Drake and J. Cole returned with wack songs. What is going on???

OPINION: After the beef with Kendrick Lamar, now is the time for them to remind us how we felt about them before the battle to change the conversation. They both failed. 

J. Cole (L) and Drake (R) perform during the Dreamville Festival at Dorothea Dix Park on April 02, 2023 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Astrida Valigorsky/WireImage)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Maybe Kendrick Lamar has stolen Drake and J. Cole’s powers? If you listen to their wack new records — Cole’s Cash Cobain collab “Grippy” and Sexyy Red’s song “U My Everything” featuring Drake — you could reasonably conclude that. Like, if the battle were a superhero movie, then after Kendrick won, he would’ve reach into the soul of each rapper and taken something that permanently changed how they make music. I mean, how else can you explain it? Both Drake and Cole are at a critical fork in their proverbial life road, and yet they returned from the battle with records that are wack. What is happening?

After that battle, both rappers needed to come back strong. They needed to come back with something that reminded people why they loved them in the first place. They needed to employ some strategy, and I don’t know if that has really happened here.

Being a big-time recording artist is a little like running a campaign for elected office. You have to consider how everything you say, do and wear will impact the voters. For a recording artist, people vote with their dollars and their attention. Do you buy and consume their music, do you attend their concerts, do you buy their merch, do you get into the products that they endorse? In order to have influence over fans, artists must work hard to remain cool and beloved. What to record, who to collab with, what to wear, what to endorse — these are all questions that will be carefully considered as any wrong move could cost you fans.

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As soon as the dust settled after the battle, I’m sure each artist had a meeting with their team. Call in the manager, a trusted consigliere, maybe a label rep and go into the virtual war room to plot out their return. They said, how long do we lay low? What sort of song do we come back with? Do we do an interview or get photographed courtside at an NBA game? The big question they’re wrestling with is: How do we turn attention away from the battle and back onto our musical journey? How do we get back on track? I know those conversations happened, but I can’t believe those conversations led to the music we’re getting.

Cole’s silly “Grippy” is either the result of him getting bad advice or refusing to listen. If I were his manager, I would have chained myself to the mixing board in an attempt to prevent the song from being finished and released. He would’ve been better off dropping nothing. I don’t even see a strategy at work.

Drake’s new song is garbage as my colleague Panama Jackson wrote, but at least Drake had a strategy. The wild success of Metro Boomin’s “BBL Drizzy” was a way for everyone to laugh at him so Drake said, OK, I’ll laugh along with them. I see it like this: Imagine Drake is a student in the middle of the high school cafeteria, and someone has made a joke at his expense, and everyone in the whole school is laughing so hard that milk is coming out of their nose. Milk is everywhere. It’s pandemonium. In the movies when this happens, the kid runs out of the cafeteria and sprints straight to the bathroom to cry their eyes out. But not Drake. He’s the kid who laughs along with the joke about him as if that defangs the joke or something. In some situations, it does but not in this one. It’s corny AF for Drake to be rhyming over “BBL Drizzy,” but here we are. 

Drake and J. Cole needed to come back with heat. Drake should’ve tried to drop a smooth, bright, poppy, song-of-the-summer type joint that reminds us that he’s a fun, party guy who makes big crossover hits. With something like that in the culture, it would’ve helped us move on from the battle. But by rapping over “BBL Drizzy,” Drake is kind of extending it. That’s the last thing he wants to do. He should turn the page and start a new chapter of his career. Cole should’ve come back with some real rhyming. Give us more of what he did on Benny the Butcher’s “Johnny P’s Caddy”  or 21 Savage’s “A Lot.” Put up something that they have to debate whether this is your best rhyme ever, so they’re talking about something new and not the battle.

This was a time for these guys to remind us how we felt about them before the battle. To change the conversation. They both failed. 

Touré, theGrio.com

Toure is a host and writer at TheGrio. He hosts the TheGrio TV show “Masters of the Game,” and he created the award-winning podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and its upcoming sequel “Being Black: The ’70s.” He is also the creator of “Star Stories” and the author of eight books, including “Nothing Compares 2 U an oral history of Prince.” He also hosts a podcast called “Toure Show.” He is also a husband and a father of two.

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