Drake’s Memeing of Meek Mill: How Hip-Hop Beefs Kill Careers

Meek Mill is on the ropes in his war of words with Drake, with many speculating that it could be the end of his career. He wouldn’t be the first to have his career killed by a rap feud.

Photo Illustration by Dair Massy/The Daily Beast

Things aren’t looking too good right now for Meek Mill.

The Drake vs. Meek Mill feud has risen to operatic heights over the past two weeks. Meek started all of this bad blood by dissing Drake via Twitter, accusing the typically mild-mannered Canadian of using a ghostwriter, and Drizzy’s initial even-toned Instagram response was just a precursor to the superstar responding with “Charged Up,” and then exploding with “Back To Back Freestyle,” where it was crystal clear that he was not taking any prisoners. Meek fired back (eventually) with the relatively (ahem) meek track “Wanna Know,” only for the Web to collectively yawn before clowning the song altogether. Even Whataburger took shots. Sensing blood, Drake followed things up with a chance to dance on Mill’s proverbial grave at this year’s OVO Fest in Toronto, performing his two diss tracks in front of a screen with shots of this week’s many Meek Mill-spoofing memes scrolling behind him.

Fans are now starting to speculate whether or not Meek Mill’s career can actually survive this. He released his most acclaimed album this year, he’s been on a well-received tour with his girlfriend (who Drake’s always fawned over) Nicki Minaj—but could Drizzy really turn Meek Mill into a hip-hop trivia question? Do beefs really end careers? Can a rapper diss a rival so badly, with verses so scathingly brutal, that said rapper becomes a has-been overnight?

Let’s look at some notable hip-hop beefs for context.

The beef between KRS-One and MC Shan is often credited as the first major feud in hip-hop. There had been others in earlier years, but this occurred in that mid-’80s period when hip-hop was becoming cemented as a burgeoning force in music. And in New York City, Boogie Down Productions vs. The Juice Crew was a big deal. For those uninitiated, Shan dropped a classic Marley Marl-produced single called “The Bridge” which BDP’s KRS-One heard and took as an insult to the Bronx, since it sounded like Shan was claiming his home borough of Queens as hip-hop’s birthplace. KRS fired back at Shan with “The Bridge Is Over” and subsequently rose to hip-hop infamy, with Boogie Down Productions going on a run of classic albums to close out the ’80s. Despite responding with “Kill That Noise” on his well-received Down By Law album, Shan never really became as well-known or revered as his one-time rival, so it could be argued that KRS killed Shan’s career before it really got going in any major way.

“I finally figured it out, Magic mouth is used for sucking Roxanne Shante is only good for steady fucking MC Shan and Marley Marl is really only bluffing Like Doug E. Fresh said, ‘I tell you now, you ain’t nothing’ Compared to Red Alert on KISS and Boogie Down Productions.” — “The Bridge Is Over” by KRS-One

Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J pitted a hip-hop elder statesman against an arrogant young buck. Moe Dee had been around since hip-hop’s earliest days as a member of the Treacherous Three and took exception to a teenaged Cool J claiming that he was rap’s new king. LL had achieved a level of commercial clout that early rap stars hadn’t and many saw his brashness as disrespect—Shan had also dissed LL on his single “Beat Biter,” which was the A-side of “The Bridge.” But Kool Moe Dee took things further, posing on his How Ya Like Me Now album cover next to a Jeep parked on top of one of LL’s trademark red Kangols. LL fired back with the scathing “Jack the Ripper,” the first of several diss tracks in his catalog. By the early ’90s, Kool Moe Dee’s solo success was waning, while LL’s was reaching new heights with his multiplatinum Mama Said Knock You Out album—which contained several jabs at his rival’s now-sputtering career, including “To Da Break of Dawn,” a track that also dissed Hammer and Ice-T for taking shots at LL. It could be argued that LL killed Kool Moe Dee’s career, but it should be noted that most old school rappers hadn’t survived the rise of Run-D.M.C. back in the mid-’80s, so Kool Moe Dee remaining popular well into hip-hop’s Golden Age was already a rare feat. Maybe his expiration date was forthcoming regardless of beefing with James Todd Smith.

“Get a piece of this gangsta lean straight from Queens Strong as liquor, to be seen in a limousine Now you’re gettin done without Vaseline Wouldn’t bite because your rhymes are puppy chow Made another million, so competitors bow Homeboy, hold on, my rhymes are so strong Nothing could go wrong, so why do you prolong Songs that ain’t strong, brother, you're dead wrong And got the nerve to have them Star Trek shades on.” — “To Da Break of Dawn” by LL Cool J

Ice Cube released one of the greatest diss tracks in hip-hop history while in the midst of his heated feud with N.W.A. “No Vaseline” was a no-holds-barred diss-fest that eviscerated his former bandmates Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, MC Ren, and especially N.W.A. founder Eazy-E and manager Jerry Heller. The song appeared on Cube’s 1991 sophomore album Death Certificate after N.W.A. spent the majority of their controversial 1991 album Niggaz4Life ripping Cube on various skits and in several lyrical references. Shortly after “No Vaseline,” Dr. Dre left N.W.A. due to financial disputes with Eazy and Heller to found Death Row Records with Suge Knight. Dre himself subsequently dissed Eazy on his classic solo debut The Chronic. It may be a stretch to give Cube credit for killing N.W.A.’s career when there was so much dysfunction that arose within the group; but it could be argued that being dissed by both Cube and Dre hurt Eazy-E’s hip-hop credibility to a certain degree. But no one’s career was “killed” by this bitter and well-publicized feud, despite the significance of the individuals involved.

