First things first, I am a fan of Common and I am not a fan of Drake. With that being said, with each passing day I lose more respect for Drake and Common. No, not because their beef is faker than McDonald’s hamburgers; my gripes are with the ways in which their battle has reminded me that Hip-Hop and the Black community continue to carry fragile and narrow definitions of what it means to be a man.
Common is not new to battling, as he’s 20 years deep in the rap game, (yes, his first album did come out in 1992; if you thought otherwise, you may want to think twice before weighing in on this one) and cut his teeth in an era long before pre-written “freestyles”, back when emcees had to battle. Over the years, I’ve felt a kinship with the Chicago native. As I grappled with religion, relationships, and Black culture at each turn Common’s songs were with me. His maturation was the soundtrack to my coming of age.
I remember vividly in 1996 when Common dropped “The B*tch in Yoo”: a scathing critique of Ice Cube’s contradictions from advocating Islam to hawking malt liquor. It cut so deep because the diss called Cube out on his own immaturity and inconsistencies. Common earned a reputation not simply as a rapper with braggadocio skills but one who could go for the jugular when provoked. Yet it wasn’t his calling card. Common’s catalog ranges from songs about the imprisonment of political prisoner Assata Shakur to soulful party anthems like “Go.” As a veteran rapper he parlayed his stardom into an acting career and has been romantically tied to Serena Williams. And apparently that’s one of Common’s sources of beef with Drake.
Drake, Hip-Pop’s new golden boy, has remain largely unchallenged in his rise to super stardom until Common dropped the single “Sweet” which he claims was directed at Drake. I was excited to hear Common spitting fire, until I listened to the song’s hook and I heard him berating an unnamed rapper for singing, being sweet, and being a “ho”. While I’m a fan of battling and I’m a fan of someone challenging Drake’s meteoric rise, I’m disappointed that their war or words boils down to attacking each other’s manhood and feminization.
Drake’s responses to Common have been no better. On Rick Ross’s “Stay Schemin’” with the opening line of “It bothers me when the Gods be acting like broads.” Drake digs up Five Percenter rhetoric which refers to the Black man as God and suggests that Common acts like a woman. This is meant to be an insult and is insulting to women. Throughout this undercooked beef, the two continually attack each other using ‘you act like a chick’-style attacks. Like many rap battles, the terms of engagement have devolved into name-calling and schoolyard jabs. When I was in junior high that’s what I expected of Hip-Hop, but not now.
Due to their willingness to express their emotions and good looks, both Common and Drake are both extremely popular with female fans. Yet this adoration of the rappers has not been returned to their fans as both rappers have habitually used the word bitch. And now in this war of words, the women who keep these men employed must also suffer through their gender being considered a slur.
For better or worst, Drake and Common represent some of the most progressive voices in Hip-Hop but their battle should remind us that when faced with challenge, to prove their manhood, men often try to make their opponent less than a man. This misogynistic impulse devalues women and many times same gender loving men. C.J. Pascoe in her book “Dude You’re a Fag” traces how adolescent boys work hard to emasculate other boys by suggesting they’re “fags”, “sweet” or other epithets. While these labels are tied to homophobia, they are not always about sexuality; instead, they’re usually indictments of males for not living up to manhood roles.
As a Hip-Hop head, I want to see the 30-year-old tradition of battling grow up as I have. As someone who is concerned about the health and welfare of Black people, I yearn to see men like Common and Drake come to understand what’s still juvenile about the methods we use to establish manhood. Black masculinity is thorny terrain. As Black men, we battle masses of stereotypes that encourage us to be hyper-physical, sexual and sometimes violent. While both Common and Drake have escaped these traps in the rap world, their beef shows us there are still miles to go when it comes to diversifying black masculinity in the Rap world.
Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York – CUNY. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on twitter at @dumilewis or on the web at www.professorlewis.com