The subliminals in Drake's "Draft Day" are just a part of the game.
On the one day of the year when you aren’t supposed to believe anything you see, read, or hear, Drake delivers a track on which he’s taking shots at the elder statesmen of rap. April Fools.
Over Boi-1da's loop of Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop" bridge, Drizzy headlines "Draft Day" with the victory lap gusto that's defined his post-NWTS output, including "Trophies" and the "We Made It" remix. It's also the latest in Drake's catalogue of tributes to our spirit guides of the 90s—the Wu, Juvenile, Ma$e, Jodeci, and now L-Boogie. No more Migos. This is Drake at his most familiar. Casino shot-calling with Saint Lauryn over his shoulder warning oncomers.
On "Draft Day," Drake gets confrontational. Kinda. Sorta.
”You should've followed all my moves, you won't realize till after/And if I left the shit to chance, I would've picked a name like Chance the Rapper/ . . . No offense, cuz I don't know that nigga.”
Never mind that Drake grazes Chance with just four stray bars before sneering about his own dominance: "You know they love to pop all that shit when I'm not around." Don’t sweat the name drop—guard up, listen for the left hook: "Just hits, no misses–that's for the married folk." A swing at Jay? I mean, brother superior did just throw a fade at Drake last week. Addressing his Rolling Stone interview diss of the Carters' Basquiat steez, Jay responded, "Sorry Mr. Drizzy for so much art talk/Silly me rapping 'bout shit that I really bought/While these rappers rap 'bout guns they ain't shot."
50 Cent would have you believe that rap's gone soft and subliminal. But sneak disses are hardly a new artform. Recall the years of passive-aggression simmering between Biggie and Nas, Nas and Jay, Jay and Ma$e, Jay and 50, et al. In fact, we all remember 50 baiting Hov with: “If I shoot you, I'm famous/But if you shoot me, you're brainless/You said it yourself.” These high-frequency disses are as legit as any other bars, e.g., I'll put "Is That Yo Chick?" over "Supa Ugly" any day of the decade.
Subliminal as the freestyle may be, "Draft Day" is a rapper warming up against the bag. We've seen this before. In May, 2011, before the release of his sophomore project Take Care, Drake dropped the haunting, Jai Paul-sampling "Dreams Money Can Buy" which featured slick darts everyone believed were aimed at Pusha T. Two years later, Drake chose a March morning to unleash "5 AM in Toronto," a cutting record full of nameless jabs and hooks that did as much for the promotion of NWTS as his two official lead-off singles.
Until now, Drake's thrived by his diplomatic sense. With little thug credibility to his name, and a penchant for pop experimentation, Drake making nice with his hardbody peers (Meek, A$AP Mob) and legend superiors (Wayne, Jay, Ross, and finally Kanye) assured his safe passage from Degrassi to "catch[ing] bodies like that" to the present day—even as the potshots from Kendrick and King Push and Common worked his nerves.
But just wait until the summer pops off. Kanye and Kendrick—Drake's creative rivals, lyrically and thematically—are scheduled to drop projects by year's end. With Young Money's resurgence, Jay Electronica's resurfacing, MMG's expansion, and T.D.E.'s ascendancy, shit's getting competitive. One day, maybe soon, insha'allah, Drake will put some bass in his voice and just go in on all his rivals who played too soft, too often. Bars will fly. Bodies will drop. Just leave Chance out of it.
Justin Charity is a writer in Brooklyn, NY who shouts out Richmond and D.C. He has a website here and you can also find him @BrotherNumpsa.
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