On Tuesday, Pusha T added fuel to his exhilaratingly reignited rap feud with Drake, releasing a new diss track, “The Story of Adidon,” in which he claimed the Toronto rapper is a deadbeat dad. It was undoubtedly a low blow, but it might not have been the most damning part of the track: that would be the accompanying album art, which features a photo of a widely grinning Drake in blackface, jazz hands splayed.
People were quick to track down the apparent source of the photo, from a shoot said to have taken place around 2008 with photographer David Leyes. They also noted that Drake was wearing a hoodie and shirt prominently displaying a black cartoon crow—part of a collection known as Jim Crow Couture, from Toronto clothing label Too Black Guys. The label, a staple within hip hop culture for more than two decades (Mary J. Blige wore a jersey prominently bearing its signature in her video for “Real Love”), has made its name on creating designs that attempt to slyly re-contextualize and subvert racist imagery.
The image of Drake in blackface, along with the Jim Crow apparel, made for a jarring pairing, and many fans were, at the least, puzzled, and on the other end of the spectrum, incensed. I reached out to the label’s founder, Adrian Aitcheson to get his thoughts on the controversy, and via the company’s publicist, he provided this statement:
The photo in question was not from a Too Black Guys photoshoot however it did feature clothing from Too Black Guys’ JIM CROW COUTURE/HOUSE OF CROW collection which was released in 2008. The collection featured several graphics that highlighted the painful and dangerous period of the Jim Crow Era.
Too Black Guys has a history of representing the black experience in an unapologetic way. 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.
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.
Soon after Pusha T released “The Story of Adidon,” he tweeted to bewildered fans that the photo was not “edited” in any way, which was true, sort of: While it is Drake in that photo, the cover art has been extracted from what was apparently a series of at least two photos. Another image from the shoot, shot in black and white, shows Drake, eyes closed and arms folded, in a demonstrably sobering state. There’s no shortage of ways to read these two images side by side, including the charitable way in which Aitcheson does—as “illustrating the hypocrisy of the Jim Crow Era,” in a similar vein, perhaps, as Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” But without that second photo—the one Pusha conveniently left out—it’s much easier to paint Drake-in-blackface as tone-deaf, gross, and maybe a little bit racist. (Never mind the fact that Pusha released his album under the production of Kanye West, noted seller of Confederate merchandise.)
Drake himself has yet to comment. You can listen to Pusha T’s song below.
Update, May 31, 2018: Read Drake’s official response here.