In the back of school buses, in the hallways between class changes, in the corner of classrooms, and even in the sandbox—anywhere there are boys, there are jokes. Call it roasting, joaning, or playing the dozens, but from a very early age, boys are taught the art of making fun.
If someone made a joke, you had to fire back with something witty; something clever, and you had to do it quickly. With jokes, there is always an invisible line that can be crossed, and where the fun becomes offensive. It can start off with an innocent joke about shoes and escalate to something about someone's mother, not knowing that cancer has her sleeping on a deathbed. I’ve seen it happen and you can feel the energy shift, you can see a sadness in someone's eyes or the glint of rage burning in their pupil.
A fight could occur, or after a boy storms off, the class collectively scolds the jokester for going too far. He could be completely oblivious to the circumstances. In his mind, he was only making a joke. It’s only when you go too far and you see the pain that words can cause do you become aware of how words are able to cut down a giant to the size of an ant.
There are parallels between playing the dozens and being caught up in rap beef. If the beef never leaves the studio, then essentially, you are just rhythmically firing off scathing jokes and insults over an instrumental. If it’s beef, you can be crude, rude, offensive and callous, knowing that the person you’re at war with will not show any mercy toward you. You can't have a diss record and not expect utter disrespect. Same thing with the dozens: once you start joking and joaning, there’s no telling how far things might go.
I thought about the schoolyard and the power of words after hearing Drake throw shade at Kid Cudi on his newly-released "Two Birds, One Stone." Cudi is currently in rehab, on a journey to improve his mental health, and that has played a huge role in how people are receiving Drake’s mention of the Moon Man.
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When I first heard the line, “You were the man on the moon, now you just go through your phases,” I didn’t think it was a shot at Cudi’s mental health. My perception of the lyric was more so Cudi’s musical phases. Especially with Man On The Moon being his most critically acclaimed album, and all the experimental albums that followed, that made more sense to me. Timing is what makes Drake’s jab more offensive than it would have been a month ago. I suspect that “Two Birds, One Stone” was recorded prior to Cudi’s admittance into rehab. Drake is extremely petty and shallow, but I never took him for being malicious and tasteless. You would have to be scum to diss a man in rehab trying to get his health together, and Drake just might be, but I don’t believe that’s the case here.
Over a month ago, Cudi went on a massive Twitter rant that mentioned both Kanye and Drake in an unfavorable matter. Drake responded to Cudi’s mention while on tour, making a fairly corny joke that went mostly overlooked. I didn’t consider this beef, but no one really knew the root cause of Cudi’s tweets or the effects they might have on Kanye and Drake. It’s all cause and effect―there’s no Drake diss without Cudi sending out those tweets. In an age where disses are made on Instagram and Twitter, I can’t shame Drake for being offended by Cudi and going into the studio. It’s what we expect from “rappers”: to handle any disrespect in the studio. If he felt he had to respond, he did it in the most rapper fashion possible. It would be different if Cudi never mentioned him on Twitter, and Drake just randomly decided to start the beef with Cudi. Again, the timing is a bigger problem than the actually diss line. If “Two Birds, One Stone” was released a month ago, social media would be anticipating a Cudi response, and not reprimanding Drake for being a bully.
When Troy Ave dissed Capital STEEZ, I felt like he went too far. He didn’t diss a man in rehab getting help, he dissed a young man who had taken his own life. I don’t think STEEZ should’ve been brought into the beef between Troy and STEEZ' Pro Era brethren Joey Badass. Cudi is going to be able to come out of rehab, and whatever happens is going to be between two men who are living, breathing and able to go back and forth if they please. STEEZ didn't have a voice in the battle between Troy and Joey. I understand that Troy’s diss was disrespectful, that it was supposed to be hurtful, and even if you want to respect the move as a rapper, I can’t respect the move as a man. If Drake comes out and directly fires a shot at Cudi’s mental health, I’ll happily place him in the same box. Integrity should mean more to you than a moment of entertainment.
I don’t know when the lyrics were written, I don’t know the complete context of the line, but I don’t think Drake is in the complete wrong for what he said on “Two Birds, One Stone.” The interpretation and the timing of the release have made it a much bigger deal. With rap, just like in the schoolyard, it’s almost impossible to place rules on what you can and can not say in the heat of a battle, but always be prepared for your words to haunt you. The dead will always be a sensitive subject, and if you’re prepared to deal with the consequences, then, by all means, cross that line.
Cudi’s mental health isn’t something to be joked about, and he shouldn’t be kicked while he’s down, but you also can’t talk down to someone and not expect a reaction. As long as we’re alive, cause-and-effect and consequences and repercussions will be the basic laws of the human experience. Words will always hold power, and we have to be careful with what we say and how it’s received.
I hope Drake is prepared for what’s to come, though, because a storm will be born from this.
By Yoh, aka Obi-Yoh Kenobi, aka @Yoh31.