We need to retire the term ether. Ether isn’t going to cut it anymore. Once upon a time, in 2001, Nas’ “Ether” seemed like the most furious, damaging rap dis song imaginable. Nas had gone deep into his chamber and come out swinging, wild-eyed. He’d huffed his way from punchline to punchline, calling out the biggest rapper of the moment and systematically picking apart everything he didn’t like about him. But have you listened to “Ether” lately? It’s mostly just Nas calling Jay-Z gay and ugly, saying he’s not that good at rapping. It was a haymaker, and it connected, but it probably didn’t shake Jay to the core of his soul. It probably didn’t make him wonder who he even was. I don’t know how we’re going to turn “The Story Of Adidon” into a verb, but that’s what needs to happen. It’s the song that out-ethered “Ether.”
Pusha-T doesn’t even sound angry at Drake on “The Story Of Adidon.” He doesn’t raise his voice or betray any emotion. If there are feelings there, they’re muted. There’s a touch of stern fatherly disapproval, maybe, and just a ghost of glee. Mostly, though, Pusha keeps cool and composed even as he says the most wildly, viciously, historically disrespectful shit. Weaponized information has always been a huge part of rap feuds; think of Jay-Z putting a photo of Prodigy in his dance-class outfit on the Summer Jam screen. But here, Pusha goes beyond that, into the realm of investigative journalism. He knew about the old blackface photo that Drake took a decade ago, and now the rest of us know it, too. He knew about the baby that Drake was keeping hidden, and now the rest of us know, too. He even knew about Drake’s plans to launch an Adidas line. Those plans are going to have to be heavily reworked. (In a Breakfast Club interview this morning, Pusha explained the “he deserves more than an Adidas press run” line. To hear Pusha tell it, Drake was going to call his Adidas line Adidon, and he was going to reveal his son’s existence in the ad campaign. Too late now!)
After the social-media fury of last night, “The Story Of Adidon” now seems like the product of absolutely diabolical planning. Pusha uses Jay-Z’s “The Story Of OJ” to pick apart what he sees as Drake’s biracial identity crisis. He calmly describes Drake’s own absent father so that it’ll hurt more when he accuses Drake of being a deadbeat father. He calmly dismisses all of Drake’s shots against him, and even his own previous shots against Drake, with a magisterial hand-wave: “Drug-dealing aside, ghostwriting aside / Let’s have a heart-to-heart about your pride.” He only barely cusses, which means “The Story Of Adidon” is going to get serious rap-radio airplay. (Radio loves rap beef; more than anything else, that’s what drove the Jay/Nas narrative.)
In giving “The Story of Adidon” a title that nobody understood last night, Pusha has permanently fucked up the Google results on Drake’s Adidas line. And in waiting a few days to release the song, Pusha made sure he had the world’s undivided attention. People were acting like Pusha was waiting too long to respond, but if he’d released the song a day earlier, he would’ve been going up against an NBA game seven and the end of a holiday weekend. Instead, he took advantage of a quick moment of cultural quiet. He used it for all it was worth.
The funniest part is that Drake asked for all of this. When he first came out with it, “Duppy Freestyle” seemed like a sharp and effective beef track. Drake was ratcheting things up. He was reacting to a few throwaway lines on Pusha’s “Infrared,” a song that wasn’t really even about Drake, by going all the way in on him. Drake made fun of Pusha for being old. He tried to drive a wedge between Pusha and Kanye West: “What do you really think of the nigga that’s making your beats?” He questioned Pusha’s tales of his drug-dealing history: “Man, you might’ve sold to college kids for Nike and Mercedes / But you act like you sold drugs for Escobar in the ’80s.” He effectively parried Pusha’s lines about ghostwriters and acknowledged his own history of Clipse fandom. He even called Pusha untalented: “You not even top five as far as your label talent goes.” (Who at G.O.O.D. Music does Drake think is more talented than Pusha? Big Sean? CyHi The Prince? Desiigner? He probably doesn’t think that anymore.)
Of course, the line that’s going to undo Drake is the part where he mentions Pusha’s finacée, by name: “I told you keep playing with my name and I’ma let it ring on you like Virginia Williams.” (He even imitates Pusha’s voice for the space of that one line.) That line was what made this whole story personal, and it gave Pusha free reign to say everything he said on “The Story Of Adidon.” And he said it all. Drake’s mother, his father, his child, his relationship with the child’s mother, even his producer Noah “40” Shebib’s multiple sclerosis. The line about 40 being close to death is the nastiest, bitterest part of this whole exchange to date, but Drake’s the one who made things personal, and everything is fair game in rap feuds.
