Everything about Drake—from his music to his personal brand—is carefully thought-out, crafted, and presented. For years, nothing caught Drake off-guard because for the sake of his brand he and his powerful team were prepared for it all. This is what made Pusha-T’s “The Story of Adidon”—the Virginia rapper’s earth-shattering diss track from a few weeks ago—so shocking because, for what seems like the first time, Drake was caught slipping with accusations damaging enough to make him rush out an unplanned notes app apology. Back in 2015, Meek Mill tried his hand by coming for Drake’s rap credibility, but that is just a fraction of what makes Drake who he is. What separated the Pusha-T diss is that the allegations threatened Drake The Pop Star. His image felt like it was affected beyond recovery, and that he would forever be haunted by Pusha’s use of the blackface picture and claims of being a deadbeat Dad. Yet here we are, just over a week out from the release of Drake’s new album Scorpion, and the world is somehow no longer talking about what happened earlier this month. How did the 6 God seemingly dodge a bullet once again?
First, thankfully for Drake, he was in the midst of a newly formed relationship with director Karena Evans where the goal of each video they made together—“God’s Plan” and “Nice For What”—seemed to be to create a cultural stopping moment greater than the last. And together the duo were able to use his latest single “I’m Upset” as a device to manipulate the conversation from the child he is hiding to an endearing reunion of our favorite Canadian soap opera.
In the time between “The Story of Adidon” and the “I’m Upset” video Drake’s internet presence was virtually nonexistent. There was a sense throughout the music world that Drake’s silence meant he was unclear of what his next move should be. These thoughts were only elevated by the involvement of J Prince, whose press tour to both promote his book and validate Drake’s silence left a taste of desperation. Until one night last week Drake broke his silence and took to Instagram as if nothing ever happened: throwing up an album cover, a release date, and a single image of the Degrassi high school with “Video link in bio” as the caption. And the second Shane Kippel (played by Spinner Mason) walks through the curtain with a smirk and open arms, the child, the blackface, and the bold claims from his Pusha-T diss “Duppy Freestyle” (“Please believe your demise will be televised”) were a thing of the past and the beef that was supposed to carry us through the summer was over.
Once again, Drake’s nailed the timing. The “I’m Upset” video release came at a perfect moment because still people held out hope that in some form Drake would respond. But Drake being the calculated pop star he is took advantage of the moment and just like he has throughout his career—at times like the “Hotline Bling” and “Started From the Bottom” videos—was able to initiate virality at the snap of his fingers. Using “I’m Upset” to seek an emotional response from viewers similar to what he did by pulling at the heartstrings on “God’s Plan” and offering a sense of empowerment on “Nice For What,” this time Drake went with nostalgia.
Nostalgia is powerful, you can damn near live off of it. A day in the world of social media and you’re sure to come across a video of Josh Peck throwing around old Drake & Josh catch phrases to absurd fanfare . Degrassi is rare in that, unlike most teen dramas, the show just keeps going and adapting to the times, managing to be around long enough to have some sort of impression on nearly everyone under the age of 30. The shot of Drake walking side-by-side with his on-screen best friend through the school hallways suited up like they exist in the world of Ocean’s Eleven would’ve been enough to stir up the feeling of nostalgia he was attempting to bring out of viewers. But Drake pushed further, realizing that if this is going to overshadow Pusha’s accusations the moment has to be momentous. He resurrects the entire cast to recite his lyrics in the gymnasium. People you didn’t know you missed, the original theme music you didn’t realize you remembered, and the subsequent Instagram outpour of photos from the filming that for some reason makes it feel as if you were there too. Drake as a brand always reaches a level where it’s hard to imagine how you could even make it any better‚ giving off the feeling that he’s in control, like usual.
The video is effective in every way that it sets out to be. Even though “I’m Upset” had initial middling interest for music fans (for a Drake single)—debuting at number 19 on the Billboard charts before falling to number 32, versus “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What,” which both debuted and remained at number one—Drake changed the discourse with the video. The online conversations shifted from Drake’s secret child and a highly controversial blackface photo to ones about who was missing from the Degrassi reunion and people sharing their favorite moments in the show’s history. The coverage even reached news sites like CNN and Fox News. In six minutes, Drake made the forming narrative about his downfall look like bullshit. All of Pusha’s accusations were washed away with an imaginary high school reunion. Music fans were enamored with this video of former Canadian television stars two stepping to moody Oogie Mane production in a fictional high school.
Pusha-T was able to hurt Drake in a way that so many rappers before him couldn’t, but nobody has an understanding of their influence and career like Drake does. For years whenever the public opinion about Drake would veer left, he would charm or maneuver his way into a better position. Drake’s command over his brand is as strong as it is versatile as he successfully reacted in the complete opposite way to Pusha than he did Meek Mill in 2015, and still, Drake figured it out. The “I’m Upset” video saved the Drake The Pop Star’s image in pop culture, and although the rap community won’t ever truly forget his non-response, Scorpion will come and be the cultural defining epic Drake wants it to be—whether it’s good or bad. The power of Drake.