Drake has been safe for a long time. Throughout his career he’s consciously built himself one of the biggest parachutes the rap world has ever seen. He’s proven himself one of pop culture’s greatest glad-handers, ingratiating himself to the general public by embracing pop as his vernacular, borrowing from the many musical traditions of the global black diaspora, and generally folding even the parts of his personality that aren’t quite as cool into his overall persona. It’s the main reason why in every public spat he’s had before this year, he’s never come out with scars. Even after the shellacking that Pusha T gave him a month ago with “The Story of Adidon,” there’s still no real way for Drake to fail. He’s shored himself up enough at this point that, commercially, he’s likely going to be at the top of the food chain until he feels like scaling it back or calling it quits.
Though he’s commercially transcended hip-hop, any halfway follower of his career would know that he’s been jostling for respect in a genre that by many accounts, left very little wiggle room for someone like him—non-American, perceived as privileged, painfully corny at times—to not only get in, but to thrive against the odds. But Pusha T, an artist from the school of nothing-is-off-limits rap beef, saw room to change the narrative and on his response to Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle,” he revealed Drake had fathered a son with former adult film actor, and kept him from the public eye. According to Push, not only was Drake a father, he was an absentee father. With the diss, lines like Drake’s “I could never have a kid and be out here still kiddin’ ‘round” from More Life’s “Portland” started to take on a different meaning and appear hypocritical.
In the month since, fans have waited for a Drake response, which was supposedly barred from being released by early supporter and mentor J Prince. But on his latest album Scorpion, instead of continuing to fight with Push, Drake has been forced to talk about a new part of his life that looks to be the source of significant discomfort, embarrassment, and hurt.
Drake mentions his son and reasons for not revealing him a few times on both Side A and Side B of the excessively long album—but most of the references to his child come in the form of corny punchlines that feel emotionally distant. On “8 Out of 10” he urges: “The only deadbeats is whatever beats I been rapping to.” On “Emotionless,” one of the album’s standouts, he insists, “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid,” mentioning that he wanted to shield himself from the comments people might have about his son on social media. It’s fair. But it’s hard to read his intent. On one hand, not a whole lot is known about Drake’s personal life outside of gossip and his carefully curated online persona. His posts on social media are less about his intimate life as much as they are about promotion. On the other, he’s talked about being at odds with his own father, aired out government names of past flings, and opened up about not enjoying seeing his mother unhappy in his music over the years. So, as many have speculated, Pusha T may have heard Drake would reveal his son on Scorpion and used it as ammo.
The half-hearted lines about fatherhood stop on Scorpion’s last song “March 14,” though. For the bulk of its five-minute duration, Drake’s discomfort is palpable.
It’s breakin’ my spirit
Single father, I hate when I hear it
I used to challenge my parents on every album
Now I’m embarrassed to tell ’em I ended up as a co-parent
Always promised the family unit
I wanted it to be different because I’ve been through it
But this is the harsh truth now
Fairy tales are saved for the bedtime stories I tell you now
I don’t want you worry about whose house you live at
Or who loves you more or who’s not there
Who did what to who ‘fore you got here
The song exposes Drake accepting the difficult reality of being a father in a way that he never thought would happen. But more importantly, it happened in a way that he passionately wanted to avoid. “I had to come to terms with the fact that it’s not a maybe,” he sulks at the song’s opening. He shares that he’d only ever been with his son’s mother twice and that in his youth, his mother told him to be careful because it only takes one misstep to have a child you’re not ready for. In expressing this sort of victimhood, he also frames his son’s mother as a mistake who is secondary in the grand scheme of things. But there’s a clear sense of this stinging Drake because he made it to his 30s before realizing he hadn’t heeded his mother’s advice. And now that he’s a father, he’s forced to revisit hurt from his own childhood to make sure he doesn’t set his son up to experience similar pain.
In “Fireworks,” the first track on Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later, he introduced his father, Dennis Graham, to the world with, “My dad called me up knowing that I still listen/ And he’s still got his foot out, guilt trippin’/ It’s been years, though, I just learn to deal with it.” Drake spent the vast majority of his life growing up in Toronto with his mother, periodically visiting his father in Memphis. Before his father became the lovable, loudly dressed man with the big mustache that we’ve come to know, he was a source of tension in Drake’s life and music. Throughout “March 14,” there’s a sense that Drake fears the relationship he’ll have with his own son will suffer a similar fate. Lines like “I’m out here on front lines / Just tryin’ to make sure that I see him sometimes” and “I got an empty crib in my empty crib” illustrate that best.
This is uncharted territory for an artist who, for all of his career up until now, seemed to be impervious to any real harm. This is the first time that some sense of defeat has been perceptible in his tone. But it’s not unwarranted.
Nothing can prepare you for parenthood, especially when you didn’t plan for it. There’s something to be said about the shame of being a black person and recreating the broken family structure. You can go your whole life so driven by the paranoia of not becoming a depiction of a violent image, that when the two-parent household doesn’t happen for you in your adult life—when you’re supposed to be able to exercise your better judgement—the shame can paralyze you. And transcendent of race is the wish of many parents to set their children up for greater success and stability than they had. When you grow up in a household without both parents and have to deal with feeling like you may have been the reason for their split and the reason they remain at odds, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to do subject your own child to the same possibilities.
These are valid reasons for shame and hurt, bolstered by the fact that it feels like Drake is doing a clean up job with his tail tucked between his legs because Pusha T beat him to the punch. When we look back at 2018 Drake, Push may not just be remembered for the only person to do some real damage to the Toronto titan, but he could end up becoming an anti-hero of sorts. If it weren’t for him, Drake may not have felt forced show what he’d typically keep shielded from us. The summer anthem-creating Drake will forever be cherished, but what will cement legacy as he continues to age into a bona fide rap veteran, is to have these tough conversations with himself and his audience, regardless of how painful they may be.