Of all the fascinating tidbits—embarrassing old photos, ruined sneaker deals, secret children—to have emerged during the Pusha-T/Drake beef, perhaps nothing is quite so interesting as the pressure put on both participants to respond quickly to the latest insult.
As soon as Drake dropped “Duppy Freestyle,” the countdown was on. In many fans’ minds, Pusha had only a few days to respond before Drake could claim victory.
And as soon as “The Story of Adidon” dropped, the clock started ticking again.
This timeline of a required response to a diss being within just a few days is a relatively new thing in the long history of rap battles. For years, the time between diss songs could be counted in months or weeks, not days.
The Jay Z/Nas battle, for example, played out in its entirety (minus a few stray shots here and there that lingered on for years afterward and didn’t completely end until 2005) between June and December of 2001. Individual disses back and forth took anywhere between one week (between “Ether” and “Super Ugly”) and several months (between “Takeover” that September and “Ether” in early December). The battle captivated the rap world for over half a year, and its reverberations were felt long afterward, dragging people like Cam’ron and Nore into its undertow.
It was in part because the conflict played out in public over such a long period of time that the battle came to be remembered as so iconic. And while Pusha and Drake’s animosity has a decade-plus backstory, this most recent part of the conflict, from “Infrared” onwards, has happened at lightning speed. It may feel like years ago by now, but “Infrared” was just officially released on May 25. It is unthinkable to imagine the conflict playing out at its current pace for seven months. And even if it did, it’s impossible to imagine sustaining the attention of fans for that long.
Rap beefs burn shorter and more intensely these days, as one of our latest hype-cycle victims once told us, because the internet. The ability to instantly upload and distribute a song for free and the consequent ability of everyone to immediately hear it and be able to share their opinions publicly has changed the game. Remember that the Jay/Nas beef was decided by the now-arcane method of counting call-in votes on a radio show—a method that seems positively ancient when compared to our current system of real-time online reactions, Twitter polls, and a breathless media breaking down every volley.
The pressure from fans for rapid responses to disses is unsurprising. We are in the age of getting what we want, when we want it—iTunes singles released before the album are officially referred to as Instant Gratification tracks for a reason. We stream TV shows and movies on demand, share our thoughts as we have them with our social media followers and friends, and listen to music from any era, instantly, through the cloud. Hell, even the act of waiting in line has largely become a thing of the past.
Drake is both a creation and creator of this era. The release strategy for his upcoming album Scorpion has consisted of test-marketing the product—in his case, genre-hopping songs and newsworthy videos—with the shrewdness of a billion-dollar corporation. There is always something new from Drizzy, whether it’s a star-studded clip or a collaboration with a hot Southern artist (or two).
And Drake, as much as anyone, is certainly aware that his current beef won’t be sustainable for long at its current level of intensity. In this era where fans are conditioned to want instant responses to the latest rap outrage, feeding the beast for months at a time is not only near-impossible, it’s not even something anyone wants. A Jay Z vs. Nas-length exchange would take this clash through the winter, and it’s simply impossible to imagine artists, fans, and media not collapsing in exhaustion. [The Complex staff, for one, would by that point have been living on adrenaline, coffee, and no sleep for the better part of a year, likely alienating their friends and family in the process.] We want, as a band referenced by Pusha once put it, a “short, sharp shock” out of our rap wars.
No matter who wins this battle, that need will still be there, as ready for feeding as any one of Pusha’s oft-rapped about dope fiends.