I’ve never understood the way hype works. Even when we know that something is absolute garbage or is completely insignificant, people still find a way to talk about it. The recent beef between Meek Mill and Drake confuses me in a similar way.
For some strange reason, people were taken aback when Meek spoke on an already acknowledged, though largely unspoken, truth: Drake has a lot of help with his music. A whole lot. I won’t go so far as to say that he doesn’t write any of his own material, as I’m sure some portion of it is his own. However, the ethics of ghostwriting are secondary to other concerns this flashpoint in hip-hop culture raises, namely the problem of hip-hop music’s uncertain future. There are far too few mainstream artists who are either pushing hip-hop music forward, like Kanye West, or preserving its nucleus, like Kendrick Lamar and Killer Mike. But we instead find ourselves sidetracked by an inconsequential tiff between two people who have taken more away from the music than they have given to it. Rather than talking about who “won”, we need to have a conversation about accountability. In short, we need to stop accepting wackness from leading figures in hip-hop.
Lets be honest, Drake’s Two Diss Tracks Weren’t Good
One of the primary issues with the Meek Mill/Drake debacle is that Drake’s two diss tracks are not good enough to warrant the responses they’ve elicited. The production on “Charged Up” is interesting, but both tracks sound like incomplete products—rushed jobs. Approaching the petty rivalry with a quantity-over-quality approach, Drake thought that he could earn a decisive victory by beating Meek to the punch twice. Popular opinion on the matter has validated his strategy, as a slew of memes and commentaries have reinforced the idea that Drake has bested Meek Mill. But we should be concerned by Drake’s hasty and slipshod songs, as well as his reliance on both the speed and largely indiscriminate taste of social media platforms to propagate some shallow notion of his “victory”. You can’t race your way to artistry.
His bars on “Charged Up” and “Back to Back” are clever at best, and what he intended to be the most forceful jabs at Meek come off as love taps, which is symptomatic of Drake’s lyrical shortcomings in recent memory. These two songs follow after a pitiful album in If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and they build on the faulty foundation it laid for Drake’s 2015. Take “Back to Back”, where I struggle to hear any standout bars. He relies too much on Meek’s relationship with Nicki Minaj for fodder, though it does supply him with the content for his most entertainingly delivered line: “Shoutout to them boss bitches wifin’ niggas”. But unto itself, the line is unremarkable. When considered in the context of the rest of the verse, it is still unremarkable.
Although he reigns as the “Crown Prince” of mainstream Hip-Hop, Drake embodies the unfortunate disregard of standards among many of the genre’s fans. For the last four years, he has contributed to the gradual dilution of hip-hop, which has taken us to a point where we collectively lack the ability to discern the good from the great, the average from the subpar.
At the outset of his career, Drake had promise.
Thank Me Later was a very good album, and I once felt he could be a key innovator who could straddle the line between hip-hop and R&B without being too poppy. The subjects he tackled lyrically were a welcomed break from the thematic monotony of the mainstream at the time. But in 2015, we see Drake operating without a clear direction. I wish he took the last three tracks on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (“You & The 6”, “Jungle”, “6PM in New York”) and built the album around them, which would have been a return to form, an album to remind us of what Drake’s capable of. Instead, he gave us his worst album yet. Nothing Was The Same gave us glimpses of that older Drake, but it was too unfocused to be of real value. These two diss tracks, “Back to Back” and “Charged Up”, should leave us wondering if Drake will ever make it out of the wilderness to create good music on a consistent basis again. They should also give us some pause about our own engagement with this highly (and unnecessarily) publicized beef. We should be asking ourselves, why are we so invested in what is undeniably bad hip-hop music when we need to be devoting more energy to praising good hip-hop music?
Meek Mill’s REsponse Wasn’t Good Either
I think it suffices to say that “Wanna Know”, Meek’s response to Drake, was underwhelming, perhaps even shameful. It meanders far too much and is incoherent at points. Generally speaking, I think Meek has done himself and his fans a disservice by failing to expand his themes and to take more risks with his production. As a star, he reliably gives us variations of the same song, which wouldn’t be a problem if he had ever given us something truly different. I confess that because I grew up just east of Philadelphia in Camden, NJ, I’ve long been familiar with Meek’s sound and I took a liking to it several years ago (I was especially fond of his Flamers 2 mixtape). That said, I have always sensed that Meek would—and indeed already has—hit a creative ceiling, leaving him with only his technique to improve upon. To his credit, his display of technical skill on tracks like “Lord Knows” from his most recent album, Dreams Worth More Than Money, is impressive. If I were forced to take a side in this beef, I would begrudgingly choose Meek, if only on the grounds of technical skill. Meek came to hip-hop stardom beginning as a battle rapper who then released several mixtapes of real regional importance. It should be said, however, that Meek has a ways to go before he could safely call another Philadelphia rapper, Freeway, his peer. If you are unfamiliar with Freeway or disagree with me, listen to “What We Do” and ask yourself what Meek Mill track compares favorably with it.
But wisdom teaches us that picking a winner in a meaningless contest is a foolish exercise.
Before releasing “Wanna Know”, Meek Mill described Drake’s disses as “baby lotion soft” at a concert. This may make some of us laugh, especially given that we’ve grown so accustomed to Drake being clowned for being soft. Others may roll their eyes at yet another example of male rappers relying on masculine posturing to make claims about their superiority over one another. Somewhere between the disdain for and assent to Meek’s comment lies the fact that in this beef, Drake hasn’t given us anything worthy of speaking of, much less to use as a basis for touting him as Meek’s superior. And Meek’s response, if we may call it that, was a disappointment. It is unfortunate that we’re no longer in an age where two MCs can be expected to battle each other in person to establish one’s dominance over the other. In fact, we expect very little of our favorite rappers these days.
Lets Move Forward
The beef between Jay-Z and Nas was legendary partly because they pushed one another as artists, generating amazing music in the process. Twitter won’t have much to say about the Drake/Meek Mill debacle in another few months, but those of us concerned about the music industry will probably still find ourselves discontented with the quality of hip-hop music. If we must continue to talk about this beef (which we really, really don’t), let’s stop with the prattle and start putting pressure on both Drake and Meek Mill to improve as rappers—as artists.