Drake's 'I'm Upset': How One Video Can Change Everything For the Rapper's 2018 Narrative

Drake is nothing if not a master of misdirection. Part Harry Houdini and part Don Draper, there's no straight-jacket he can't wiggle out of, no PR disaster he can't spin into good promo the second your eye is turned. He's proven this throughout his decade of stardom, and he reminded us once again on Wednesday night (Jun. 13) with the arrival of his "I'm Upset" video. 

One of the lessons that Drake has wisely internalized over his time on top is that every new release is a chance to change the narrative currently being imposed upon you. The hip-hop world was still waiting for his response to "The Story of Adidon," the viciously personal Pusha T dis that many deemed a trump card in the ongoing beef between the two rappers. Rather than try in vain to turn that loss into a victory, Drake decided to play a different game altogether, unleashing the "I'm Upset" clip. The visual made no attempt to comment on or further the Pusha feud, and instead provided a truly irresistible bit of fan service -- reuniting the cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation, the '00s Canadian teen drama where Drake first found fame as an actor, for an imaginary high-school reunion. 

The timing may not have been entirely purposeful -- with "Adidon" only dropping two weeks earlier, it seems unlikely that the entire high-production clip was devised, commissioned, filmed and readied for release in the period since -- but with Drake, nothing is ever totally accidental, either. Released as essentially his first transmission following the "Adidon" mess, the video could not come at a much more opportune moment for the star MC. Not only is it a fantastically fun, instantly viral visual -- around the Billboard offices this morning, memories of Degrassi were pretty much the only topic of conversation -- but it takes Drake's career all the way back to the days where he was just Aubrey Graham, a winning teen actor ages away from any rap beef, baby drama and/or cancelation concerns. It reminds us all that at the end of the day, this is still Wheelchair Jimmy we're talking about. And how can you stay hating on that guy? 

It's not the first time Drake has smartly pivoted away from a feud with a music video. After essentially winning his 2015 spat with Meek Mill in a second-round KO, he gracefully exited the ring and continued to add insult to injury with his post-fight celebration: first with the rush-ordered What a Time to Be Alive Future collab LP, and then with the "Hotline Bling" video, a similarly shareable and memeable visual that cemented what was then Drake's biggest solo hit to date, and made the petty drama with Meek seem well in the rearview. By the end of 2015, a year that seemed like it might mark the beginning of the end for the world's biggest rapper instead merely served as yet another coronation. It would be little surprise if 2018 closed in similar fashion. 

And really, it shouldn't come as a shock. The drama of high-profile rap beef is so sweeping that we trick ourselves into believing careers are really at stake, but that's rarely, if ever the reality. JAY-Z and Nas had one of the nastiest split-decision beefs in genre history in the early '00s; the former just got nominated for album of the year at the Grammys and the latter is dropping one of the most-anticipated rap albums of the year on Friday. Eazy-E put Dr. Dre on blast in his video with a pic of his former N.W.A bandmate wearing a sequined dress from his World Class Wrecking Cru days (the homophobic '90s equivalent of exposing Drake's history with blackface), but Dre seems to have since recovered OK. And it's not like Meek Mill, three years after taking the L from Drake himself, isn't a more celebrated rapper and public figure now than ever before. Even in the rare example where a rapper's career is irreversibly affected -- Ja Rule after punching above his weight against 50 Cent, perhaps -- it's not like the loser's career dissolves upon impact; even Ja's first lead single following the 50 beef went top five on the Billboard Hot 100. 

That's not to say that Drake's career isn't susceptible to down-trending, though, or that a blow like the one "Adidon" handed him doesn't have meaning. But to assume that the defeat was career-ending was to wildly underestimate Drake's place in the overall culture: Not only has he consistently been at the center of hip-hop and pop's mainstream since breaking out with "Best I Ever Had" in 2009, but he's bigger in 2018 than ever -- hell, he's been No. 1 on the Hot 100 for 17 out of 25 possible weeks this year so far. Stars of his size don't go away overnight because of one bad PR fiasco; their impact can only really be seen after years of steady decrescendoing. The people who declared Drake over following "Adidon" are probably the same people who respond to every bad Warriors loss by saying they need to trade Kevin Durant. 

It is worth pointing out, though, that his recent feuding isn't the only recent failure that Drake needed to do damage control on. Though it was overshadowed by the Pusha back-and-forth, "I'm Upset" was, in its own right, previously a loss of some degree for the rapper as a song. After two consecutive Hot 100 debuts at No. 1 with previous singles "God's Plan" and "Nice for What," "Upset" bowed at a relatively unremarkable No. 19 last week, falling to No. 32 this week. What's more, the song drew notices that were mixed at best from fans and critics; it seemed lukewarm, minor and somewhat mean-spirited, far from the triumph of Drake's previous 2018 smashes. But now with its beloved video attached to it, the song seems far more substantial, and far less petty -- and it wouldn't be surprising to see the song make a big jump on the Hot 100 in the weeks to come. 

The "I'm Upset" video wasn't the only big reveal of Drake's Wednesday night, either: He also finally announced the release date for his Scorpion album, to be dropped on June 29. The last time Drake released an official LP -- one that he didn't hedge as a "playlist" -- it spent 13 weeks atop the Billboard 200 albums chart, and that album only had one Hot 100-besting smash to precede it. By July, we'll still remember "The Story of Adidon" better than we remember Meek's "Wanna Know" from three years earlier, but they'll ultimately hold the same place in Drake's timeline: just another footnote in the story of the ultimate too-big-to-fail pop star of the 2010s.