6 years later: How Drake and Chris Brown's nightclub brawl marked a crossroads in their careers
With high-profile attention from more than just music publications, a shift in the perception of Drake’s image, and social media playing a role, the melee forever blurred the lines between gangster and safe.
The relationship between the hip-hop community and nightclubs has always been a delicate one and can make for a fun night of cultural celebration, or a night of tragedy and chaos, according to which way the pendulum swings on any given night. While rashes of violence have occurred within the confines of rap-friendly venues worldwide, New York City’s reputation for mayhem when it comes to its nightlife scene is second to none, and has resulted in some of the more controversial moments in the culture’s history.
On June 14, 2012, one of the more recent incidents to make major headlines involving figures in hip-hop and NYC’s posh nightlife scene occurred when rap megastar Drake and R&B singer Chris Brown found themselves at the center of a melee that led to multiple patrons being injured, and resulted in the closing of one of Manhattan’s hottest nightclubs.
That night, at W.i.P. Nightclub in SoHo, during the tail-end of a birthday celebration for singer/songwriter Ne-Yo’s manager Javon Smith, with an star-studded guest list that included Mary J. Blige, Fabolous, NBA player Iman Shumpert and others, Chris Brown and his entourage (which included then-girlfriend Karrueche Tran) became at odds with Drake’s, resulting in champagne, liquor bottles, and glasses being thrown, and all hell breaking loose. When the smoke—and debris from the broken glass—cleared, Brown, who was struck during the dust-up, suffered a gash to the chin. Brown’s bodyguard, Patrick “Big Pat” Strickland, 23-year-old Australian tourist Megan Cassidy, and others would leave the venue with injuries, with both Big Pat and Cassidy receiving medical attention for their injuries. Tony Parker, starting point guard for NBA team the San Antionio Spurs, was also in attendance on that fateful night and suffered an eye injury when a shard of glass entered his left eye, scratching his cornea, another wrinkle that would make the brawl a high-profile one and capture the media’s attention beyond the borders of music publications.
Parker, who was set to compete in the 2012 Olympics for France’s Men’s National Basketball team that summer, would file a $20 million lawsuit against the owners of W.i.P. a week following the incident, charging that the establishment was aware of the “bad blood between Drake and Brown,” and continued to serve both parties alcohol in spite of them being “visibly intoxicated” and the rising tension between the two factions. Although Tony Parker’s suit, along with the 10 others that were filed by victims who suffered injuries during the fracas, would eventually be settled out of court, it was at the heart of an ongoing going beef and would have lasting implications for all parties involved.
According to numerous reports and sources, Brown, who infamously assaulted Rihanna in 2009 during a lover’s quarrel, sent a bottle of Ace of Spades to Drake’s table after the Toronto native and his crew arrived at W.i.P. following a stop at popular NYC strip club Sin City earlier that night. However, Drake, who became romantically involved with Rihanna in the wake of their 2011 collaboration “Take Care,” would decline the gesture, sending a note back to Brown’s table alluding that Drake and the Rude Gyal were still intimately involved.
“I was sitting right next to Chris Brown after he sent Drake the bottle, his entourage approached him and they exchanged f yous,” Ingrid Gutierrez, a member of Brown’s entourage, told the Daily News following the brawl. “Chris told them to bounce and all of a sudden someone tries to swing at Chris and Mills and a lot of other guys in Drake’s entourage start throwing bottles at our table.” Additional reports and sources would also finger Drake and his entourage as the aggressors, noting that their was a shift in the vibe of the room when the rapper and his cronies entered the building, as well as Brown’s jovial disposition prior to their arrival.
In the aftermath of the altercation, Chris Brown would mock Drake and his entourage on social media, tweeting: “Niggas throwing bottles! Y’all niggaz weak! Ok! Niggas stand behind security!!!! Ok! U don’t pay them enough! Niggas hiding in the bathroom bitch ass niggas! And I’m the singer?,” before adding, “Lol … Throwing bottles like girls? #shameonya!” But he would invoke the “no snitching” code when questioned by detectives, insisting he never saw Drake inside of the club.
On Drake’s part, his alleged role in the incident was a stark contrast to the even-keeled, poster-boy image that Drake was known for upon his rise to fame. Perceived as a departure from the hyper-masculine string of rappers that had come to define and dominate mainstream rap for the previous two decades, Drake’s music was praised for being largely devoid of the thuggery and nihilism of his predecessors which, along with his addictive melodies and refrains, would play into him becoming a media darling and a crossover success.