In retrospect, it almost feels as though Pusha suckered Drake into this thing. If he did, that makes it even more masterful. On Pusha’s Daytona album, “Infrared,” the song with the lines about Drake and Lil Wayne and Birdman, directly follows “What Would Meek Mill Do?” And at first, it looks like Pusha was following Meek’s old, failed playbook: accusing Drake of using ghostwriters. It’s long been established that nobody much cares about that. So when Drake fired back, he had reason to believe that things would go the way they’d gone with Meek three years ago. But they are not going the same way because Pusha is not doing what Meek Mill did. He had his follow-up ready the whole time.
“The Story Of Adidon” is a bracing, stinging escalation of a rap feud that’s been going on for more than a decade, since before Drake even had a career. At this point, it’s practically a Hatfields/McCoys situation: a conflict that’s been going on for so long that nobody even remembers how it started. And as it happens, it started with a dispute over who made it cool to wear BAPE hoodies. (At this point, the whole issue was so long ago that it might as well have been over slap bracelets or overalls with one strap hanging down.)
Way back in 2006, when Drake was recording his Room For Improvement mixtape and still making sporadic appearances on Degrassi: The Next Generation — before he’d even taken that blackface photo — Lil Wayne wore a gallingly ugly BAPE blood-red camo hoodie/coat combo in his “Hustler Musik” video. A few months later, Clipse and Pharrell rapped about people biting their style on “Mr. Me Too.” Wayne objected, and Wayne and the Clipse guys spent years sniping at each other in interviews and lyrical subliminals. Drake didn’t get drafted into it until he caught a few stray lines on Pusha’s 2012 track “Exodus 23:1.” Things have been slowly simmering between him and Pusha since then. Now, they are exploding.
Drake will have to respond. He’s not going away. He can’t go away; he’s the biggest rap star in the world. And even though he’s never been tested like this, he’s also never lost a rap feud. “The Story Of Adidon” is a song that demands a response. It even directly requests a response; Pusha ends it by urging Drake to get angry. Maybe Drake can win this, but at this point, I can’t imagine how. He is now the victim of one of the most vicious, merciless takedowns in rap history. And honestly? Drake deserves it — not for thinking Pusha-T would be an easy out but for even trying to hide his son from the world. (As a father, I’m going to have a hard time looking at Drake the same way ever again. Maybe abandoning your kid, temporarily or not, isn’t the worst thing you could ever do, but it sure isn’t good.) And “The Story Of Adidon” came out, as it happens, on the same day that ABC cancelled Roseanne, the network’s most popular new show in years, because its star tweeted one racist tweet too many. These days, no single celebrity is too big to fail.
This is very much an ongoing issue. Pusha says that he has more ammunition for another round, if this should go another round. An artist as petty as Drake isn’t going to let something this devastating go anytime soon. The feud between these two is already the most exciting rap beef in years. And somehow, it feels like it’s just getting started. Bring on the surgical summer.
1. Denzel Curry – “Percs”
The 23-year-old father of South Florida SoundCloud rap declares war on all of his children, with a determined vein-popping flow that aims to show them how this brickwalled lo-fi punk-rap can sound when it’s working right. I love the “sound like durr durr durr” bit.
2. Starlito – “Stir Crazy” (Feat. Don Trip & Killa Kyleon)
Three craggy aging rappers bitch about the way things are now, how they aren’t the way they used to be. This is something that happens too often in rap, and yet these are three charming, virtuosic rappers who always sound amazing together, and it works.
3. YG – “Big Bank” (Feat. 2 Chainz, Big Sean, & Nicki Minaj)
The Nicki Minaj bit about Eminem, and the rumors it started, are getting all the attention. But this is a top-shelf A-minus-lister posse cut, with everyone trying to outdo everyone else over a tingly, propulsive Mustard bounce.
4. Casino – “Deal” (Feat. 21 Savage)
Two generations of bloodthirsty trap music come together in heartwarming ways. 21 Savage says that he “might hit ya main thang in a gazebo,” presumably because he couldn’t think of too many things that rhyme with “Casino.”
5. GlokkNine – “Kill Kill”
This Florida kid appears to be the Guerrilla Black to Kodak Black’s Biggie. And if he can manage to not sexually assault anyone, I am OK with that.