“That’s around the time that your idols become your rivals. You make friends with Mike but got to A.I. him for your survival.” – Drake on “Thank Me Now”
If you asked someone to name the 3 most famous hip-hop artists in the game today, I’m pretty sure the consensus top 3 would be Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake. These gentlemen have transcended hip-hop to become stalwarts in pop culture to the point that any move that any of these rappers make dominates the 24-hour news cycle and dominates your Twitter feeds.
Jay and Kanye are veterans in this space with Jay-Z recently celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut album Reasonable Doubt (widely considered one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time) and Kanye’s debut The College Dropout (another contender in the “greatest albums of all time” category) recently celebrating its 12th anniversary.
The more amazing feat, in my opinion, is that in a genre such as hip-hop which consumes music at a faster pace than any other genre and has less of a reverence for the “old guard” that these 2 men who are over a decade deep in the game still have not only found relevance but anticipation with their latest musical contributions. Not only are Kanye and Jay living legends in every sense of the word but their friendship is well documented. Numerous collaborations including an entire collaborative album, Watch the Throne, is on the record. This makes their relationship with the third member of hip hop’s “Holy Trinity”, Drake, even more interesting.
Compared to Jay and Kanye, Drake is a relative newcomer onto the scene with his first mixtape being released in 2006 but not receiving significant national attention until his 2009 release of his breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, which came out 3 months after Kanye’s most controversial album until that point, 808’s & Heartbreaks. 808’s controversy at the time stemmed from Kanye’s increased usage of Auto-Tune and singing, deviating from Kanye’s previous sound.
As time went by, however the impact of this album was undeniable and one of the earliest signs of 808’s impact was Drake’s So Far Gone which found Drake blurring the lines between singer and rapper, between emotional outpouring and stunning bravado. He even free-styled over Kanye’s “Say You Will” on the project. Drake even said, “Before I ever got the chance to meet him, Kanye West shaped a lot of what I do, as far as music goes,” in this interview he had with MTV News in May 2009.
In fact, Kanye even directed the video for the breakout hit off So Far Gone, “Best I Ever Had” in the first chance we get to see Kanye and Drake work together, but it didn’t live up to expectations with the video falling in the cliché “let’s have a bunch of big breasted women run around” when the lyrics of the song itself seems to trend in a less misogynist manner.
We fast forward to Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later, in June 2010 and we find that both Jay Z and Kanye have contributed to this album: Jay with a feature on one of the highlights of the project, “Light Up” (which has Hov giving advice like an older brother throughout the song on how to survive in the industry) and Kanye has production credits on both “Find Your Love” and “Show Me A Good Time”. All is well right? On the outro of Thank Me Later is where we find the quote at the beginning of the post. Seems like a not so subtle shot at Jay Z, who has called himself the “Mike Jordan of recording” as well as Kanye who he has previously called an idol in interviews.
This starts a very passive-aggressive, push-and-pull, throw-rocks-and-then-hide-your-hands relationship between the three men. Kanye takes Drake off the finals version of “All of the Lights” but still gives him a writing credit. Drake takes a clear subliminal shot at Jay and Kanye, who had just announced that the title of their album was Watch The Throne, on “I’m On One” with “Hate the rumors, hate the bullshit, hate these fucking allegations/I’m just feelin’ like the throne is for the taking—watch me take it.”
He later denies it on twitter. Drake then doubles back on the subliminal shots off “Dreams Money Can Buy” with the lines: “I never seen the car that you claim to drive/ Well, shit, I seen it, you just ain’t inside/ And I feel like lately it went from top five to remaining five/ My favorite rappers either lost it or they ain’t alive.”
Hov diss? Hov of all people has not lost it…that's god body flow.
— Drizzy (@Drake) May 20, 2011
Kanye seems to respond to this line off of “Otis” off the WTT project with, “They ain’t see me ’cause I pulled up in my other Benz/ Last week I was in my other other Benz.” In the promo run for Drake’s Take Care, in an interview he does for the Source, he has this to say about Kanye: “I would say, he is [a] really great…competitor…and friend, at the same time. My goal is to surpass everything he’s accomplished. I don’t want to be as good as Kanye, I want to be better.”
