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Cards on the table, I think the Kanye-Drake beef is kind of corny. Two rich rappers going at each other like that? I’d rather put my head under a Rolex polishing wheel.
But, I love rap, and love Kanye even more. I’ve written about him a ton (about all of his watches here; first spotting him wearing a Cartier Crash here, and probably a dozen more articles), and his influence on watches has been significant.
Of course, with the drop of both of their albums over the past two weeks, the beef between rap’s two biggest stars has been re-ignited. This iteration of the beef was first triggered when Drake dropped a few Kanye-directed diss lines in his feature verse on Trippie Redd’s “Betrayal”. Soon after, Kanye responded by posting a screenshot of a group chat, which many think included Drake. Most people focused on the center of the post, a photo of Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker along with a threat that Kanye seemed to direct at Drake himself.
But cut off at the top of the screenshot is Kanye’s previous text, where he seems to be asking his one-time close friend and creative collaborator, Virgil Abloh, “where my green watch?”
It turns out this question, and Kanye and Drake’s watches, reveal more about their beef than most of us had ever realized.
The green watch is a reference to Drake’s greened-out Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5726, customized by Abloh himself. As legend has it, two of the watches were made: one owned by Drake, the other by Virgil.
Drake first showed off the green Nautilus at the beginning of 2020, posting a photo of it on Instagram on the same day he released the song “Life is Good.” In the song, he raps:
“Virgil got a Patek on my wrist goin’ nuts
N****s caught me slipping once, okay so what?”
The first line is a reference to the green Patek; the second is a reference to Drake’s beef with Kanye’s friend, Pusha-T. Back in 2018, Kanye and Pusha conspired to publicly reveal that Drake had a son. Until Kanye asked for his green watch in that text, I never connected that Drake had put the line bragging about his green Nautilus right before this line referencing his beef with Pusha and Kanye deliberately.
Here’s the thing. Kanye and Virgil go way back. Like, way back to Chicago, when Virgil was screenprinting tees at the mall and Kanye’s first “listening party” was reportedly him rolling up in front of Soho House in his Mercedes and blasting College Dropout until someone called the police.
Both have experienced unfathomable success since, Virgil as the founder of Off-White and creative director of Louis Vuitton and Kanye as, well, Kanye. Somewhere along the way, their once close creative partnership and friendship faltered a bit. They’re not so tight anymore. Now, Virgil is hanging with Drake and his OVO crew. So when Drake references his Nautilus, he’s lording his friendship with Virgil over Kanye.
And Drake’s green Nautilus is a literal token of this, of Virgil drifting away from Kanye and towards, apparently, Drizzy.
Pusha may have revealed Drake’s son to the world, but “so what?” Drake asks. I got your boy Virgil right here, and he made me this customized Patek Philippe. And you can’t have one.
Pharrell and Lil Wayne started it
Here’s where it gets wild though. The Drake-Kanye-Pusha beef pre-dates this encounter. In fact, it pre-dates even the three rappers. These boys are carrying on a fight from a generation prior, one that started with, of all things, fashion.
Back in 2006, Lil Wayne was featured on the cover of Vibe magazine, decked out in popular streetwear brand A Bathing Ape (Bape). But, Bape became popular in the streets thanks to Clipse (Pusha-T’s duo with his brother), and fellow Virginian, Pharrell, who would wear it everywhere - red carpets, music videos, on MTV.
The Virginians didn’t like Weezy wearing Bape on the cover — felt he was copping their style — so they dropped a diss track called “Mr. Me Too.” “Wanna know the time? Better clock us/ N---as bite the style from the shoes to the watches,” they rapped. See, it’s always been about the watches.
Lil Wayne would go on to sign Drake, and Drake quickly adopted Wayne’s beef with Pusha and his crew as his own.
That there is the only two
Drake next brags about his Virgil-customized Patek on “What’s Next,” a track from early 2021. He raps:
“I got one, Virgil got one, and that there is the only two”
Man, how many times have I shown improvement?”
Again, he’s referencing the green Nautilus, bragging that he and Virgil have the only two. At this point, it’s become more clear that this isn’t just a general brag directed at the world, but also a diss targeted at Kanye. “Virgil didn’t make you one, because you’re not boys anymore,” he seems to be saying.
