Arts·Against the Grain

Drake's Megan Thee Stallion lyric is just the latest in a long pattern of misogyny

Listeners were stunned by the "Circo Loco" lyric — but they shouldn't have been. The rapper has embraced hypermasculinity to push back against his perceived softness.

Listeners were stunned by the 'Circo Loco' lyric — but they shouldn't have been

Closeup of Drake smirking slightly.
Drake onstage during Drake's Till Death Do Us Part rap battle on October 30, 2021 in Long Beach, California. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Against the Grain is a monthly column by Huda Hassan examining popular culture and the arts through a Black feminist lens.

Drake's contempt for women in his lyrics isn't new. For the 36-year-old rapper, who never avoids a salacious line, expressions about women are always intimately tied with control. From strippers to exes, his discography is sprinkled with a disdain for women who disobey. In his latest, Her Loss, hints of misogyny are slated early. On the opening track, "Rich Flex," he sings: "All of you hoes need to remember who you're talking to. It's the Slaughter Gang CEO." In the later track "On BS," he raps: "​​I'm a gentleman; I'm generous. I blow a half a million on you hoes; I'm a feminist." 

But one lyric in particular set the internet ablaze. In "Circo Loco," he raps, "This bitch lie 'bout gettin' shots, but she still a stallion" — a double entendre referencing Megan Thee Stallion, who says she was shot in the foot by Tory Lanez in summer 2020.

The backlash was swift — but this isn't the first time Drake has turned toward misogyny. Despite the myth of Drake as "the 'nice guy' rapper," his long history of lyrics that demean women reveals him as anything but.

As Drake broke into the industry, he rapped about rising fame and love interests, all while introducing the world to his home city, Toronto. But many of his peers and idols responded to his climb with projections about masculinity. In 2013, Kendrick Lamar called him "a sensitive rapper [in] pajama clothes." In 2014, in a feature on a track from rapper Jay Electronica, rap mogul Jay-Z called him "Mrs. Drizzy." Even Lil Kim came for Drake in her 2010 diss to Nicki Minaj. In time, Drake spoke back with an uptick of hypermasculine messages.

His 2011 album Take Care swam with references to heartbreak, transitions, and some bravado. Lyrics were witty and clever, but his perceived softness earned him the "nice rapper" rep. However, some songs — such as "Shot For Me" — expressed his desires for revenge against exes who underestimated him. He carries this energy into his 2013 Nothing Was The Same, where he starts to push toward more of a "tough guy" image. In songs like "The Language" and "Worst Behavior," we hear whispers about conflict, money, and power. The fiction helps create a masculine narrative about Drake being someone to fear: he is not so soft anymore. 

One year later, on his 2014 single "Draft Day," it becomes more explicit. Drake raps about hiring Black men in the hood as hitmen "for donuts and coffee." Protection, loyalty, and power creeps to front and centre. 

That same year, a member of the rapper's security team, Baka Not Nice — a rapper who appears on Nothing Was The Same, More Life, and other projects — was charged with prostitution and human trafficking of a 22-year-old woman. (He pled guilty to assault; procuring and human trafficking charges were dropped.) He is now signed under OVO Sound, Drake's label.

This was the first time Drake's nice-guy image cracked, revealing an illusion. Not only is he fine being friends with someone accused of human trafficking, he will celebrate and give him a platform, too. The rapper's continued relationship with Baka Not Nice tells us what we need to know about how he prioritizes women's safety. 

"Drake isn't a pro-woman artist. He's never been," says Dr. Cheryl Thompson, assistant professor in Performance at The Creative School at Toronto Metropolitan University, and director of the Laboratory for Black Creativity. Thompson's work looks at the history of Blackface and constructions of Black beauty in Canada.

"The question to ask is why the industry doesn't call him out on it more often. Drake is a contemporary artist who performs hip hop, but in general, he's a popular artist who is looking for rankings on a streaming platform more so than thinking about community. If he collaborated more with Black women rappers, he would gain perspective on their lives and struggles in the industry."

On What a Time to Be Alive, his 2015 mixtape with Future, he tells women to shut their mouth and "take what's coming" to them on "Live From The Gutter." By his seventh album, Views (2016), Drake was committed to upping his hyper-macho aesthetic. In "Child's Play," the song starts with a warning in a sample from DJ Eric: "If your girlfriend has went to any season opener basketball game, best believe, she's f*cking some n*ggas on that team." Later, he evokes a classist tone when he threatens women who defy him to be sent "back to the hood."

In the massive hit "Hotline Bling," he complains about a woman who finds a life outside of his control. He pits women against each other, telling us about the preferable behaviour of "good girls" versus those going out more: "doing things I taught you, gettin' nasty for someone else." In tracks on 2018's Scorpion (2018), the rapper expresses sexist sentiments over tracks sampled by women, such as Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill. Without Drake's management, he tells us, women are lost, revealing his general contempt for those he desires.

Drake's music has always wrestled with misogyny. But only recently has he become so overt about it. So why was he ever framed as "the nice guy rapper"?

The logic of a "nice guy" is rooted in incel thinking: congratulating men for not acting upon their romantic or societal frustrations. The "nice guy" is positioned against violent examples of masculinity. Drake has branded himself as different from overtly sexist rappers — but he isn't really. And he couldn't hold off the narrative for too long. For him, control over women was always the message. And it has not slowed down as the rapper has sped up his musical production — releasing a project almost every year in the last decade, which seems to have waned his creative process, leaving him to rely instead on sleazy tropes.