Having got his first big break in entertainment playing the role of a character dubbed “Wheelchair Jimmy” on the TV show Degrassi, and coming from an admittedly upper middle-class background, Drake was by no means viewed in the lens of a gangsta rapper in the mold of a JAY-Z or Shyne, two rappers who had previously found themselves in headlines due to their own grisly conduct while in NYC nightclubs more than a decade prior. Releasing a statement refuting any connection to the brawl and claiming that he was exiting the premises when the ruckus started, Drake’s team would remain mum on the incident; however, it would become the first display of the mean streak that the rapper would brandish on multiple occasions in subsequent years.
While much of the blame for the chaos was attributed to Drake and company, at least one person present pointed the finger at rapper Meek Mill, who was also in attendance at W.i.P. as part of Drake’s entourage on the night in question. Veteran NYC club promoter Jessica Rosenblum would accuse Meek of instigating the beef between Drake and Chris Brown in a tweet posted to her Twitter account shortly after, writing, “”Really??? FU Meek Mills – u know how many fucking years we worked to have fly hip hop shit in downtown NYC? GTFO if u don’t know how 2 hang.” However, Meek would deny any wrongdoing on his part, claiming that it was a simple case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time and that the situation had nothing to do with him, a claim that would not be denied by Drake or Chris Brown (but is highly ironic giving the MMG rapper’s crusade against Drizzy in summer 2016, during which he accused the OVO head of using ghostwriters to write his rhymes).
Meek Mill, giving his brash testimonials about life in the streets, rife with the violent undertone that is deemed by many as the crux of gangsta rap, may have been viewed as a prime candidate for inciting the violence that occurred among the two parties at W.i.P., but by all accounts, Drake and Chris Brown were at the center of the incident.
More of a testament to the growing trend of violence among hip-hop acts that are not traditionally seen as hardcore in nature, the brawl between the two seismic stars was just the first in a number of cases in which each would be connected to incidents in which violence occurred. Chris Brown, who became known as the most rebellious and edgy R&B superstar since Bobby Brown as a result of his penchant for controversy, would be involved in two separate assault cases in 2013, as well as be booted from rehab for “breaking program rules by acting violently.” Brown would also be arrested for allegedly threatening a woman with a gun inside of his Los Angeles home in 2016, a charge that belies his lyrics of romance and feel-good party jams.
There has long been the perception that rap acts not seen as “hardcore” or lacking street affiliation were less prone to participate in criminal activity, specifically of the violent variety, but that myth would gradually be shattered over the years, as peaceful vibes would continue to subside with the advent of social media and outlets like YouTube and WorldStarHipHop. Giving fans unprecedented access to the happenings behind the scenes in their favorite rappers’ daily lives—as opposed to previous eras where tense and physical interactions between rappers were largely the talk of legend and were rarely recorded or aired out on a frequent basis—the social media era opened the door for all disputes, no matter how miniscule, to play out in live-time. Due to this change in how the culture and music of hip-hop was consumed, rap artists from all backgrounds were pushed to become a bit more aggressive outside the confines of their music for fear of being on the wrong end of a gif or a meme.
With the incident as Drake’s first real instance of being deemed as the antagonist in a beef or dispute, he would also make waves for his increasingly violent undertones to his music and image in the aftermath of the W.i.P. brawl. Aligning himself with a few of the more notorious figures in the rap industry, most notably J. Prince, as well as Toronto muscle like his bodyguard Baka, Drake has become increasingly brash in his approach, going as far as allegedly ordering the pummeling of Toronto rapper Mo-G. In April 2016, Mo-G, who claimed to have written material for Drake and threatened to expose him, posted photos of his swollen and bruised faced to social media after an alleged run-in with a few of Drake’s goons after disrespecting the VIEWS creator, one of the more menacing displays of Drake’s wrath, a far cry from the days when he refused to address or reply to any slights against him. Nowadays, Drake is as likely as to levy a veiled threat as he is to croon a sweet melody, evidence of the evolution in his image and artistry.
Although Chris Brown and Drake would continue their rivals in the subsequent years, largely over the W.i.P. incident, as well as Brown taking umbrage at Karreuche Tran stepping out on Brown with Drake during his incarceration in 2014, the two would eventually bury the hatchet with a skit at the 2014 ESPY Awards poking fun at their bitter feud. The bad blood between the two may have been brought to a simmer, but their run-in on that fateful summer night six years ago will remain an unforgettable moment in each of their careers, and mark a crossroads where the lines between gangster and safe were forever blurred.
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