In mid-July, the rapper Meek Mill instigated a feud with collaborator Drake via Twitter. He claimed Drake used a ghostwriter on a track on his new record – perhaps the ultimate insult in the hip-hop world.
One could see Meek Mill’s rage as street rap’s struggle with the commercial success of an artist like Drake, a household name, who sings on many of his songs and frequently references his Acura as well as his early beginnings on Degrassi: the Next Generation.
There is something to be said for Mill’s anger: many hip-hop fans love the genre because it is unflinchingly honest, unlike much top 40 music. In the U.S., hip-hop speaks to the gritty realities of life for many African Americans (for example, on the title track of Dreams and Nightmares, he almost screams “all I know is murder”). Drake, who grew up middle class and started his career on a teen soap opera, represents a different kind of rapper. The idea that Drake would utilize a ghostwriter certainly undermines his efforts to be seen as “hard” or “street.”
Drake fired back at Meek Mill utilizing his best weapons: his loyal fanbase and their expressed indignation via social media. At his recent OVO performance in Toronto, Drake opened his set with two of the tracks he released online in July. Both were recorded expressly to attack Meek Mill. Even more significant was Drake’s choice of backdrop for both songs. While he rapped, audience members viewed a projected stream of fan-made memes insulting Meek Mill that had been released on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Before the show, Drake allowed himself to be photographed wearing a Free Meek Mill t-shirt. It was Drake’s wider appeal that prompted thousands of fans to create such images. He is relying on popular support to mock the less famous rapper and assert his main counterargument: fans don’t care whether Drake uses a ghostwriter or not. They don’t care if other big names in the hip-hop world consider him “soft.” He makes music that they love with lyrics they can relate to.
What is so wrong about “soft” rap, anyway? It’s time for street rap die-hard fans to give up the claim that their brand of music is the only true hip-hop. Matisyahu is a Hasidic Jewish rapper who originally performed in a dark suit and yarmulke. In South Korea, hip-hop is exploding faster than it has anywhere else. Hip-hop appeals to people of all cultures and backgrounds. We can and should give credit to its origins in Compton, Atlanta and Brooklyn, while acknowledging and celebrating its transcendent appeal. Back to the feud: the alleged ghostwriter Quentin Miller has denied Meek Mill’s claims that he wrote Drake’s verse on “R.I.C.O.” As of its publication date, the feud is unresolved (and fans may look forward to more diss tracks to come). All it has done is confirm that Drake represents a different kind of rapper from Meek Mill. Collaboration and commercialization are part of the brand Drake has created for himself. His fans clearly recognize this, no matter how “soft” his lyrics are or how many other writers are mentioned in his album credits. If it is true, as he claims, “all I care about is money and the city that I’m from,” then Drake, with his 5 million records sold to date and twelve number-one singles on Billboard, may be the winner of this war. At least Meek Mill still has Nicki Minaj to comfort him.