Rick Ross Is the Dark Horse in Hip-Hop’s War Against Drake

Of all the belligerents involved in the Drake-Kendrick beef, Ricky Rozay might be the biggest menace

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Drake has a problem.

It isn’t—at least not yet—Kendrick Lamar, who escalated a decade of tacit rivalry into open conflict with a diss verse on “Like That,” currently the no. 1 song in the country. (Kendrick has yet to answer Drake’s first response, “Push Ups (Drop & Give Me 50),” leaked last weekend.) Nor is Drake’s problem the larger onslaught of disgruntled collaborators who’ve suddenly teamed up against him, with disses of their own, in the aftermath of “Like That.” Yes, Drake is greatly outnumbered in a so-called 20-v-1, but he’s also been the biggest rapper on the planet for more than a decade now, with more streams and more money than all of his rivals combined. He’s no underdog, though Metro Boomin’s alleged leak of Lil Yachty’s reference track for Drake’s “Jumbotron Shit Poppin,” effectively reopening the subject of Drake’s reliance on ghostwriters, does suggest some potential for Drake to quickly find himself overextended.

But no, Drake’s bigger problem—perhaps the biggest problem that he’s seen thus far—is Rick Ross.

It’s strange to think that Drake would be intimidated by a rapper who peaked during Obama’s first term, with Rich Forever. Ross has since coasted, for the most part, as a featured artist on songs by Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, and, yes, Drake. Ross is also the boss of Maybach Music Group, a vanity label that most prominently features Meek Mill and Wale, two rappers who unfortunately can’t stand each other, one of whom already suffered a humiliating loss to Drake in a rap beef several years ago. (Meek is conspicuously uninvolved and unaligned in the current conflict.) In fact, Ross previously dissed Drake on behalf of Meek, on 2015’s “Color Money,” a largely forgotten song that got negligible traction and ultimately had no impact on the outcome of Drake v. Meek. This is all to say: On paper, Ross is in a relatively weak position to diss Drake—perhaps the weakest position of anyone involved in the Great War on Drake. (OK, maybe not as weak as Ja Morant.)

In reality, though, Ross is a menace. He’s rather unlike every other figure aligned against Drake in his peculiar strengths and advantages. He’s a chaos agent, a man prone to overwhelming his opponents with awesome, unanswerable non sequiturs. He’s funny—here’s an IG story of him sitting poolside and irreverently addressing Drake as “white boy” while still making a point to say something nice about his mom. He’s known Drake well enough, for long enough, to have found his pressure points and dirty laundry. And, crucially, Rick Ross is also the only one of Drake’s opponents who has ever won a rap beef—as the underdog, no less, against 50 Cent in the late 2000s. 50 Cent was a self-proclaimed villain and a legendary troll. He subjected Ross to a relentless series of provocations: in diss tracks, in interviews, in webtoons, in videos with Ross’s estranged baby mama, Tia Kemp. And yet Ross overcame 50, with pettiness and absurdities of his own and a transcendent sense of ecstatic self-delusion, in one of the most bewildering upsets in the history of rap beef.

The bad blood runs much deeper in this case. Drake and Rozay go way back, to a handful of successful collaborations (“Aston Martin Music,” “Lord Knows,” “Stay Schemin”) in the early 2010s, in the formative phase of Drake’s superstardom. These guys were compadres for many years, and their association was friendly but fundamentally transactional: Ross complemented the development of Drake’s own mafioso schtick, while Drake gave Ross crossover hits. The terminal breakdown of this particular quid pro quo strikes me as the subtext of the larger conflict, really, at least as far as Metro Boomin, Future, and the Weeknd are concerned—each have contributed to the pile-on, each seeming to believe that Drake betrayed them at some point, in some way. Last month, Rick Ross unfollowed Drake on Instagram, for somewhat convoluted reasons involving French Montana, and because we live in an era in which “unfollowed on IG” is the ultimate sign of disrespect, Drake took aim on “Push Ups”:

I might take your latest girl and cuff her like I’m Ricky
Can’t believe he’s jumping in, this nigga turning fifty
Every song that made it on the chart, he got from Drizzy
*Spend that little check you got and stay up out my business

The line with the asterisk is a conspicuous revision of a line on the earlier leaked version of the song—“Worry ‘bout whatever going on with you and [Diddy]”—alluding to Ross’s rumored involvement in a breathtaking set of accounts of sexual misconduct by Puffy. The revision is a shame, since the earlier line was one of the most effective digs on the whole song, while the other bars are fairly generic and predictable insults: Rick Ross is police, Rick Ross is old, Rick Ross is less popular than Drake.

Within hours of Drake’s “Push Ups” leaking, Ross released “Champagne Moments,” a respectable but somewhat restrained diss that only really starts to get saucy in the spoken outro. The best line on “Champagne Moments” isn’t even rapped but instead delightfully shouted: I know you got your Dockers on with no underwear, white boy! This has already become a theme in the nascent rivalry between Drake and Rick Ross, the best bits being the extracurricular flourishes: Drake sharing a screenshot of him explaining to his mom via text that Ross has “gone loopy off the Mounjaro”; Ross revealing a seemingly AI-generated portrait of Drake, reimagined as a white man in the 1950s, as his cover art for “Champagne Moments.”

Kendrick Lamar is a gifted rapper, but also a rather stoic and self-isolating figure who—as J. Cole noted on “7 Minute Drill” before he bowed out of this clusterfuck—has issued some controversial provocations (“Control,” “Like That”) over the years but never decisively clobbered anyone. Drake, on the other hand, is the guy who made the catchiest diss track of the past couple decades, “Back to Back,” eviscerating Meek. In many respects, Drake set the standard for high-profile rap beef at the pace of social media, in the age of memes. But Ross, despite being 11 years older than Drake, is clearly no slouch in this regard: he, too, helped set the modern standard for victory in these things. He’s surely got a stronger diss than “Champagne Moments” in him, and while Kendrick will (any day now…) likely take a characteristically high-minded approach to Drake, Rozay is already a couple miles down the low road and a bit closer to getting under Drake’s skin, banging on about his biracial angst and his rumored nose job. Ross is funny and nosy—two great strengths in a rap beef, as Drake learned the hard way when he was dealing with Pusha T and “The Story of Adidon.”

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