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The Story of Adidon There's a reason why that photo of Drake in blackface is so touchy

The war of verses between Pusha T and Drake took a new turn with this week's "The Story of Adonis".

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play The war of verses between Pusha T and Drake took a new turn with this week's "The Story of Adonis". (Soundcloud)

This week, American rapper, Pusha T put out "The Story of Adidon", a diss record targeted at the global pop star, Drake.

For the past few weeks, the two juggernauts have been locked in what the culture refers to as "beef".  It began when Pusha T breathed new life into the ghostwriting accusations trailing Drake with "Infrared". Drake swiftly responded with "Duppy Freestyle".

Pusha's record has gathered attention for a number of revelations, however, from the moment it was released, one thing that struck fans was the cover; a photo of a young Drake in blackface.

Drake has since explained that the photo was taken in 2007 when he was pursuing a career in acting for a project showing the disparity between the opportunities available to black and white actors.

What is Blackface?

Blackface refers to a form of theatrical makeup that was used to depict and portray black people in theatre and film and the form of art that derived from it.

Early performers used burnt cork and later, grease-based paints, or shoe polish to turn their skin black and exaggerate their lips.

play This reproduction of a 1900 William H. West minstrel show poster, originally published by the Strobridge Litho Co., shows the transformation from "white" to "black" (Wikipedia)


Blackface and art featuring it became very popular in the United States and Britain in the 1900s.

There isn't quite a consensus on where blackface originated. It became popular in the early 19th century but one cultural commentator has drawn parallels with the act of "displaying blackness for the enjoyment and edification of white viewers".

That, in itself, is an old practice. Captive Africans were displayed in Portugal as far back as the 15th century.

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The two things that are most striking about blackface are the painted faces and the exaggerated lips. They were important elements of the black stereotypes that were popular at a time when slavery was legal, and later when the black man enjoyed few, if any, rights.

Dangerous stereotypes

Blackface actors often played roles depicting the black man as one of many stereotypes; "the carefree, over-enthusiastic funny guy", "the conservative, over-zealous guy who's eager to please authorities", "the sex-crazed, hyper-masculine unskilled worker".

It is worth noting that black people were completely helpless at affecting how these caricatures of them were portrayed. It is why blackface is such a sensitive issue among black people.


The medium was used to ridicule and overemphasise traits that were portrayed as the black man's core traits such as physical strength, athleticism and sexual drive, painting them as excited sub-humans in stories where they had no voice of their own.

Blackface waned with changing attitudes towards matters of race relations around the world. Ultimately, by the height of the civil rights era, the form was gradually discarded.

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Sadly, a lot of these stereotypes have made it into present times. They affect how the world and to an extent, even black people see themselves.

Why is a photo of Drake using blackface so important?

Drake is a multi-racial rapper who has always ridden that fine line between both cultures, to his own advantage. 

Born to a black father and a white Jewish mother, he's occasionally referred to issues he has faced with not being white enough for the white crowd, or black enough for the black crowd.

However, for an artist who has made his name as a black performer in a field that is seen as a product of black culture, Drake has never been one to give himself, his voice or the resources at his disposal to issues affecting black people in the United States or around the world.

Burna Boy and Drake play Drake has been accused of appropriating cultures, in this case, that of African-Americans. Here, he is seen with Nigerian musician, Burna Boy. (Instagram)


A photo depicting him in blackface calls his intentions into question. It suggests that Drake is an artist who is appropriating black culture for his own personal gain, and little else.

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It is interesting that in this day and age when the world is becoming a global village, in the true sense of the word, that cultural appropriation carries such weight.

In a somewhat larger sense, however, the controversy around Drake, in particular, and blackface in general, raises the issue of how black people have been viewed, portrayed and exploited over time, even to this day.

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