IRL: Meek Mill, Drake, and the evaporating line between the ‘real’ and ‘online’ world

Drake at OVO Fest 2015
Drake at OVO Fest 2015

It was an ordinary Tuesday night. Until it wasn’t.

When the day started, Meek Mill and Drake were most closely linked by the Dreams Worth More Than Money single “R.I.C.O.” By night’s end, the two were mired in one of the biggest rap beefs in recent memory. Yet whereas previous public conflicts began and ended in the streets, on the airwaves, this latest iteration of the “rap beef” largely existed in an online form. Until it didn’t.

Our concept of reality has changed drastically thanks to the internet. There was a perception not too long ago that, like Vegas, whatever happened on the world wide web stayed there, unable to transcend it’s digital footprint. That perception has eroded, in large part due to the unfortunate rise in online harassment against women and minority groups, where threats translate into tangible concerns. Somehow, the recent feud between Meek Mill and Drake, which began and ended on the back of the internet, spilled into the “real” world unlike many other Twitter feuds.

While artists have sparred on that site since its inception (approximately half of them instigated by Azealia Banks), only in the past month have they appeared to create such waves.

It most likely has a lot to do with the names surfacing in such arguments; weeks before Meek Mill called out Drake on Twitter, superstars Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift were involved in their own public spat. While it is sadly no surprise the media would latch onto a conflict pitting two women against each other, it was curious how big of a story the Meek Mill/Drake thing became. While Drake is a household name, Meek Mill is only now getting noticed by the general public.

The nature of the assertion against Drake – that he uses a ghostwriter to help write his verses (including on “R.I.C.O.”) – was certainly crucial in how big the story became. Couple that with the fact that Drake has been a frequent collaborator with Nicki Minaj, who by all accounts is still in a relationship with Meek, and the notice this story got makes more sense. It was still weird, though, to hear how often it was mentioned offline. It left a cultural footprint that was larger than most other feuds that begin online ever leave. It’s gotten so big that people are now lamenting the death of Meek Mill’s career.

Drake had two options when launching a retort against Mill’s (thus unproven) claims. He could jump on Twitter the moment he caught wind of the accusation and denounce them, or he could lay low, let the dust settle, survey the landscape and then deliver the final word. He picked the second. But for a while, it looked like Meek Mill might just win this thing. “Charged Up” received a lukewarm reception, giving Mill the lead. But after he announced his own response track was on its way, only to be delayed, Drake jumped on the new opportunity given to him.

His second response, “Back To Back,” was much more effective, even if he does unnecessarily emasculate Mill for being the second most famous person in his relationship with Nicki Minaj. But that’s a story for a different article. “Back To Back” instead succeeds when Drake weaponizes the biggest critique thrown his way: “Trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers / Yeah, you gettin’ bodied by a singin’ nigga.” By the time Meek Mill finally launched his response track, the grave had already been dug. It’s sadly ironic that Mill sampled wrestling icon The Undertaker’s theme music, being that the procession was for him.

The war of words between Drake and Meek Mill came to an end at Drake’s OVO Fest, “in real life,” in front of thousands of people. As he performed “Back To Back,” Drake brought the feud full circle by projecting memes created on the internet ridiculing Mill on a screen directly behind him. What started with a sub-140 character tweet read by hundreds of thousands on a computer screen ended on a stage in Toronto, in front of living, breathing people fully aware of the context surrounding the display. The virtual was the real. And in a way, it confirmed that old, antiquated perception of the online world.

What happens on the internet does stay there.

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