The next line is probably also a direct response to some of Kanye’s attacks at Drake. Musically, Kanye’s general charge against Drake is that he doesn’t switch up his sound, and that Drake’s sound is really just bit from the old Kanye (“all you rap n****s sound like me,” Kanye sneers on the Drake diss track “Ok Ok”). Here, Drake says to Kanye “how many times have I shown improvement?” (Also a reference to Drake’s first mixtape, “Room for Improvement.”) He doesn’t have anything to prove to Kanye. Oh, and he’s got a green Nautilus to show for it too.
Kanye’s Joker Instagram post makes it clear that he sees the Nautilus, and the various references to it, as personal slights directed at him.
Junya Watanabe on my wrist
Kanye wasn’t about to let Drake have the last word about what’s on each rapper’s wrists, though. Once you understand that a watch has been used as a pawn in the Drake-Kanye beef, the song “Junya” from DONDA starts to make more sense. The song is named after Japanese fashion designer Junya Watanabe, known for his work for luxury brand Commes De Garcons. On the hook, Kanye raps:
“Junya Watanabe on my wrist
Junya Watanabe on my wrist”
First, some context: On DONDA, the song comes right after “Ok Ok,” a track mostly dedicated to attacking Drake (the flow even steals from Drake’s KMT). So, it makes sense that Kanye would continue with the line of attack on the album’s next track. I’d bet that Kanye’s first verse on Junya — “…ex-strippers, new killers…” — is a sneak diss at Drake, his rumored stripper girlfriends, and the way in which guys reportedly come in and out of his crew.
Of course, Junya is a fashion designer and doesn’t make watches. But look around and you’ll see he does make black leather studded bracelets that are very much of the Donda-era vibe Kanye has curated with Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia. With that, Junya sounds like Kanye telling us he’s over the green watch. He’s over Drake. He’s on to the next thing, no watch necessary.
“God’s time can’t fit on a wrist,” Kanye continues on the track. Surely, it’s another slight at Drake, Kanye trying to say he’s above it all — he’s making music for God now, and doesn’t care about a Virgil-designed Nautilus or any of it (perhaps also a reference to the Drake hit “God’s Plan”?).
Certified Lover Boy
Drake’s Certified Lover Boy was released just a week after Kanye’s DONDA. It’s dripping with Kanye disses, including a couple of songs completely dedicated to going at Ye. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these tracks also have some watch references, Drake again using watches to try to flex on Kanye.
Drake spends the entirety of “No Friends in the Industry” attacking Kanye. Honestly, one of the most creative lines on the album is on this track, and it takes knowing watches to get it:
“Ain’t got the type of time to be playin’ with you folk
I had a Richard prior to these n****s that’s the joke
Here, Richard serves as a reference both to Richard Mille, and Richard Pryor, the famous comedian. Again, Drake’s trying to use watches to illustrate how he’s ahead of Kanye and everyone else. This line isn’t a direct reference to his Virgil-customized Nautilus, but it continues the theme of using watches as subliminal messaging to take shots at the other guy. Drake’s saying he didn’t need the beef with Kanye and Pusha to gin up publicity, as is commonly the accusation against rappers when they start public battles.
Drake drops a similar line on “7am on Bridle Path,” another song mostly dedicated to taking shots at Kanye:
“See the watch collection and assume I got time
'Cause of the ruby rose two-tone
Or switch it to the one I call ‘RIP Nipsey’
‘Cause I swear it got sixty of them blue stones”
Similar to the previous line, Drake’s saying he doesn’t have time for beef.
Like I said, the beef is kind of corny. When you realize the two rappers are using six-figure watches to try to one-up each other, it gets even more ridiculous. But, what’s even more wild is how they’re influencing the culture anyway. Drake first posted his green watch at the beginning of 2020. Is it a coincidence that, a year later, green watches are the hottest trend in the industry? Maybe (I’ve traced the trend to John Mayer’s Talking Watches 2 from 2019, so your guess is as good as mine), but there’s no doubt that these guys influence what we like, what we listen to, and what we wear more than almost any other two musicians (especially Kanye). And to think they’re making so many stylistic choices in direct response to each other.
It also shows how watches can be imbued with all sorts of meaning — good and bad. The Virgil-customized green Patek Philippe Nautilus serves as a symbol of rap’s favorite beef. Now, whether it’s that Nautilus or a Junya Watanabe bracelet, both Drake and Kanye are using all kinds of wristwear (and lyrical references to them) to try to communicate subliminal messages to each other. And I’d bet they’re just getting started.
Rescapement is a weekly newsletter about watches. Subscribe now to get it delivered to your inbox every Sunday.