Gone are the days when a hip-hop beef involved brawling feuds between the East Coast and West Coast. It seems we’ve moved a bit offshore.
In this commercial age, where rappers get the coveted slots in the Super Bowl, a new diss track has emerged, furnished by rapper Pusha T in service of fast-food chain Arby’s and its new spicy fish sandwich.
Pusha T is no stranger to the battle rap, clashing most notably perhaps with the rapper Drake a few years ago. But this time, he’s not taking aim at a golden-voiced rapper; he’s going after the golden arches at McDonald’s.
What’s behind the beef over a fish sandwich?
Evidently, there are personal reasons behind it. King Push, as he’s known by beloved fans, is credited with penning the highly successful “I’m Lovin’ It” McDonald’s jingle near the beginning of his career, but he said he didn’t receive much compensation for it.
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“I did it at a very young age at a very young time in my career where I wasn’t asking for as much money and ownership,” Pusha T, who has collaborated with the likes of Pharrell and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, told Rolling Stone magazine. “It’s something that’s always dug at me later in life like, ‘Dammit, I was a part of this and I should have more stake.’ ”
Food and beverage brands have long sought assistance from rappers. Many of us elder millennials remember the Sprite “Obey Your Thirst” commercials of the 1990s. And sometimes there has been blowback, as when former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly lambasted Pepsi for running commercials with the rapper Ludacris.
Let’s be honest, hip-hop has always been driven by a competitive hyper-capitalism, and the fish sandwich wars are being launched in the middle of Lent, where market demand for seafood might be at its peak.
Fish sandwich wars ahead?
So Pusha T is looking to cash in.
As Walter D. Greason, a professor and economic historian at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, said, “More people, in and out of hip-hop, need to understand the value of their creativity in ways similar to Pusha T’s growth from McDonald’s to Arby’s.”
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For years, some of the biggest fast-food chains, including Chick-fil-A, Popeyes and KFC, have been embroiled (or fried) in the chicken sandwich wars, waging big dollar campaigns for supremacy at drive-thru lines.
As the battle moves toward the sea, there’s ample reason to believe Pusha T might be well versed in good seafood.
He hails from the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, along the Chesapeake Bay, where a staple of any summertime cookout is fresh fried fish, usually generously appointed with hot sauce and served on sliced white bread.
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So he saves some of his spiciest rhymes for aim at McDonald’s: “Drowned in tartar that Filet-O-Fish is tasteless/ see Arby’s only deals in the greatness/ I bet the house on it like it’s Vegas.”
Pusha T acknowledges his marketing ability on the track. “I could sell water to a whale/ How could you ever think I’d fail?” he raps.
Will this be the beginning of a boom for Arby’s to the top of the charts or an anchor that sinks the chain?
Only time will tell.
Commentary editor Austin Bogues is a member of USA TODAY’s Editorial Board. Follow him on Twitter: @AustinBogues