On July 21 at 11:46 p.m., Meek Mill, upset that Drake didn’t help him promote his recent album, took to Twitter to announce to his millions of followers that Drake doesn’t write his own rhymes. Then, 11 minutes later, he tweeted that he wouldn’t have even allowed Drake to be on his album if he had been aware of the ghostwriting beforehand.
Naturally, this sent the hip-hop world into a tizzy. It had been a relatively “eh” summer so far, so Meek’s very public rebuke of the king of the hip-hop hill—and the anticipation of a response from Drake—brought all the heat that had been missing. A week later, Drake responded with “Back to Back,” a diss track that effectively turned Meek Mill into a perpetual punch line. Getting “meekmilled” by someone—essentially, having someone thoroughly and relentlessly embarrass you—is apparently a thing now. Poor Meek.
But Drake wasn’t done. At the OVO Fest in August, Drake continued going in on him, even performing while rocking a “Free Meek Mill” T-shirt. And even after that, Drake still wasn’t done, as he addressed the beef several times again on his mixtape collaboration with Future.
Then winter came, and we assumed we’d heard the last of this remarkably one-sided feud. But then “Back to Back” made history by becoming the first rap diss track to be nominated for a Grammy.
And it is beyond apropos that a beef—which began when Meek Mill was petty enough to attempt to “out” Drake on Twitter (when a simple text would have quelled any miscommunication), continued with Drake returning the petty with a diss track and exponentially upping the petty ante with the OVO Fest antics; a beef made even more entertaining by the millions of hilariously petty tweets, status messages, blogs and memes it generated—would be officially recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2015. Because 2015 is the year that “being petty” won.
Of course, being petty—defined in this context as “unduly concerned with trivial matters, especially in a small-minded or spiteful way”—did not originate in 2015. Examples of petty are found everywhere, from Shakespeare’s Othello to the Old Testament. (Yes, God is the alpha and the omega and the originator of petty. How else can you describe someone who gets mad at a few families and says, “Man, forget y’all. I’m just gonna flood the entire planet!”)
But 2015 is the year when it took over. When it colored most of our digital interactions and fully permeated our cultural zeitgeist. When the embrace of being petty became so ubiquitous and so commonplace that the amount of petty a person possessed became a source of pride. A personal attribute to brag about. A year when two of the most respected, accomplished and popular black academics ever engaged in a surprisingly petty public beef about … well, we still don’t know exactly what they were beefing about.
A year when 50 Cent—one of the richest men on the planet—filed for bankruptcy just so he wouldn’t have to pay a lawsuit won by a woman suing him for releasing a tape of her having sex. A year when the most popular and most culturally relevant television show (Empire) is basically just an hourlong examination of unfathomably rich people doing unspeakably petty things to one another. Again and again and again. A year when, after Bree Newsome took it upon herself to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, the people working at the Statehouse were petty enough to order a black janitor to put it back up.
A year when “shading” and “reading”—both being able to dish it out in multiple ways and being able to detect it even at its most minuscule levels—became perhaps our most valuable social currencies. A year when the single pettiest person currently living in America, Donald Trump, became a legitimate candidate for president of the United States just by finding a way to connect and fuse his petty with the collective petty possessed by a sizable portion of the American populace, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Because we’re a nation of Peppermint Petties, where no slight is too small or too subtle to respond to with a sledgehammer.
Perhaps this culture of petty is a natural by-product of living in an era when hypersensitivity is so commonplace, so pervasive, that it has become practically atmospheric. We don’t just see and feel it. We breathe it. Admittedly, the hypersensitivity does not exist in a vacuum. Political correctness and detecting, being sensitive to and responding to racial, sexual, religious and gender-based microaggressions—these are natural and positive reactions to a country that has been historically unfriendly to those not fitting a white, male, Anglo-Saxon ideal.
And, perhaps, sometimes that hypersensitivity is the result of an understandable overcorrection. Of being so used to being the source of someone’s race-based or sex-based or culture-based antagonism that you’re justifiably conditioned to respond to the hundreds of thousands of pricks and pinches with punches. (Which, in turn, has made people from the dominant culture believe they’re being picked on. Or, laughably, “losing.” This is how white tears are born. #StayMadAbby)
But we also exist at a time when one of the only things surpassing the ubiquity of our hypersensitivity is our hyperconnectivity. Twenty years ago, a 10-hour-old news story could still be considered “breaking.” A 10-hour-old email still “new.” But today, news and new information that’s even an hour old is already considered ancient and has already been responded to and think-pieced, with even the reactions to the initial reactions generating their own reactions. And one of the best ways to distinguish yourself and your voice in this information tsunami is to be “extra.” To “go in.” To be actively reactionary. To be snarky and sarcastic. To meme instead of message.
This online behavior has undoubtedly inched into our offline lives. Because there’s no distinguishing the two anymore. You are who you really are when you are who you are on the Internet. When you congeal this culture of hyperconnectivity with a population that’s already, and perpetually, on edge, petty becomes prominent. And 2015 just happens to be the perfect storm of it.
Will it carry over into 2016? Who knows? I guess we’ll see Feb. 16, the night of the 58th annual Grammy Awards. Because if the academy is petty enough to vote a diss song Best Rap Performance, petty is definitely here to stay.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at email@example.com.