Update: On Wednesday night, Drake addressed why he was wearing Blackface on his Instagram Story, with a screenshot of a statement he wrote in his notes app. He clarified the photos, which were taken in 2007, were not used for a clothing shoot but rather during “a time in my life where I was an actor and working on a project about young actors struggling to get roles, being stereotyped, and type cast.”
He goes on to explain that he and his best friend, “who is also an actor from Sudan, were attempting to use our voice to bring awareness to the issues we dealt with all the time as Black actors at auditions.” He notes the imagery was meant “to highlight and raise our frustrations with not always getting a fair chance in the industry and to make a point that the struggle for Black actors had not changed much” — a point we’re still not sure he needed to wear Blackface to make.
In a statement to Refinery29, Adrian Aitcheson, founder of Too Black Guys, said: “Although this was not an image from any of our photoshoots, we feel that Drake, who is a long-time friend of the brand, was brilliantly illustrating the hypocrisy of the Jim Crow Era.” He further explained: "The subtleties of Drake, a young Black man, mimicking how white men used to mimic and dehumanize Black people may be lost in a rap battle but we should not be distracted from the issues that are still affecting our communities.”
This article was originally published on May 30, 2018.
Pusha-T's latest shot at Drake, “The Story of Adidon,” was a calculated attack on the Toronto rapper’s racial identity and appearance. In the song, Pusha-T ambushes Drake with lyrics about his father leaving his mother when he was just five, his go-to producer, Noah Shebib, being “hunched over like he 80” (Shebib was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005), and his plan to publicly announce his alleged child, Adonis, with former adult film star Sophie Brussaux, with an Adidas release (an Adidas representative offered no comment to Refinery29 regarding a potential collaboration).
Streetwear brand Too Black Guys was founded in 1990 on the principles derived from Malcolm X’s speech “Message To Grassroots,” and aims to “represent the Black experience in an unapologetic way.” The company started out with just a few tops to see if there was a market for “pieces that made you feel like you were wearing a [rap group] Public Enemy verse or a Spike Lee movie on a shirt.” According to the clothing label’s website, “fit and fabric have evolved but the brand continues to make product with a “Fight the Power” attitude 25 years later.
As it turns out, the picture of Drake smiling like a minstrel was actually a part of a series of two images depicting what photographer David Leyes calls “a strong statement” Drake wanted to make “about the f*cked up culture he’s living in.” Still, on a phone call with The Breakfast Club Wednesday morning, Pusha-T asked what so many of us are thinking: “I really need to understand what makes you take a photo like that. I’m not ready to excuse that. This isn’t so long ago. Have you just started recognizing your Blackness?”
While the photographer’s comment, paired with the principles that Too Black Guys was founded on, doesn’t lead us to believe that this was an intentionally offensive shoot, it does seem like it was a misguided attempt to explore the societal pressures placed on Black musicians. But what made Drake think the photoshoot was appropriate — satirical or not? When the photos were taken in 2008, Drake may have been trying to offer a conscious critique on the rap industry becoming a modern minstrel show pandering to white audiences. (This is a sentiment echoed in Jay Z’s “The Story of OJ,” — the beat Pusha-T rapped over for this song, which also featured minstrel imagery — which explored the idea of being so successful that you can separate from your race.)
But Pusha-T using the smiling image now of the rapper wearing “Jim Crow Couture” is intentionally triggering. Drake is biracial (his mom is white, his dad Black), but capitalizes on Black culture at every turn, often trying on new ones for size and often tapping into his massive fanbase to sell products (benefitting from being palatable, or “safe,” to white audiences), something Pusha-T says the Canadian rapper is trying to do with his purported Adidas line. During that same call with The Breakfast Club on Wednesday morning, Pusha-T alleged Drake was planning to reveal his son, Adonis, alongside an Adidas collaboration. “But we can’t know about your child until you start selling sweatsuits and sneakers?” he asked the morning show’s hosts.
Pusha-T wants answers, and he’s not the only one.
We’ve reached out to Too Black Brothers for comment, and will update this article if/when we hear back.