War is about moves and countermoves.
In April of 2018, Drake posted a picture on his Instagram account of a gold medallion with a scorpion on it with the simple caption of a CD emoji and the month June 2018. Fans rightfully assumed he would do big numbers with his latest installment because of the success of his two hits “God’s Plan” and “Nice for what.” It was even reported the next day that his album was already expected to go gold upon its release. Later in April, Kanye West announced he was working on five new albums as a producer and artist, most of which would be released in June. The backdrop is essential when we begin to look at everything that has happened in the culture up to this point.
This past weekend, Kanye and the folks at G.O.O.D. Music released their fourth album in as many weeks with Nas’ new body of work titled, Nasir. Despite how you may feel about Kanye’s politics, or antics leading up to the release of these albums, one must admit that he is flexing his musical muscles as none of the four projects sound alike, and all can be argued as decent depending on your preference. [I personally feel Pusha T’s Daytona is one of the best albums of the year.] Kanye effectively had the month of June sewn up until this past weekend even with the release of Drake’s Scorpion looming.
After Drake and Pusha T went at it, many people including myself wondered why Drake had such venom for Kanye on the "Duppy Freestyle" after they seemingly worked out their issues. I can make the argument that the lines aimed at Kanye were harder than the ones aimed at Pusha, who was the only one to diss him in the first place. As a response, Pusha released the "Story of Adidon," and in doing so, he (allegedly) revealed Drake had a child with a former porn start he was hiding. In an interview with Funk Flex, he stated that the reason Drake went at Kanye was that of real estate.
Pusha T was not talking about houses or physical land properties, he was speaking on the attention of the people, and space each of them holds within the culture, in June specifically. Drake anticipated June to be his month with him dropping Scorpion, but when Kanye announced that he would be dropping five albums, one at the end of May, and four in June, he knew Kanye would steal energy and the attention of the listeners. That is all Hip-Hop beef is, a fight for your attention.
When Kanye announced that all of the albums would be seven tracks many people scratched their heads because we are all used to albums being over ten songs, and over at least 40 minutes in runtime. Anything less is considered to be an Extended Play or EP. I wasn’t sure how well the idea would take, I have always felt albums should be long enough so the artist can hit a stride within it and the listeners could get the full idea around the project. However, after being able to listen to each of the four albums multiple times to get a whole feel of the music, I now think the idea is brilliant. Each album is given a week to settle in the minds of listeners, and we can provide full opinions on them, rather than a quick tweet about it being trash or classic after one listen of a 20 song album. This concept will become important when we begin to talk about Jay-Z’s role in this three-way war.
I feel we saw a small fight for real estate play out during the Drake and Pusha T battle. Drake dropped the Duppy freestyle the day of the release of Daytona, effectively stealing the attention away from his album. Pusha T, as the president of G.O.O.D. Music, must have realized that a back and forth with Drake would also steal the attention from the remaining four albums that were to be released in June. He made sure that he brought the fight to a place that was so foul and dirty Drake would not have any other choice NOT to respond because the nature of his response from that point would only steal the attention from his album—which he didn’t drop yet. To that point, Drake was also building up his good faith with the people with his videos for "God’s Plan," in which he gave out just under one million dollars to people in Miami, and "Nice for What," where he showcased and celebrated many Black women within our culture. I've stated on my podcast that a dirty battle with Pusha T would not bode well for Drake, no matter how lyrically inclined you feel he is.
This brings us to this past weekend after Nasir was released, which was produced by Kanye West. The Black Dot, on his Facebook page, said Kanye figuratively had the bases loaded as a result of Daytona, Ye, and Kids See Ghost, and that now all Nas had to do was knock it out of the park. Everything was going according to plan until Saturday, June 16, 2018; Jay-Z and Beyoncé dropped a surprise joint album titled Everything Is Love.
The Carter’s have worked their way to the point they can drop unannounced albums and still sell very well. Beyoncé has done it a few times. They also have been promoting the On The Run II tour that began earlier this month, so a new album is not far-fetched. What is interesting is the timing, the content, and length of the album. It dropped on a Saturday in the heart of Kanye’s album run. Artists don’t typically release albums in the middle of the weekend, and this just felt very deliberate in trying to halt the momentum Kanye had. On the album, Jay-Z is taking shots at various artists, most notably Drake and Kanye West. Everything Is Love is shorter than what we’ve come to expect from Hov and Bey as well, with nine tracks and a 38-minute runtime. They may have seen the genius behind shorter albums and exploited the strategy.
Jay-Z specifically was able to use the attention and energy his wife Beyoncé creates when she drops a project to steal the attention from both Kanye and Drake. Even with the history Hov and Nas have, I feel Esko was just a casualty of war sadly. What we are witnessing is a war for your attention as a consumer. These three giants, Jay-Z, Drake, and Kanye West, have stepped on each other’s toes and invaded each other’s space. The pressure is now on Drake like it never was before to make his move, and to deliver something that will stick in our minds after a month jam-packed with fantastic music from our favorites. It’s chess, not checkers, and after Jay-Z moved his Queen on the board, it will be tight to maneuver.
Malcom X. Bowser is a writer, curator, and founder of Urban X.