On July 21st, Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill took to Twitter to vent his frustrations surrounding lackluster album sales, perceptions about his relationship with Nicki Minaj, and most importantly, the fact that Drake doesn’t write his own lyrics. In a climate where rap beefs are relegated to name calling and throwing shots on social media, the manifestation of actual diss tracks is becoming an all too rare phenomenon. We haven’t seen a feud like this since 50 got stabbed over stealing Ja Rule’s jewelry. With Drake vs Meek Mill, millennials finally get their internet era Jay vs Nas; albeit a ‘baby lotion soft’ iteration.
Amidst all the hubris surrounding both camps, confounding variable Quentin Miller plays an interesting role in re-acknowledging the long held tradition of ghostwriting in hiphop. Name dropped by Meek as the dude that wrote ’10 Bands’, ‘Know Yourself’, and Drake’s verse on his own ‘R.I.C.O.’ (arguably the best track on ‘Dreams Worth More Than Money’), Quentin raises interesting questions inherent to the art form itself. On the surface, the act of ghostwriting is something instinctively taboo. No one wants to believe that their favorite emcee didn’t write those sixteens that they treasure so dearly. Rap purists will argue that it’s counter intuitive, it goes against the fabric of what it means to be a rapper, it’s the very antithesis of authenticity. Ghostwriting, however, has always existed in tandem with hiphop.
Run-DMC ghostwrote for the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre has been known to use Hov as his go-to, members of the Wu-Tang swap lyrics like trading cards, and Nas even penned Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’. Lupe Fiasco took to Instagram in the wake of the rivalry to draft an open letter titled ‘The Haunting.’ “Ghostwriting, or borrowing lines, or taking suggestions from the room has always been in rap and will always be in rap.” He goes on to write, “It’s nothing to go crazy over or be offended about unless you are someone who postures him or herself on the importance of authenticity.” Ghostwriting is often viewed as a more collaborative effort, something that happens naturally in the sense that different parties contribute little pieces to a bigger picture.
Despite Quentin denying he’s ever ghostwritten for Drake, he is credited in the liner notes for ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.’ Noah “40” Shebib, Drake’s other half sonically, defended his longtime collaborator by outlining that Drake shouldn’t be pigeonholed. ‘Rap has a stigma about writing your own lyrics and rightfully so, it’s a very personal art form and it’s rooted in speaking truthfully. Thankfully for me, Drake isn’t just a rapper. He’s also a musician, a producer, and a creator.’ He goes on to outline the fact that hiphop seems to be the only genre of music interested in compartmentalizing what it means to be authentic. If we’re classifying Drake as a musician rather than as a rapper (note that he’s never shied away from being labeled a singer), then it’s fair to assume that he’s standing alongside a long history of songwriting involving inputs from across the board. If we take a moment to stand back and look at Drake for what he is, what we get is a fully formed artist interested with nothing but an end goal to make music. Drake’s artistic intent essentially nullifies Meek’s notion of ghostwriting, ‘if someone wants to be upset that Drake made a great album, go for it, get mad all day! But don’t ever question my brother’s pen.” A more precise interpretation would be to say that Drake is rightly apathetic, he knows where his larger artistic ambitions lie.
So where does this leave us? Drake’s response to the allegations came with the nonchalant scoff at Meek Mill, ‘Charged Up.’ The laid-back indifference was merely a precursor to the main event. Meek’s reply, a fifteen second video of incoherent screaming. What came next was the equivalent of Charles Hamilton getting punched in the face for running his mouth. ‘Back to Back’ dropped after four days of no response from Meek’s camp, this was the coup de grace fans had been salivating for. Leaving nothing off the table, Drake bled Meek like a stuck pig. Taking shots at his relationship, his cash reserves, his on and off again relationship with rap radio pundits, and his ambiguous past with Nicki Minaj; the track is filled with uppercut punchlines. ‘Trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers’, ’is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?’, ‘make sure you hit him with the prenup.’ It’s evident in the situation who told who, ‘Back to Back’ left nothing but scorched earth.
Meek’s retort came in the form of ‘Wanna Know’, a Killadelphia loaded barrage of references to Drake’s ghostwriting. Half the song is samples of Quentin Miller and P Diddy adages, the other half is Meek incomprehensibly rapping about how much Drake is a ‘fucking dork’. There’s no subtlety, the beat is weighed down by Funkmaster Flex DJ tags, and the completely uninspired reworking of the Undertaker’s theme song make it nothing more than a monotonous and forgettable attempt at a retaliation for something that was, in all honesty, already over.
The final haymaker was Drake’s 6th annual Toronto OVO Fest. Prepping for the concert wearing a ‘Free Meek Mill’ t-shirt, the onslaught was only just beginning. Opening the evening with ‘Charged Up’, he stormed in to a rendition of ‘Back to Back’ that was backdropped by nothing but memes of Meek Mill. In what other era could we see a picture of Meek Mill as Pepe the Frog being broadcasted on a screen to thousands of screaming fans?
As the night went on, performances by Kanye West, Pharrell, Future, and Travis $cott, left no doubt as to where the who’s who of hiphop’s allegiance stood. After the show, a widely publicized video of Kanye West, Will Smith, and Drake laughing at even more Meek Mill memes surfaced on the internet. The manner with which they unconcernedly clown Meek leaves no doubt, at this point in time, as to who took the L.
But what does it all mean? This has been the most exciting rap beef in years, arguably the most culturally relevant since ‘Ether.’ It’s not on the same level of all out viciousness, no one cried, but it’s an interesting case in point about where hiphop is now. A harkening back to the days when it meant something to trade shots with actual content, all underlined by the presence of the internet. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, memes; all valid means of elevating competitiveness. It’s an entirely different dynamic, one that makes the actual nature of the rap beef a two way street. Fans now have more say than ever about who wins and who loses, anyone can participate. The entire feud is being played out like a word for word reenactment of ‘If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late’, the king defending his throne against all comers by any means necessary. Will this end Meek's career?
No, Meek occupies a strong standing as a trap rapper with his own dedicated following, but he undoubtedly took the loss. Drake will continue being Drake, yet to be toppled, and the world will keep on spinning, but it means something for potential challengers. 2015 has been a banner year for music, and now, hopefully, a new precedent for what it means to start a rap beef. It’s set a new standard, the time to up your game is now more than ever. For the casual observer, it’s nothing but more quality entertainment.