“I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist,” Drake raps in a lyric that, like so much of his recent output, is perched between humor and brand management, shock and forgettability, engagement and apathy. The joke is, of course, that men who treat women as hoes aren’t feminist. But then again, Her Loss—Drake’s new, joint album with the Atlanta rapper 21 Savage—is a queasy ode to femininity, from its title to its cover art. On one song, Drake shouts out abortion rights. On another, he says he’d vote for a female president (the porn star Teanna Trump). Throughout, in his typical manner, he fixates on the power women hold over him sexually—and the power he can hold over them financially.
How ironic that Her Loss, released last Friday, has drawn attention largely for Drake disrespecting a woman. On the new song “Circo Loco,” he raps this: “This bitch lie ’bout gettin’ shots, but she still a stallion.” The line was widely interpreted as dissing Megan Thee Stallion, the 27-year-old Houston emcee who accused another rapper, Tory Lanez, of shooting her feet in 2020. In the court of public opinion and in an ongoing criminal trial, Lanez has pleaded innocent, and the “Circo Loco” line would seem to signal Drake’s agreement that Megan is being dishonest. Shortly after the album dropped, she tweeted her anger, writing, “Stop using my shooting for clout.” Hip-hop now has a new beef, and it hints at the market value of misogyny.
Megan Thee Stallion’s shooting has been treated as a spectacle from the start. In August 2020, she said that, a month earlier, Lanez had fired at her after she’d gotten out of a car in which she, Lanez, and two others had been arguing. Since then, the public has seen medical records documenting bullet fragments in her feet, a text-message apology from Lanez to Megan (for an unspecified offense) sent shortly after the alleged attack, and a text from a friend who was in the car, telling a bodyguard that “Tory shot Meg.” In song lyrics and on social media, Lanez has disputed Megan’s account, though without clearly providing his own version of events. Prosecutors have charged him with shooting her, and the court case is ongoing.
Proving guilt or innocence is tricky, but opinions around the case have become bizarrely polarized. To Megan and her supporters, the shooting demonstrates the disrespect and danger Black women routinely face. Lanez’s defenders suspect that Megan has spun a hoax, though if you browse their online commentary, you don’t find a clear and unanimous basis for that suspicion. Some skeptics raise pseudo-rational disputes with her timeline (Megan recovered from her injuries quickly—too quickly?). Others circulate debunked info (Lanez has amplified misinformation, violating a judge’s order about discussing the case). Rappers including 50 Cent and Boosie BadAzz have fixated on Megan’s denial of a sexual relationship with Lanez, as if it’s obvious that they did sleep together, as if it would matter if they had, as if the case is comprehensible only if it fulfills stereotypes about female jealousy and vindictiveness.
What’s clear is that having a strong opinion against Megan is, in many cases, more of a tribal position than a logical one, with gendered overtones. And Drake’s “Circo Loco” lyric aligns him with one camp—though vaguely enough to give him some cover from blowback. In the past few days, his listeners have sown doubt about what he’s really saying. Lil Yachty, a collaborator on some of the album, has said the line is “not about Megan,” but rather about cosmetic injections. Another take says that Drake was referring to a model known as Elke the Stallion. Such interpretations aren’t defenses, though. Lyrics can have layered meanings, but it’s laughable to say that Drake, who’s as calculating as a computer, didn’t intend for the words shots, lie, and stallion to trigger exactly this kind of controversy.
Controversy, after all, can be profitable. More than ever, the music-media ecosystem is driven by gossip and feuds, which savvy figures such as Drake manipulate with lyrical barbs that double as SEO keywords. On Her Loss, he refers to Serena Williams’s husband, Alexis Ohanian, as a “groupie” for the tennis star. The rapper also seems to express ambivalence about having made peace last year with Ye, a mentor turned rival. And he sneers at DRAM, a rapper he beefed with seven years ago. None of these insults articulates much—not an agenda, not a worldview—other than a desire for attention. And sure enough, publicity about those disses has far eclipsed coverage of Her Loss’s actual (and pretty good!) music. “Circo Loco” even debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Trending Songs chart.
The swipe at Megan is especially nasty, though, because although it might be good for Drake’s business, it comes at a cost for others. Not only has Drake forced Megan to defend herself, her career, and her credibility once again. But at a moment of mounting #MeToo backlash, he has also fed into the sense that reflexively dismissing the stories of women—and in this case, Black women—is edgy and wise. And the fact that a market exists for this kind of thoughtless commodification of someone else’s struggle just proves the dark point that Megan has been making all along. “I’ve realized that violence against women is not always connected to being in a relationship,” she wrote in The New York Times in 2020. “Instead, it happens because too many men treat all women as objects.”