If we believe the account Drake did on the LeBron James and Maverick Carter talk show The Shop, the rupture between two of the great current MCs was conceived in two steps. The first, a failed collaboration where he felt ignored by Kanye. The second, that the latter are suspected of having leaked to Pusha T the existence of Drake’s newborn son, which led to one of the beefs or chop more intense of recent hip-hop history.
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From there there is a trail of misunderstandings, more or less cryptic messages through social networks and direct accusations in the press that seem to have no end. The icing on the cake for this contemporary soap opera is that its latest LPs, Certified Lover Boy (Drake) and Donda (Kanye West) have been posted just five days apart. And although Kanye has accused the Universal label of launching his project earlier than it should be, it was evident that such a coincidence would fan the flame of morbidity.
At the end of the day we are talking about two key figures of the genre now known as urban, a catch-all where hip-hop, r’n’b, trap or reggaetón are mixed without complexes. How current music sounds would not be understood without Kanye West; that’s how crucial has been the career as a producer of the natural successor to Timbaland or The Neptunes. And Drake is the artist who has best managed his ‘personal brand’, patenting the misty ‘Toronto sound’ with The Weeknd and becoming that rapper whom your parents would accept as a son-in-law.
Kanye vs Drake, Drake vs Kanye: the failed beef of this fledgling decade
Although it is difficult for fans of other styles to assimilate it, the quarrel between two rappers is one of the bases of hip-hop culture. Although on rare occasions it has ended up causing violent confrontations, in many cases, for example the one with Jay-Z and Nas, has promoted the best moments of the genre. The youngest do seem to have understood it, hence the popularity among them of cockfights and their theatrical confrontations.
In this case, however, it seems that Kanye and Drake’s public and private tirades have not sprouted positively, artistically speaking. His latest works delve into the feeling that the best of his careers has already happened and will never return. They are continuous, predictable discs that do not provide novelties at the production, lyrical or style level. In short: mediocre.
If we were forced to pick a ‘winner’ of the duel, this would probably be Kanye. Not because he stands out particularly or because he has signed the best comebacks, no. Rather because it does not hint at direct reference to the fight throughout Donda. Drake, on the other hand, seems to articulate his CLB around mistrust and betrayal. And everyone knows that there is no greater contempt for a jilted than to be ignored in public.
Have Drake and Kanye already consolidated the ‘prog-urban’?
One of the main drawbacks when it comes to (having to) enjoy these albums is that they are both endless. Donda it reaches the insufferable duration of 1 hour and 48 minutes. CLB he loses the ‘prog-urban’ race (an urban style that drifts into tediously progressive, as happened with rock) and suffocates 22 minutes from the finish line. It is not new either. Although Kanye’s last two releases had been refreshing in their brevity, The Life of Pablo exceeded the hour in duration. Drake’s previous official feature length, Scorpion, arrived at an hour and a half.
It is a common evil of the contemporary urban genre. The celebrated Astroworld Travis Scott, one of the most decisive albums of recent years, was also close to time. And in the case of reggaetón and Latin trap, moderation is not abundant either: to speak of releases that have appeared in recent days, JOSÉ of J Balvin almost reaches 80 minutes, the Timelezz de Jhay Cortez reaches 64 and Favorites 2.5 of Arcángel stays in “only” 56.
Returning to the leading duo. Not only are their albums too long in length, they also lack a logical narrative that sweetens the adventure of giving them full listening. Both albums have good songs, it would be absurd to deny it, but they are reached more for stoicism than for pleasure. In the artistic sense, there is a technical draw between the two out of sheer boredom.
Looking for the blades of grass that grow in the desert
With enough patience you can discover some specific moments of interest. It would be extraordinarily difficult if there were not, considering the natural talents of both characters. Also the amount of money invested in their LPs, which ensures them the best technical team that exists in a genre whose success depends largely on a great production and a skillful mix.
On Donda highlight the catchy Jail, the urgency of Off the grid or the fantastic chorus of Ok ok. 24 and the telepreacher hymn of Jesus Lord They could be placed without many problems among the good songs of their previous album with the Sunday Service Choir, JESUS IS KING. Almost at the end, No Child Left Behind It convinces as an epic journey towards the Kanye most Kanye (for the good and for the bad).
Drake starts off with energy CLB, with a Champagne Poetry produced by his faithful Noah ’40’ Shebib that refers to the classic sound that settled between Take Care (2011) and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2017). Girls Want Girls and Way 2 Sexy they are good singles, while Fair trade or No Friends in The Industry they bet on a more aggressive touch. Fountains reminds with its Caribbean aroma of the fantastic mixtape More Life and You Only Live Twice is basically the second part of your classic Lord knows, also with Rick Ross.
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There is a funny detail. Despite their public disagreements, Drake and Kanye share many featurings: Jay-Z, Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, Young Thug or Lil Baby appear on both albums. Another thing that unites them is the null presence of women. On Drake’s album we only listen to two, Yebba and Tems, with very brief contributions. In Kanye’s case, to look for Shenseea’s, you have to put on your glasses closely and dive well between the credits.
Drake won us over as a ‘sensitive’ rapper and willingly accepted his fame of llorica, but here he dresses as Don Juan de palo. The cover of Damien Hirst and the video of Way 2 Sexy they are clearly parodic, but a line like “say that you a lesbian, girl, me too, ayy” is unacceptable as of September 2021. Kanye goes further by collaborating with two artists accused of abuse, Chris Brown and Marilyn Manson, and a homophobic stated, DaBaby. For greater cynicism, he does it in an album that honors his mother and grieves for the absent parents.
It is a clear symptom of the bubble in which they live. Drake is not characterized by his social commitment and there are few occasions in which he has spoken openly about racism. The Kanye thing is a separate chapter. Let’s remember the support for Trump, his failed presidential race or the scandalous definition of slavery as “an option”. You can’t force an artist to position themselves but in turbulent times, especially for people of African descent, a little more empathy would be appreciated.
The future is other
It’s not just Drake and Kanye who seem completely removed from their listeners’ troubles. On The Off Season J. Cole is more concerned about continuing to prove that he is the great rapper of his generation. And in Call Me If You Get Lost multidisciplinary artist Tyler, The Creator continues to investigate new theatrical personalities. Awaiting the imminent Kendrick Lamar album, the most exciting thing about the scene is in the family pride of Tobe Nwigwe, the heterodoxy of Isaiah Rashad, the promising flow by Cordae or the aesthetic fantasy of Lil Nas X. And especially in young women like Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, Little Simz, Sampa The Great, CupcakKE, Chika, Tommy Genesis, BIA, Dua Saleh or Snow Tha Product. While the talent of the old glories fades, those of these rappers shine and bring us new stories.