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On Sunday night, just hours before Drake turned 30, he released new music via a special birthday episode of OVO Sound Radio. Of the three new songs, "Two Birds, One Song" generated the most controversy, specifically for its many subliminals. Rather than let one of us monologue about the song, three Complex staffers discussed its knottier details as a group.
Was Drake Wrong to Diss Kid Cudi After His Breakdown?
Ross Scarano: Hip-hop has no Geneva Conventions for lyrical conflict. We only have the parameters of basic “golden rule” human decency, and the intelligence to know when you’ve said something hypocritical or unethical—that is, when you’ve made an argument that either doesn’t hold up to examination, or makes you look dim, or like an asshole. Which brings us to last night’s care package from Drake, including the song “Two Birds, One Stone,” in which he disses Kid Cudi. Presumably, it’s in response to a series of tweets Cudi wrote on Sep. 14, disparaging artist like Drake and Kanye West for using teams of songwriters while also claiming to be “top 5.” Cudi wrote that they’re “fake,” that they’re “clowns,” that they do “corny shit.”
Ghostwriting allegations will haunt Drake for the rest of his career; it will always be material to be used against him, and I’m sure he’s aware of that. On “Two Birds, One Stone,” the latest cantankerous chapter in Drake’s post-Meek output, he raps, “You were the man on the moon/Now you just go through your phases/Life of the angry and famous.” He continues a few bars later: “You stay Xan’d and Perc’d up/So when reality set in you don’t gotta face it.” He ends the song moments later with, “Look what happens soon as you talk to me crazy/Is you crazy?”
To me, all of these lines sound aimed at Cudi. They dismiss him for his uneven output (true) and criticize him for his drug use and make light of his mental health problems. In light of Kid Cudi’s widely shared and widely embraced Facebook admission of his anxiety and suicidal thoughts, these lines land poorly. He’s using the same tactic he took in dismantling Meek Mill with “Back to Back” by trying to keep to the facts rather than resorting to fantastical claims of violence, or something similarly outlandish. But this song doesn’t work like “Back to Back” does. Calmly telling someone that they’re using drugs to keep themselves from facing reality isn’t the kind of thing you want to shout along to with friends when you’re out. Especially with the knowledge that Cudi’s reality is such a torturous, day-to-day struggle for the artist that he’s currently in rehab to keep from harming himself. In a different context, that’s a statement that would work best during an intervention. (It’s also something Cudi has admitted himself, so…)
Drake’s use of the word “crazy” feels especially immature and more than a little gross. But I feel this way because I’m a Drake fan, and am fundamentally soft. I relish being soft. I wouldn’t want to feel nothing in this situation. Some people might say this means I’m not cut out for rap. I think that rap, like everything else, is always changing and getting better. These conversations count as growing pains.
Frazier Tharpe: All’s fair in war. If presented to a supreme court panel of his peers, these bars would pass as acceptable, and on a technical level, much more inspired than “You need to cud-iiiiit,” his previous diss. Kid Cudi didn't put himself in a position to receive any empathy or sympathy from the same guy who was happy to cameo in the video for a song he has nothing to do with just 8 years ago.
And yet, even as someone who relishes beef, the bars left a bad taste in my mouth last night as I muttered them to confirm what I just heard. I get annoyed when today’s rap fans expect their fave to be politically correct in a D-I-S-S song—last year’s outrage that Drake would dare make fun of a woman out-earning a man was corny. (And if Meek had one clever bone in his body, he’d have used his diss to call Drake out and embrace his lady as being a boss, but I digress.) These Cudi shots though, they’re just unnecessary. Mans asked for it, sure. Then a week later he scribed a heartbreaking note and more or less admitted his petty jabs were the source of inner turmoil and depression. He’s rolling out his album from rehab right now. Dog was probably in a group therapy circle when this song dropped. The lines in “Two Birds”—and I hadn’t even caught the crazy line until you pointed it out, Ross—are the definition of kicking a man while he’s down. Clinically, literally, down. And self-imposed exile or not, Cudi was never a threat. “Back to Back” has made The Boy bloodthirsty.
Zach Frydenlund: There’s no love in hip-hop, despite what VH1 would like you to believe. Yes, Drake did go low with his shot at Kid Cudi on “Two Birds, One Stone,” but after all, this was a response to Cudi, and a better one than saying “You need to Cud it.” At the end of the day, this is rap. It’s not supposed to be nice all of the time. Drake is seen as a “soft rapper,” which made the line surprising, if anything. I doubted that he would ever go to that point, but here we are. The ghostwriting allegations have put Drake on the defensive and he’s trying to prove that he’ll go to the line with anyone, and cross it if necessary.