“I started off with too much cargo, dropped four niggas now I'm makin' all the dough. White man just rulin’. The ‘Niggas With Attitudes’—who ya foolin?’” — “No Vaseline” by Ice Cube

The Pac and Biggie beef is perhaps hip-hop’s most infamous, but it was famously one-sided—at least as far as actual diss songs. 2Pac viciously roasted Biggie and his Bad Boy affiliates on the fiery 1996 B-side “Hit ‘Em Up” and on various tracks on his Death Row albums, but Biggie never issued much if any lyrical responses. Aside from a few tongue-in-cheek references, B.I.G. pretty much steered clear of what had clearly become a toxic situation. But Pac dissing Biggie didn’t seem to hurt B.I.G. much outside of California. Of course, everyone knows that their feud ended with two tragic deaths.

“First off, fuck your bitch and the clique you claim West side when we ride—come equipped with game You claim to be a player but I fucked your wife We bust on Bad Boy, niggaz fucked for life Plus Puffy tryin ta see me, weak hearts I rip Biggie Smallz and Junior M.A.F.I.A. some mark ass bitches We keep on comin' while we runnin for ya jewels Steady gunnin, keep on bustin at the fools You know the rules.” --“Hit ‘Em Up” by 2Pac

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The most infamous feud of the 2000s involved two of hip-hop’s most respected voices. When Jay-Z and Nas went at it from 2001 to 2003, it felt like every rap fan in the world was paying attention. There had been long-simmering resentment between the two related to both Jay’s ascension and a soon-to-be-public-knowledge rendezvous with the mother of Nas’s daughter. At the time, Nas wasn’t exactly releasing his best music and Jay had become a commercial juggernaut. Jay fired at his critics on “Takeover,” a Doors-sampling Kanye West production that featured Jigga ripping into rivals Mobb Deep and Nasir Jones. A few months later, Nas responded first with a Hot 97 freestyle attack, then with his own classic track, the ubiquitous “Ether”—a song that helped resurrect his credibility and career. The bad words continued through another 18 months before it subsided amidst Jay’s “retirement” in 2003. The two made their peace at Summer Jam in 2006 and it stands as a highly visible hip-hop feud that only boosted the careers of the two rappers involved—a rare feat in the history of the genre.

“Y’all niggas deal with emotions like bitches What’s sad is I love you ’cause you’re my brother You traded your soul for riches My child, I’ve watched you grow up to be famous And now I smile like a proud dad, watching his only son that made it You seem to be only concerned with dissing women Were you abused as a child, scared to smile, they called you ugly? Well life is hard, hug me, don’t reject me Or make records to disrespect me, blatant or indirectly In ’88 you was getting chased through your building Calling my crib and I ain’t even give you my numbers All I did was gave you a style for you to run with.” — “Ether” by Nas

50 Cent and Ja Rule had a beef that started way before platinum singles or glitzy videos. This hip-hop feud of the early 2000s was rooted in very real street animosity between two guys who’d grown up in the same rough-and-tumble streets of South Jamaica, Queens. After an associate of 50 allegedly robbed Ja in the late ’90s, Ja Rule had it out for Fiddy. There were fights at recording studios, hotel parking lots, yanked chains and, of course, diss tracks. Ja Rule was a star and 50 was an up-and-comer when this thing started, but by 2004, 50 had become a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. And 50 dissing Ja Rule repeatedly with tracks like “Your Life’s On the Line” and “Clap Back” took its toll. Ja had five top 10 pop singles between 2000 and 2003 and four platinum or multiplatinum albums, but after 50 Cent’s smash Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was released in 2003, Ja Rule’s next album (Blood In My Eye) didn’t even sell 500,000 copies. Ja’s rule was over and it was clearly 50 Cent who ended it.

Now if you say my name in your rhyme, watch what you say You get carried away, you can get shot and carried away Now here’s a list of MC’s that can kill you in eight bars: 50, Jay-Z and Nas I’ma say this shit now and never again We ain’t buddies, we ain’t partners and we damn sure ain’t friends The games you playing, you get killed like that Acting like you all hard, you ain’t built like that.” — “Your Life’s On the Line” by 50 Cent

So where does that leave Meek and Drake? Meek is clearly on the ropes right now, flailing wildly and just hoping he lands a punch. The difference between this beef and all of the other legendary hip-hop feuds mentioned is that Meek Mill isn’t just fighting Drake, he’s fighting an onslaught of hashtags, memes, and Vines made solely to exacerbate the beating he’s taking from Drizzy. Beefs in the age of social media take on a whole new level of pop culture resonance, and fans can pile on when it’s clear a rapper is in over his head. That’s bad news right now if you’re Meek Mill because, while losing a rap battle doesn’t automatically kill anyone’s career, losing one this badly in an era where it can be analyzed, scrutinized, and picked apart within hours of every track’s release means that fans can bury you worse than your opponent can. And his latest freestyle response isn’t helping things. If Meek isn’t careful, he can wind up on the Mt. Rushmore of Rap Beef Losers next to MC Shan and Ja Rule.