us about the current status of the Meek vs. Drake beef, and how he thinks Meek can persevere in this time of crisis.
Lauren Nostro is the News Editor at Complex Music. Follow her @laurennostro.
As someone in crisis PR, when would you guys have normally gotten involved in the Meek. v. Drake beef?
The smartest companies and individuals prepare for crisis scenarios before they happen, which of course improves the effectiveness and speed of the response when you find yourself in the midst of an issue. That said, we're often called in at the earliest sign that there's a problem. The sooner we can tackle it, the better off our client will be.
How would you have handled Meek's Twitter rampage against Drake initially?
Meek chose just about the worst time to pick a fight with Drake—with his album's performance and his tour with Nicki Minaj, he was really on the cusp of finally crossing over to the mainstream. Given that, he could have—and should have—walked his initial tweets back. After the first couple of shots, he hadn't yet gone so far that he couldn't have explained them away as an errant side note and proceeded to show love for Drake. He might have suffered a little short-term heat, but he would have avoided the escalation that has clearly only hurt him to date.
Would you have advised Drake to drop a diss track in response?
Yes. It was a perfect opportunity for him. He's long been inanely baited by some critics for being "soft," and that's an image he has, on one hand, embraced and, on the other hand, tried to counteract—most notably with the release of If You're Reading This, It's Too Late. By coming back at Meek—and winning—Drake achieves an enormous feat for his brand; it erases any doubt that he can simultaneously make music that reveals emotion and vulnerability and still remain on top when it comes to the harder side of hip-hop. It broadcasts confidence, and he was waiting for a moment like this. Meek fell into that—or, maybe more fittingly, tripped himself into it.
Would you have advised Meek to drop a diss track in response to Drake's diss track?
Likewise, Meek didn't have a choice at that point. It was too late for him to kill the controversy. He would have lost too much credibility had he not released at least one track of his own. One principle of crisis management is that you generally always want to balance the public record, which, applied here, means that the existence of two Drake tracks and no Meek track would have left a highly skewed and unfavorable public record for Meek. However, let's be honest: This was never a battle he could win. Drake went into it with infinitely more brand recognition and support than Meek. With that reality, the imperative for Meek in responding should have been to create a track strong enough to garner significant respect even if he eventually lost the war—oh, and do it quickly. That would have helped. His actual response didn't. I'd say it put the meek in Meek.
After Meek's diss track came and went, and was ill received, what would have been the next steps you would've taken? Now that Drake put him on the OVO screen, what or how should Meek respond?
Meek has a critical decision to make right now: Does he want to be a mainstream artist or an artist strictly for the streets—a rapper's rapper? If it's the former, my advice is that he needs to let the beef die as quickly as possible. Yes, he'll lose some face in the short-term, especially in terms of credibility in the streets, but the longer it goes the more damage it does. Does he want to disappear into the ether (pun intended), or does he want to have a shot at regaining strength and continuing to be relevant? If he takes the right steps, he can come back. The public will forgive and forget. The news cycle moves quickly.
At the end of the day, music transcends beef. If people are really feeling his music, they'll forget about the beef.
What steps does Meek need to take to squash the situation at this point?
The best thing Meek can do right now is ride this out, let the news cycle move past it, and get back to music. If he doesn't respond, Drake can't easily keep the beef front and center. I realize that sounds passive, but it's ultimately his best shot for long-term success since he can't win the battle. Meek needs to make a few hits, and he needs to do a few good collaborations. At the end of the day, music transcends beef. If people are really feeling his music, they'll forget about the beef. But I can't overstate the importance of collabs here; another important principle of crisis response is that third party validation is often critical for credibility. Meek can't go at this alone—he can't be an outcast. If he can line up a few good collabs in the coming months, that'll serve as a tacit endorsement of his brand. In other words, it'll send the message that Meek is still relevant and has friends. The challenge for him is that there's a lot of associational risk for other artists at the moment. With many coalescing around Drake now, it's a risk for other artists to stand with Meek. He's going to need to wait a bit.
If he can follow the first two parts of the playbook—ride out the current turbulence and then make hits—the final play is to (quietly) extend an olive branch to Drake. That's at least six months or a year from now. But the reality is that he can't be as big as he wants to be if there's lingering beef with Drake. That would always be the backdrop. He would do well by repairing the relationship down the line. I think Drake would accept the gesture; it puts him in a position of strength and benevolence. If Nas and Jay Z can do it, with a much more entrenched, long-running battle, Meek and Drake can do it too.
If Drake drops a diss track now, would you have to intervene?
Drake's on top. He's won, and he accomplished what he intended for his brand. I'd advise him to quit while he's ahead, as the saying goes. If he keeps it going, he runs the risk of public opinion turning. The people who support him now could start to feel bad for Meek and look to him as an underdog. That would undoubtedly create a challenge for Drake.