If we take a step forward into 2013, we have generally reached a good point in the relationship between Drake and the Throne. Jay Z calls Drake “the Kobe of hip-hop” in an interview during his promo run for Magna Carta Holy Grail (a backhanded compliment maybe? Drake’s the Kobe to his Jordan?).
Drake in an interview with Billboard spoke on reconciling his relationship with Ye, “Me and ’Ye just fell into this thing where we hadn’t actually talked to each other in so long that all this stuff got built up. Sometimes you just have to find the opportunity to tell someone that you really like and respect them. After that, everything can move forward.”
And then Kanye comes out during Drake’s annual OVO Fest where Kanye admits, ““Me and Hov would’ve never made Watch the Throne if this n—a wasn’t putting pressure on us like that, so I just wanna pay my respects.” Jay not only does a feature for Drake’s album but gives him 2 acapella verses from his MCHG sessions, verses so good that when he hears them with the instrumental, he almost takes the song for himself. “I sent the song back to Jay—and that was when it almost became a Jay Z song. But he’s such a good guy, he was like, ‘I gave you my word,'” Drake explained. “I don’t know what I’d do without that guy sometimes, he’s just full of gems and advice.”
Then Drake does an interview with Rolling Stone which has quotes such as “There were some real questionable bars on there,” he says. “Like that ‘Swaghili’ line? Come on, man. Even Fabolous wouldn’t say some shit like that.”
In reference to Kanye’s Yeezus album and “It’s like Hov can’t drop bars these days without at least four art references! I think the whole rap/art world thing is getting kind of corny.” In this long and complicated relationship between the three men, this is the most direct shade that was thrown until this point. But unlike previous instances, Ye and Hov don’t react the same way.
Kanye chose to dismiss the remarks. “They always be trying to pit n—as against each other and it ain’t going down no more,” he said during a concert a few days after the quote surfaced online. “So, tonight, it ain’t none of that. We love Drake, we love every motherfucker that put their heart into this motherfuckin’ music.”
Jay Z, on the other hand, didn’t take Drake’s comments nearly as well, stating on his freestyle of Drake’s “We Made It” with “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 and a bunch of silly shit that they ain’t got.”
They then proceed to trade verbal jabs and subliminal disses on “Draft Day” and “They Don’t Love You No More” respectively.
Meanwhile, the bromance between Drake and Ye continues to flourish. They both appear on Big Sean’s “Blessings” and show up at each other’s concerts (Drake shows up at Kanye’s Irving Plaza concert, Yeezy makes another appearance at OVO Fest) while there are rumors that Jay Z is the one who supplied Meek Mill with the ghostwriter info that Meek used to start the biggest beef of Drake’s career to date (Drake also throws a subliminal at Jay in Charged Up as well #StayWoke).
On “Summer Sixteen,” Drake again goes to name names by saying ““Oh it’s your time now” yeah, that’s what everybody say/I used to wanna be on Roc-A-Fella then I turned into Jay/Now I got a house in LA, Now I got a bigger pool than Ye/And look man, Ye’s pool is nice, mine’s just bigger’s what I’m saying” Then Drake has the Throne on “Pop Style” (barely, considering Jay has 2 bars on the song) but takes them off when it’s time for the album to drop stating that the reason for their removal was “creative, not personal”
It’s clear that Drake views himself on the same level now as his idols and he’s carrying himself as such. But while Kanye seems to view this more as a friendly competition, Jay Z seems to view Drake somewhere between annoyance and threat and Drake is aware of this. Where this leads is anyone’s guess. With Jay Z seemingly gearing up for the summer and the somewhat lackluster response to what was supposed to be Drake’s crowning achievement in Views, this is an exciting time to be a fan, especially if you’re interested in the continued evolution of this rivalry, like I am.