For years Arby’s has bragged: “We have the meats.” Now the menu includes a spicy beef with McDonald’s.
On Monday, the hot deli chain released an advertisement for its crispy fish sandwich. Undergirding the EDM-tinged backing beat is the rap song Spicy Fish Diss – a single-verse Scud missile that takes direct aim at McDonald’s pescatarian mainstay, the Filet-O-Fish. And it doesn’t waste any of its 75-second runtime beating around the bush. “Filet-O-Fish is shit,” it crows, “and you should be disgusted.”
Even more delicious than this taster is the man serving it – Pusha T, the 44-year-old Virginia Beach-raised master lyricist who formed half of the Pharrell Williams-produced rap duo the Clipse (with his older brother, No Malice) and is the highest-profile act signed to GOOD Music besides the label’s founder, Ye (formerly known as Kanye West). For Pusha, the Arby’s gig was no odd job (Arby’s We Have the Meats campaign also licensed Yogi and Skrillex’s 2014 EDM hit Burial featuring the rapper); it was personal.
Pusha has long alleged that he wrote McDonald’s I’m Lovin ‘It jingle along with No Malice, Williams and Justin Timberlake, and he has held a grudge against the company for shortchanging him as the micro-tune has become one of the most recognizable jingles of all time.
Nineteen years ago, Timberlake first recorded the jingle; these days it’s Succession’s Brian Cox who lazily warbles the familiar “ba-da-ba-ba-ba” in Golden Arches commercials. “It was like half a million or a million dollars for me and my brother,” Pusha told Rolling Stone of his one-time fee for the McDonald’s hit. “But that’s peanuts for as long as [the jingle] has been running. I had to get that energy off of me, and this [Arby’s spot] was the perfect way. “
From Ella Fitzgerald snapping about KFC to MC Hammer hot-footing for Taco Bell to Mary J Blige howling for Burger King’s crispy chicken, Black music stars have been sirens for fast food chains from the day they set up shop in Black neighborhoods – where, sadly , they often loom large as the most viable meal plan for under-resourced families. Five years ago, Arby’s made a hard pivot from the suburbs to the streets when it committed to a pitchman in Ving Rhames, the husky-toned Pulp Fiction star who delivers the company’s meaty slogan. Business has boomed ever since.
Still, it’s shocking that it’s taken until now for a food company to adopt a rap battle stance in defense of conspicuous mass consumption. After all, what is fast food advertising but Arby’s crowing about their meat, McDonald’s boasting about sales and Carl’s Jr wallowing in gratuitous breasts and thighs? Even Chick-fil-A has a Jesus piece. From the off, the whole business has been about real hip-hop, which itself is larded to the ventricles with references to favorite chains. (“I got the socket so plug me,” Migos trill, “Solitaire, Chicken McNuggets.”)
You’d be hard pressed to name a more battle-worn gladiator in this arena than Pusha. Besides a decades long feud with Drake, he is famous for spinning artful stories rooted in his past life di lui as a drug dealer. (Interestingly, his name and raspy voice di lui dominate the Arby’s ad, but he never appears on camera.)
In Spicy Fish Diss, which commands attention with Dalí-esque, Old Man and the Sea visual grammar, Pusha gets away with many double entendres, none juicier than this: “With lines’ round the corner, we might need a guest list.” Even Pusha’s choice of which Arby’s product to endorse is a wink: “If you know me and you know me well / Our fish is gonna tip that scale.” (“Fishscale” is slang for a flakey, premium grade of cocaine.) On Twitter, some made a game of reconstructing the notes call between Pusha and Arby’s execs while penning rejected lyrics. And more hip-hop fans celebrated this collaboration than denounced Pusha, who gets paid every time the Arby’s spot airs, as a sellout.
Will this simmering tension lead to more peppery fare? Megan Thee Stallion (Popeyes), Rick Ross (Wingstop) and Travis Scott (McDonald’s) are already in the game. They’re already in position to fire shots back and, like Pusha, posting their bars large over the commercial video so their wordplay can be explicitly appreciated. It could be just the thing that pulls hip-hop out of its hallucinogenic doldrums and back into the realm of combat sport.
Of course there are bound to be some who interpret battle rap-themed fast food ads as a bad omen for the country. But they probably never had the stomach for this kind of stuff anyway. It’s about time fast food rivals drop their family-friendly pretensions and start really going for one another’s jugulars in commercials. At the end of the day, it’s all empty calories. A spicy beef just adds flavor.