Diss tracks have long been a staple of hip hop, and the newest addition to the canon of great disses is Back to Back by Drake.
Back to Back is Drake’s second diss track targeted at fellow rapper Meek Mill, in response to diss tracks Meek Mill made about Drake, accusing him of using ghostwriters.
These tracks are the result of a drawn out feud between Drake and Meek Mill. Amongst other banal things, Meek Mill criticized Drake for being a singing rapper, mocking his emotional and introspective lyrics as being weak and soft.
Like all good feuds between rappers, this one was settled with a diss track battle.
Diss tracks have always been a part of hip hop – and an important one, at that, because they give rappers the opportunity to showcase their lyrical agility with a very clear goal in mind: the annihilation of their opponent.
From 2Pac’s Against All Odds to Eminem’s Sauce and Jay Z’s Super Ugly, diss tracks have often been amongst the most influential songs in rap’s history.
A good diss track should deal a killing blow – attacking its target’s deepest insecurities and manipulating them into a position where any further retaliation would just dig the enemy rapper’s grave even deeper.
In terms of this criteria, Drake’s Back to Back is undoubtedly one of the greatest diss tracks in the genre’s history.
The song’s features a ghostly, minimalist beat – incredibly simple, and full of brooding and restraint. We all know Drake’s a producer who can create complex beats, yet this one is stark and harsh. This actually makes it even stronger: it gives the ominous impression that Drake is holding back, that if he really wanted to he could be hitting Meek Mill with insanely opulent and sophisticated beats.
And, of course, the lyrics.
Back to Back succeeds so well as a diss track because it leaves Meek Mill no room to respond. The lyric ‘You’re getting bodied by a singing n****’ openly states that if Meek Mill loses this diss track battle or even tries to retaliate, he’s undermining his (Mill’s) previous statements that singing rappers are soft and weak. To call Drake soft, and then to be beaten by Drake, is to call himself even softer by comparison.
Even if Meek Mill makes another diss track against Drake, Drake implies that Meek Mill will, by doing so, acknowledge that a ‘singing rapper’ is good enough to make him feel threatened.
Drake also craftily suggests that this whole feud is beneath him (‘When I look back I might be mad that I gave this attention’) but then suavely assaults Meek Mill anyway.
His rhymes are slick and his flow highly proficient. There isn’t a stray word or phrase out of place.
Where Meek Mill’s diss tracks were sloppily crafted insult fests, Drake’s is a testament to the power of quality song-crafting and his studied approach to hip hop.
Furthermore, Back to Back marks a clear line in the sand: the era of gangsta rap is fading, and the time of the middle-class rapper with real musical ability is very much upon us.
And it was announced this week that Back to Back is nominated for this year’s Grammy for Best Rap Performance: an unprecedented feat for a diss track.
Well played, Drake. Well played indeed.