Do I agree with taking shots at Cudi over mental health? No, but rap disses aren’t meant to be respectful. Jay Z wasn’t trying to be nice to Nas when he said he was going to leave a condom in his baby’s seat. You can say it was a different time, but beef has and will always be present in rap. There’s been far worse said in battle, and while that doesn’t give Drake a pass, this is the nature of hip-hop culture, whether right or wrong. Far removed from the “Diss me and you’ll never hear a reply for it” days, Drake is now simply following in line with the unnerving tradition in rap to cross the line when battling with a lyrical foe. People cry for Drake to be more hip-hop, but when he follows the path set by Jay Z, 2Pac, Biggie, and many before him, those same people accusing of going too far.
Ross: Sure, but this kind of blanket thinking about the “nature of hip-hop” and beef not being nice is also the argument some people use when defending homophobia or language about sexual assault or rape. Rap whatever you want, just be effective or clever or pointed. “Back to Back” wasn’t a perfect diss song (as Frazier pointed out, the way Nicki Minaj’s earning ability is incorporated is a bit eyeroll-y), but it was something approaching it. “This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more” is brilliant and cutting because it’s criticizing Meek for his lack of emotional intelligence and openness. Something he seems to confirm with every instance of retrograde macho-bullshit homophobia in his Game disses.
Is Drake Dissing Pusha T? And Are the Lines Effective?
Frazier: Your Fave dissing clinically depressed dudes isn’t the only headline from this song though. The veil over the Cudi subs is wafer-thin, but there’s a murkier shot later in the song where Drake, of Degrassi child-star fame, takes rappers to task for blowing their drug dealer pasts out of proportion—and then beating their stale Scarface tales into the ground over the course of their careers as a redundant recurring theme. Who does this anonymous barb apply to? Some have theorized Rick Ross, but the reasoning is dubious. Drake has a beef with his mans, sure, but Ross has largely stayed out of it.
It could apply to Jay Z, on year 20 of his career and still flipping bars about flipping bricks since the ‘80s, and who appears to have a tenuous relationship with Drizzy currently.
And then there’s Pusha T, the game’s leading coke sponsor. These two have been on the precipice of beef for the better part of five years, a prospect Rap Twitter loves to salivate over. My two cents: Pusha is definitely the target. Will we see anything actually come of this? Probably not. I’d fucking love that, but there have been so many opportunities for this to spill over from subliminals to full-on war. If you ask me “Exodus” and “New God Flow” were more disrespectful than any Meek Mill tweet. Meanwhile, Drake’s dude Hush directly called Pusha out on Instagram last year. Everyone thinks Drake’s Chapo line is the line to break the levees, but I’m not convinced. It’d be a hell of an early Christmas gift, though.
Ross: Insincere feelings are Drake’s crack rap. If you can’t rap about your past experiences, Drake wouldn’t have a career. Many, many artists wouldn't. But are there expiration dates needed for certain life-altering moments? When does something become a crutch as opposed to a rich leitmotif for an entire career? There aren’t clear answers to these questions. (Some of my favorite artists have turned over the same questions in every one of their projects.)
But if Drake wants to effectively diss Pusha, criticizing a backward gaze doesn’t seem like the best plan of attack. Not to mention that, when he’s rapping at his best, Pusha is not someone you mistake for someone who bags weed while watching Pacino movies with friends, like some sort of mildly illegal sleepover party.
Zach: This seems like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation for Drake. Don’t go at Pusha and people will just say that he’s avoiding him while picking on Meek Mill and Kid Cudi. Go at Pusha and people gripe about the fact that Drake doesn’t have the chops to call out anyone’s past. All of that can be true and on “Two Birds, One Stone,” Drake probably did takes shots at Pusha. He’s allowed to do that. They’ve been jabbing back and forth for years now and have yet to fully jump into a beef against one another. Maybe this is the final straw before an all-out battle, but that’s still unlikely. Neither Pusha nor Drake has much to gain from an actual beef with each other, especially now that Kanye is basically BFFs with Drizzy. What we do know is that Drake is fully embracing the idea that it’s OVO vs. the World at the moment, which could mean more shots in the near future. We all know what Pusha can do with a mic, which means that this could get entertaining, and fast. Against Meek Mill people doubted whether or not Drake could even stand a chance. He not only held his own, but won, handily. It would be dumb to count him out against Pusha T.
Frazier: Pusha T is not Meek Mill. Just a word of advice, Champagne. “The talk don’t match the leathers/Swag don’t match the sweaters” is still the hardest subliminal ever levied at Aubrey.
I got the Orville Redenbacher ready.