To avoid the risk of having his masculinity questioned or be socially punished, Drake, like many other male and masc-identifying artists, leans into the bravado of toxic masculinity for the social rewards.- Dr. Ola Mohammed

"For me, Drake's misogynoir shows up to varying degrees in his music, even when he is 'the nice guy rapper,' or 'the emotional rapper.' There is a utility to it," says Dr. Ola Mohammed, an assistant professor in the Humanities and Black Canadian Studies Certificate at York University. Her forthcoming book, The Black Nowhere: Social and Cultural Politics of Listening, explores how sound transforms the way we think about space and power.

"The value of his misogyny and misogynoir in his music aligns with the social and cultural norms in our society that say this is what masculinity looks like. And so, to avoid the risk of having his masculinity questioned or be socially punished, Drake, like many other male and masc-identifying artists, leans into the bravado of toxic masculinity for the social rewards of doing so."

"While we absolutely should have conversations about misogyny in hip hop, we also need to extend our focus to consider why our society has normalized and rewards misogyny."


In response to Drake's disparaging lyric about Megan Thee Stallion, she took to Twitter. The day the album was released, she wrote: "Stop using my shooting for clout."

In 2020, after leaving a Kardashian pool party with Brampton-born Tory Lanez and friends, Megan was shot. The aftermath of the traumatic event was visually shared on TMZ. You can see her limping on the street as they are being detained. Her foot is bloody. Megan told Gayle King she feared for her life

Megan named rapper Tory Lanez as the culprit. In October of 2020, he was charged with a felony assault. He pleaded not guilty. Shortly later, Megan dedicated a performance to addressing Black femicide. Her visuals reminded us of the murder of Breonna Taylor. Lanez, too, used his platform earlier that year to defend Taylor, calling for the defence of Black women. He used his social platform to claim to uplift Black women while evoking violence against them in private — allegedly. 

Megan Thee Stallion stands in a flowing gold metallic dress on the red carpet of the 2022 Met Gala.
Megan Thee Stallion at the 2022 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022, in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Megan has since been recipient to a diatribe of misogynoir. Ongoing tensions with her management team have led to rumors about her and alcoholism. The fanbase of Lanez has questioned her traumatizing night. And now, one of the industry's most successful rappers is backing her alleged abuser. (Drake and Tory Lanez historically had a rocky relationship in Toronto; they have recently embraced each other in Hollywood.) 

"If you look at research, men outnumber women as listeners of hip hop, and even in terms of musical preference," says Thompson. "Male artists are giving their majority-male listeners what they think they want." 

"Black women are still either blamed for the violence they endure at the hands of men (primarily Black men) or they become the brut of the lyric or joke. This reality has little to do with Black women," she continues. 

"Misogyny and misogynoir isn't a hip hop or a Black male artist issue — it is a music industry issue writ large."

Megan the Stallion is someone who, for me, embodies fortitude. But while her career has flourished, she has battled in her personal life. She lost her closest support system when her mother and grandmother passed away in the same month. During her interview with Gayle King, she broke down about what it was like to endure the aftermath of the shooting without them. On top of now being an orphan, she has had to persevere through smear campaigns, violent attacks from previous friends, and being unfairly cast as this story's villain — all while becoming a hyper-visible Black woman in Hollywood. 

I have been uneasy about Megan's treatment for some time. The attacks on the rapper draw me back to the many examples of Black women being villainized as a deflection of violence. Megan is being cast as the angry Black woman trope — shaped by weight, shade, and hair texture. That is what tropes do: deflect blame. Tropes paint the victim as the aggressor, reorienting the origin of violence. What misogynists find difficult about Megan is her choice to be outspoken against violence and, more importantly, her refusal to be the "perfect" victim. Thus, by their logic, she is the aggressor.

Misogyny and misogynoir isn't a hip hop or a Black male artist issue — it is a music industry issue writ large.- Dr. Cheryl Thompson

"I think what this moment tells us about how Black women's trauma is perceived and treated is that there are plenty of folks online who make it clear that they are unwilling to accept minimizing and mocking of Black women's trauma," says Mohammed. "As Moya Bailey notes, 'Negative images and narratives do more than affect the self-esteem of the populations depicted.' They justify the poor treatment of Black women throughout all areas of society." 

"While celebrity culture might be a space where we enter the conversation, we need to go beyond it if we are invested in treating and supporting the healing of Black women in our everyday lives."


Gracing the cover of Her Loss (2022) is a beautiful woman — Suki Baby, a stripper from Atlanta — giving Drake's audience a slight smile. The album is filled with lyrics about possession and ownership in relation to women. The two juxtaposed tell the same story about Drake's relationship to women. 

Drake has spoken out against violence toward women once before. After pop star Rihanna was attacked by former-boyfriend Chris Brown in 2009, Drake expressed support for her. A few years later, they dated. Was his rejoinder to her assault genuine, or an extension of desire? After they broke up, Drake mended tensions with Rihanna's ex and collaborated with the abuser. They published two songs together: "No Guidance" (2019) and "Not You Too" (2020). I can't recall a time the rapper has defended a woman publicly since. 

In Megan's interview with Rolling Stone, she shared her view as to why it's been easy for her peers and audiences to demonize and dismiss her traumatic experiences. For her, she says it returns to desirability politics.

"I wonder if it's because of the way I look," she asks. "Is it because I'm not light enough? Is it that I'm not white enough? Am I not the shape? The height? Because I'm not petite? Do I not seem like I'm worth being treated like a woman?"

Megan deserves better than what she is receiving from her peers and the industry at large. The problem here is: Drake is treating her exactly how his lyrics suggest women should be treated. If we were listening closely to the mogul's messages over the years, including his silences, there would be no surprise.


Huda Hassan is a writer and cultural critic. Her writing appears in many places, including Pitchfork, Globe & Mail, Cosmopolitan, and Quill & Quire. She currently teaches at New York University.

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