The rap game can get downright biblical at times. When Pusha-T's “The Story of Adidon” was unleashed in late May, it was the culmination of a prophecy laid out nearly a decade ago.
Imagine my surprise when I turned on Kanye West and Pusha-T’s 2012 single “New God Flow” and heard these lines:
Push later confirmed the targets of his wrath: Birdman (who wears the tattooed five stars like a wreath), Lil Wayne, and Drake.
Keep in mind, this was a different era of rap. Wayne was still the biggest artist in the world, Cash Money was the hottest label, and Drake was their eager apprentice. It was an audacious move by Push. But he foresaw weaknesses that no one else did, and in the mystic ways of the prophets, he chose to let time illuminate his words.
Of course, "New God Flow" didn't start the Pusha-T/Cash Money beef. That dates back 15 years to "What Happened To That Boy," when Clipse ventured down to New Orleans to film a video with Birdman and a teenage Lil Wayne. We’ve never really gotten a satisfactory answer as to why issues arose—we've all heard murmurs of Birdman not paying Pharrell for the beat—but either way, the record began a state of mutual enmity between the two parties.
Wayne—Cash Money’s meteoric star, but never a battle rapper—and Push lightly sparred for the rest of the decade, either via bar-length threats ("Don’t make me turn daddy’s little girl to orphan; that would mean I’d have to kill Baby like abortion” —Pusha-T, "Re-Up Gang Intro") or dismissive rebukes: “I don’t see no fuckin’ Clipse,” Wayne said in a 2006 interview with Complex. “Come on man. Weezy, man. They had to do 'What Happened To That Boy' with us to get hot, B.”
It was Drake, however, who re-ignited the beef in the social media era. Drake grew up a fan of Clipse—in a throwback clip, he talks about buying a microphone from eBay with Pusha-T’s signature on it—but that seemed to have been forgotten by 2011’s “Dreams Money Can Buy”:
"And I feel like lately it went from top five to remaining five / My favorite rappers either lost it or ain't alive / And they tryna bring us down: me, Weezy, and Stunna"
Who knows if these shots were done to curry favor with his YMCMB bosses, or simply a shoot-the-club-up effort at claiming dominance a la Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse, but these three lines defined the parameters of the coming conflict: Push versus Drake, Lil Wayne, and Birdman.
Push responded to “Dreams Money Can Buy” with “Don’t Fuck With Me,” and this is where it starts to get eerie.
Let's focus on that last line, specifically, for its nonsensicality. After watching nearly every Pusha interview and listening to his entire catalog, I’ve only seen its context explained once, in an interview Push did five years later with ReportCardRadio. "If you steal something, that's just corny," he said. "If [Birdman steals something] and you steal it contractually, that's like the lowest form of a thief. It's like a cat burglar.”
Patience—it’s Pusha-T’s virtue. Time is this man's Play-Doh. Apart from seemingly never aging, he's content to drop an album “once every blue moon,” and pen prophetical disses that only acquire meaning years later. Nowhere is this more apparent than in 2012's "Exodus 23:1."
Always one to go biblical—he named one of his mixtapes Wrath of Caine—on “Exodus 23:1,” Pusha targeted the shoddy percentages holding Cash Money together, as well as the false loyalty the label embellished:
"Contract all fucked up / I guess that means you all fucked up / You signed to one nigga that signed to another nigga / That's signed to three niggas, now that's bad luck / Them niggas using you as a pawn / You see they never loaded they guns / Now you out here all by yourself"
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These were bold claims. Though Cash Money’s shady business practices have since been exposed, in 2012, they were the unstoppable empire. Wayne was known as the CEO of Young Money, seemingly reaping the royalties of recent signees Drake and Nicki Minaj, and making annual appearances on the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list. It wasn’t until 2014, two-and-a-half years later, that Wayne tweeted that he wanted to leave Cash Money.
Before anyone else dared to say it, Pusha-T was right.
In response, Pusha-T merely continued his assault on Cash Money. In 2015, he rapped, “You ask me, Tyga looking like a genius,” on “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets,” and the following year, on “H.G.T.V. Freestyle,” he spit, “These ni***as Call of Duty so their killings ain’t real / With a questionable pen so the feeling ain’t real.”
With Wayne unable to effectively return fire on wax, it was up to Drake to come through in the clutch. In 2017, he responded on “Two Birds, One Stone”:
It's likely Pusha would have responded sooner had Kanye not scrapped several versions of his newly-released (and retitled) album, DAYTONA, but on “Infrared,” Push delivered more of the same: barbs about Drake’s authenticity, crocodile tears for Wayne, more vitriol for Birdman.
Less than 24 hours later, Drake responded with a full-on escalation: “Duppy Freestyle.”
We’ll never know exactly why Drake chose to, as J. Prince claims, “wade into the pigpen.” Perhaps he was feeling emboldened by his 2015 victory over Meek Mill, or perhaps he was misguided by yes-men and hubris. But he violated one of the cardinal rules of beef: never go into battle with someone who has less to lose than you. It’s why professional athletes are told to not respond to hecklers.
Now, every time we see a photo of Drake’s baby mama, his son, his father's gaudy suits, or his product line with Adidas, we'll be reminded of the L he took. Pusha-T actually made good on the warnings he had sent at the beginning of this decade on “Exodus 23:1.”
This isn’t to write Drake off or to claim that Cash Money is done for. Drake is one of the most formidable artists that hip-hop has ever known, on the level of a JAY-Z or Kanye, and certainly its biggest current star. Drake will continue to do huge numbers, break records, and traverse genres. He might even double down and make Scorpion the smoke-filled diss record it was promised to be.
But this is a seminal moment in Drake’s trajectory. Pusha-T came at the king and lived to tell the tale.
No one is at the top forever. No empire can sustain itself for eternity. It wasn’t the mighty Persians or Carthaginians who took down the Roman Empire, but the reckless barbarians who were willing to be more vicious and combative than their bigger foes. And even then, they didn’t take it down overnight—they merely hastened its demise.
Remember when Remy Ma dropped “SHEther?” The prevailing consensus at the time was that Nicki would be unaffected. But 14 months later, Nicki's decline in popularity (her new album, Queen, has already been delayed once) is palpable. Her singles fail to impact the same way they once did; she no longer has the cultural relevance she once monopolized. Before the newly-released "Chun-Li," her last solo top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 was 2014's "Anaconda."
Push warned Drake seven years ago and then ethered him as the world was watching. Just as he's always done.
He came at Birdman when no one else would dare to come at Birdman. He came at Lil Wayne when no one else would dare come for Wayne. And he came at Drake when Drake seemed invincible.
In the story of hip-hop, we'll all remember the lone soldier who methodically snipped Cash Money for 15 years, who prophesied and then helped catalyze its eventual demise, and succeeded in tarnishing the legacy of the three acts he set his sights on all those years ago.
"They say that death comes in threes, how appropriate," Push raps on "Santeria." And the circle is complete.