It’s been an up and down year for Drake.
After fulfilling a near-decade prophecy, Pusha-T finally baited the 6 God into a battle he couldn’t win. What began with expected barbs about ghostwriting and bygone drug-dealing days quickly turned ugly when Pusha released “The Story of Adidon,” a song that went full Maury on Drake by alleging that he has a son the public is unaware of:
“You are hiding a child, let that boy come home.” —Pusha-T, "The Story of Adison"
Push went even further, claiming that Drake was planning to debut his son in his new Adidas line; a baby revealing that asks guests to forego onesies and toys in favor of bringing credit cards. A lesser discussed portion of the beef was the rumor that the mother of Drake’s baby is Sophie Brussaux, an artist and former porn star, who became collateral damage in a fight between men that obscured women from the picture. Although Pusha was criticized for making light of Noah “40” Shebib’s battle with multiple sclerosis, few, if any, took issue with the line reportedly about Brussaux, which seems to treat sex work as something unclean: “Cleaned her up for IG, but the stench is on her.” If Pusha was upset about his fiancé’s name being brought into the fight, he should have kept his target in mind without sending strays that shamed a woman for her chosen profession.
Regardless of the troubling lines that were crossed, Pusha-T is the victor, and while the internet had a heyday with memes and chatter about Drake's alleged son, Aubrey went quiet. Save for responding in a carefully written statement to the cover for “Adidon,” a photograph of Drake using blackface makeup, Drake made no response to the song’s content, due in part to a call from J. Prince to let it rest.
With the impending release of Scorpion this Friday, fans and trolls alike are awaiting Drake’s response, if not to Pusha-T, then regarding the son he has allegedly kept from the public’s eye.
To be sure, Drake’s image has been irreparably stained, and lyrics about his son might go a long way in restoring his public goodwill. I have no doubt that Drake could pen a sincere verse or two about the fear of raising a son in the spotlight or the desire to be a good father. I also have no doubt that he could make it worse, using the occasion to make excuses for monetizing his son—if the Adidas rumors are true—or to further marginalize Brussaux’s experience. He could also fall somewhere in the middle, and the memes will still proliferate.
More important than Drake’s decision to rap or not rap about his son is this: he doesn’t owe us dad raps. “I hold back, sometimes I won’t,” he says on “God’s Plan.” And it’s his choice which way he leans on Scorpion.
The expectation that Drake should tell listeners about his son merely reveals public perception of entitlement to the private details of artists’ personal lives.
But we aren’t owed this, no matter how much today's social media-driven world has blurred the lines between public and private life.
To say that Drake has a “secret” child is to imply that anyone unaware of his son was being kept in the dark on information that never belonged to us in the first place. Artists are free to indulge audiences or withhold information without our weighing in. While ScHoolboy Q raps openly about his daughter’s influence, often sharing videos of their quality time together on Instagram, Childish Gambino and J. Cole have rapped about fatherhood but remained careful with what they reveal in interviews.
It turns out raising a child doesn’t require the input of either rabid fans or random internet trolls.
Moreover, artists often have their work passed over so that a bored public—exhausted by the barrage of news about the world falling apart—can entertain itself with a piece of gossip until the next soundbite comes along. After Janelle Monáe released her excellent visual album Dirty Computer, Ivie Ani of Okayplayer tweeted that people mostly just wanted to know if the album and film’s content meant that she was gay. With a social media culture that finds it difficult to digest art without seeking out the easy headline, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine why an artist would find audiences undeserving of private information. Complex humans are reduced to labels and stripped of their layers for a story without substance.
Of course, the freedom of artists to keep their personal lives private is currently having its limits tested. After Kelis described years of abuse during her marriage with Nas, many listeners were expecting to hear Nas address the allegations in some form, either through a statement or song. This is not merely a matter of what is owed to listeners, but whether artists who build their legacy on personal, pensive music detailing the depths of their past are suddenly able to detach themselves to protect that same legacy.
As Matt Wilhite penned it, “Here is an emcee, known for opening up on wax about his failed marriage and child support woes, one thoughtful enough to write an entire song from the perspective of a bullet or detail a murder in reverse, who suddenly went thoughtless.” It’s not that Nas owes the public an explanation (if the allegations are true, he owes Kelis much more), but that his pivot from truth-teller to smokescreen diverter means he no longer has control over the story told about him.
It would almost make sense, then, to say that Drake’s audience anticipates information about his son because of what Drake has revealed about his personal life to listeners thus far. Much of his career has been built on intimate songs detailing romantic flings, reflective regrets, and fears of commitment and isolation all the same. If Drake suddenly foregoes this sensibility by avoiding lyrics about his alleged son and son’s mother, that silence will be felt. The story has already gotten away from him, thanks to Pusha-T’s private eye detective skills, and it’s difficult to imagine Drake regaining the narrative on Scorpion. Not attempting to, on the other hand, transcends the question of what is owed the public (nothing) to what Drake needs to salvage his image (quite a bit).
Beyond the current conversation about listeners separating the art from the artist is another conversation, one I’d argue has yet to take place at length. It asks whether artists are themselves able to distance their art from their person, to maintain a brand without becoming the product, to reflect their realities without inviting listeners into their private lives. There are limits to this separation, certainly, but negotiating the boundary lines is necessary to talk about the relationship between artists and audiences in full. Are we ready to have that conversation? If Cardi B and Offset feel the need to wed secretly, I’d venture to say no.
Drake stands poised to lose regardless of what he says on Friday. He doesn’t owe us dad raps, but not addressing his personal life will come off inauthentic to his career to this point. If the album’s title indeed refers to rebirth as symbolized by the scorpion, the 6 God may be praying for life after death. At the very least, he will have an audience.
That might be all one can hope for anymore.