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In 2021, It Was Kanye Vs. Drake Once Again

In 2021, Kanye and Drake's decade-long Cold War heated back up. But did anyone really win?

kanye drake 2021
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    Our 2021 Annual Report continues with an investigation into the never-ending drama surrounding Ye and Drake. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.


    I don’t pretend to understand Highlander. But the one thing I do get is two Highlanders can’t occupy the same space: There can be only one. One becomes stronger after besting the other in combat, ensuring a life of immortality. Kanye West and Drake are hip-hop Highlanders: They fill the same space with roughly the same fanbase and live parallel to one another.

    In 2021, their decade-long Cold War, littered with slights, sneak disses, and tons of passive-aggressiveness, heated back up. There was a lot of music, even more gossip, and a story that captured hip-hop’s attention for better, worse, and everything in between.

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    Certified Lover Boy and Donda are tied together, now and forever. Drake and Kanye teased their album releases earlier on the calendar and pretty much continued teasing as winter turned to spring, spring gave way to summer, and summer became “just drop the albums already!” Kanye wanted a Clash-of-the-Titans narrative to play out between him and a guy he always saw as exceedingly stiff competition.

    In fact, Kanye has said the only reason Watch the Throne even got made was the pressure he felt from Drake’s dizzying ascent to the top of the game. For those of you just tuning in, that’s a spot Kanye feels — and has always felt — belongs solely to him.

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    The egos, rumors, subliminal disses here and there over the years, plus the elephant in the room that looks a lot like Pusha T, meant two of the most recognizable faces in all of pop culture were sitting on a powder keg. From afar, it looked like Kanye wanted to manage when and how it blew up to make sure everything went in his favor.

    The results weren’t exactly what he planned, which tends to happen when dreams clash with reality.


    Donda first announced its presence to the world in a July ad during the NBA Finals. Kanye told us to expect the album just two days later. This was accompanied by a live listening session on Apple Music. Dope, right? Three listening sessions later and an album promised for the end of July didn’t get its actual release until late August.

    Kanye essentially spent a month finishing the album and figuring out which versions of songs he wanted to keep, what features he wanted, and rushing to a self-imposed finish line.

    More importantly, Kanye was engaged in a game of high-stakes chicken with his Canadian rival. See, before Donda‘s release, CLB had no official date. In fact, it was just a title, a few teases, and hours of social media sleuthing that stoked anticipation. Kanye wanted a redux of history, an echo of September 11th, 2007, when he and 50 Cent dropped their respective third albums on the same day. Drake wasn’t interested, and at this point, he didn’t need to be interested.

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    Drake’s dominance in hip-hop is unparalleled. This isn’t about where he falls on the ever-changing “best rapper alive” rankings. But as a statement of fact, his position as this genre’s top hitmaker and most successful artist is undisputed. Drake put hip-hop in the Cobra clutch ten years ago and shows no signs of relenting. There’s no reason to take Kanye’s bait when his footing is that solid.

    Even when Kanye went to outrageous lengths, like posting Drake’s home address on Instagram, the 35-year-old rapper did what he does best: Be directly indirect about his targets and intentions. Whether through social media or sneak disses on other people’s records, Drake’s ability to throw rocks, hide his hands, and leave the rest of the world guessing is quite the achievement.

    Did he always envision releasing his album on September 3rd, a mere five days after Donda? Or did he switch gears just to mess with the guy he used to idolize?

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