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Drake Blackface.jpg

Technically speaking, the beef between Pusha T and Drake is really a proxy war. In 2002, the duo Clipse (comprised of Pusha and his brother, then known as Malice) guest-starred on the track “What Happened To That Boy” by Birdman, the head of Cash Money Records and Drake’s boss.

The track was produced by Pharrell, who had discovered and signed Clipse to his own record label; according to Pusha, Birdman never paid Pharrell for his production work. So, out of a sense of loyalty to Pharrell – who is too easygoing to engage in this kind of dispute – Pusha adopted the beef as his own. (The Washington Post put together a nice timeline if you want to follow along.)

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, when Drake released “Duppy Freestyle,” a response to the shots Pusha fired on “Infrared” that included a reference to Pusha’s fiancée:

That led to Pusha’s response, “The Story of Adidon”:

“The Story of Adidon” lit up social media and the internet, chiefly due to Pusha’s claims that Drake is hiding a child he fathered with French porn actress Sophie Brussaux (“You are hiding a child, let that boy come home / Deadbeat muthafucka playin’ border patrol”).

Elsewhere on the song, Pusha mocks Drake for growing up without a father (“You mention ‘wedding ring’ like it’s a bad thing / Your father walked away at 5, helluva dad thing”), mocks Drake’s father directly (“Dennis Graham, stay off the ‘gram”), and takes a swipe at Drake’s mother (“Marriage is somethin’ that Sandi never had, Drake / How you a winner but she keep comin’ in last place?”).

“The Story of Adidon” is a brutal response. Another choice line: “OVO 40 hunched over like he’s 80 / Tick tick tick, how much time he got? / That man is, sick sick sick,” a reference to Drake’s friend and longtime producer Noah ’40’ Shehib, who is currently battling Multiple Sclerosis. (For that one, Pusha earned himself a formal condemnation from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.)

But many have glossed over what might be the most scathing set of insults on the entire track, when Pusha sets his sights on Drake’s racial identity (Drake is half-black, half-Jewish):

“Monkey-suit Dennis, you parade him /

A Steve Harvey-suit nigga made him / 

Confused, always felt you weren’t black enough / 

Afraid to grow it ‘cuz your ‘fro wouldn’t nap enough”

As a biracial man, I can attest: this is going for the throat. To underscore his point, Pusha used No I.D.’s beat for Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ,” featuring a sample of Nina Simone singing “Myyy skin is black.” In Jay-Z’s version, it’s an affirmation, a declaration of pride; in Pusha’s hands, it’s a taunt.

Unless they present as black (let’s call it “Obama-mixed”), biracial people often struggle to figure out where they belong – especially those who don’t immediately appear to be biracial. If one’s blackness isn’t readily apparent, one has to go out of their way to claim their blackness. It is not automatically given to them; they have to earn it. And almost every biracial person who doesn’t present as black has experienced a moment in which someone told them they “weren’t black enough” to do something, to say something, to feel a certain way.

Imagine being told by someone you consider your racial brother- or sister-in-arms that actually, you’re not a part of this. It can be a demoralizing experience. Now imagine being in Drake’s position: you’re one of the most successful artists of all time, you’ve helped evolve hip-hop as an art form (for better or worse), and you’re largely accepted as a black man. Yet here comes Pusha T to remind you that actually, you’re not a part of this. You can’t even grow an Afro. 

Not only that, but Pusha goes even further, accusing Drake of “parading” around his black father, of treating Dennis like a human hood pass. One could also read Pusha’s lyrics as hinting that Drake forgave Dennis for bailing on his family not because Drake wanted his father in his life, but because he needed his father’s blackness to gain acceptance in hip-hop.

That, more than the allegations of a secret child or the jab about a good friend’s serious medical condition, is the most searing part of “The Story of Adidon.” The cover art for “The Story of Adidon” twists the knife even more, using an old photo of Drake in blackface and wearing a Jim Crow t-shirt.

Drake eventually issued a press release attempting to explain the image:

That Drake felt compelled to defend himself on this particular charge while offering no rebuttal to any of Pusha’s other claims led many to believe that he is, in fact, the father of an illegitimate child.

The idea of Drake being pigeonholed into a stereotypical “black” role is, of course, laughable. If you showed a picture of Drake to someone who’d never heard of him before and asked them to guess his ethnic background, I strongly doubt their first guess would be “black.” Mayyyybe they’d guess he was mixed-race, but Drake does not immediately present as black.

In an article that lightly criticized Drake for his press release, writer Damon Young asserted that “…Drake is a black man. There should be no questioning or doubting of that. He was born black and he gonna die black. His daddy is a literal cat daddy who rocks zoot suits in 2018. That boy black as shit.”

Yet it is telling that Drake’s immediate – and so far, only – response was to remind everyone of his blackness. Everything else could wait. And Pusha seems to know he struck a nerve: in an interview last week with Big Boy on Real 92.3, Pusha went even further, accusing Drake of being “silent on ALL black issues.”

So far, the above response is the only one we’ve gotten from Drake, and even that is more damage control than it is strongly pushing back on Pusha’s claims. Drake has a response to everything else in “The Story of Adidon”: he can be honest about his son, he can scold Pusha for mocking 40’s illness, he can say “leave my family out of this.”

But what can Drake say about his race? He can’t say he’s blacker than Pusha, because insofar as blackness can be measured, he’s not. He can’t make fun of Pusha for being dark-skinned – unless you’re 100% black, skin-tone jokes are off-limits. Maybe he can talk about what it’s like to exist between racial lines, but trust me: nobody – including his black fans – wants to hear from Drake how hard it is to be able to hide your blackness if the need arises.

If Drake is as introspective as he appears to be, questioning his blackness has to hurt more than anything else on that track. And if his actions since the song’s release are any indication, Drake was deeply wounded by Pusha T’s accusations.

And that’s what makes “The Story of Adidon” so devastating.