It’s 1 a.m. on a Thursday morning; a time usually reserved for heading out, hanging out or, maybe even sleeping. But at 1 a.m. on that Thursday morning, Drake didn’t find himself doing any of these. Instead Drake decided to stealthily drop the second single off of his upcoming album by uploading it to his Soundcloud account, and then wait for the music blog domino effect that would inevitably occur. Because it didn’t matter if it was 1 a.m. in New York or 5 a.m. in Toronto; every media outlet found a way to cover the song, either by a proper blog post or some social media shoutout. His message was heard, and more importantly, people cared.
Ever since he first released his breakout single “Best I Ever Had,” Drake has mastered the art of hit-making. This ability, however, has become the sharpest double-edged sword for him. In a lot of ways, Drake is the rap world’s King Midas—one verse or hook from him and the song is almost guaranteed to go gold. Yet while Drake’s popularity has increased, so has the criticism he’s received for the material that helped him obtain it. Hip-hop rose to mainstream prominence on the shoulders of the Eazy-Es and the 2Pacs, the Biggies and the Jay-Zs, whose verses told the tales of hustling on the street to survive. Drake, in comparison, doesn’t have the same struggles to rap about. And so we—fans, critics, bloggers, and even fellow artists—critique him as a person and what he does have to rap about, under a much finer microscope.
In doing this, though, we have developed an overwhelmingly fierce love-hate relationship with the rapper. We take time to judge his questionable outfit choices, his beauty regime, his deep devotion to YMCMB and call him “soft” because of it, but then he drops something like “Started From The Bottom” or “5AM In Toronto,” and he kind of musically slaps us back to reality and reminds us that at the end of the day, he’s really fucking talented. And while he rarely disappoints us with his songs, every time he releases a new one we collectively kind of all exhale a sigh of relief, scratch our heads, and say, “Well damn, Drizzy, you did it again,” and we praise him. As a result, Drake has become our favorite easy target—in both the sense of one to make fun of, and one to heavily rely on, neither of which is fair.
Yet by doing this, I’m just helping perpetuate the idea that Drake isn’t just rap’s King Midas, he’s also rap’s biggest inside joke.
But it’s an easy target to place. I personally do it all the time as a music writer—one minute I find myself listening to “HYFR” for the 189th time and then next, I’m writing a humorous fiction feature in which Drake loves Golden Girls, cucumber melon facials, and Yankee Candle. Sure, I’ve also written that Gucci Mane loves Pogs, but that’s funny because it’s so outlandish. Imagining Drake dropping a few hundo at Bath and Body Works is much more comical, because for some reason, this scenario seems entirely plausible. Yet by doing this, I’m just helping perpetuate the idea that Drake isn’t just rap’s King Midas, he’s also rap’s biggest inside joke.
And I’m not alone. The Internet is flooded with exaggerated images of Drake’s “softness.” SNL famously did a digital short with the rapper, where cast member Andy Samberg and Drake wore matching sweaters, spoofing his not-so-street fashion choices. There are countless Drake Crying memes and hundreds of Wheelchair Jimmy memes, from when Drake starred on the Canadian teen drama, Degrassi. You can also find Drake parody Twitter accounts that imagine the rapper doing anything from burning hot pockets to wearing friendship necklaces. Oh, and then there’s this whole site that’s essentially dedicated to Drake being the softest rapper in the game.
These parodies are carefully crafted on the basis that we have a much broader understanding of the rapper that extends beyond just his music: we’d have to be aware of his wardrobe, background and personality. So sure, we may be poking fun at him, but by doing so it’s also apparent that we’re all paying very close attention to him.
However, this is all incredibly ironic considering that to even make these types of jokes, we have to really know who Drake is. These parodies are carefully crafted on the basis that we have a much broader understanding of the rapper that extends beyond just his music: we have to be aware of his wardrobe, his background, and his personality. So sure, we may be poking fun at him, but by doing so it’s also apparent that we’re all paying very close attention to him.
Even if these are just harmless jokes, I think we’ve done him dirty by feeding into this stigma. And that’s because as we continue to make jokes about him and think we’re discrediting his roots and his assumed lack of struggle, we are in reality discrediting his actual artistic ability that he’s worked hard to build. It’s a fact we’ve grown blind to since on the surface—on our blog posts and Tweets, our club plays and radio spins—we appear supportive. But when push comes to shove, we’re not really. If this were high school, we’d be Drake’s fakest friend.
So why? Perhaps we don’t take him seriously because it’s evident he doesn’t need us to in order to succeed. Where other rappers have made it clear to us what struggles they’ve overcome and how essential music has become to their livelihood, Drake hasn’t. And maybe it’s the fact that Drake had a job on a successful TV show before he got into hip-hop, or maybe it’s because we know he spent part of his childhood in art schools in a wealthy upper class neighborhood, but you get the feeling that if “Best I Ever Had” wasn’t a hit, he would’ve been okay. To be clear, I’m not discrediting Drake’s passion for music, because he makes that passion apparent, but I think there’s an unspoken assumption that if Drake never made another dollar from his songs, no one would be worried if he’s surviving.
Or perhaps we don’t take him completely seriously because of the actual content in his music. Part of his ability to create hits upon hits, is his ability to write lyrics that a generalized mainstream audience can relate to. Whether he’s talking about reppin’ the city that you’re from or yelling YOLO, his songs are some of the few hip-hop tracks that transcend gender or race and instead fit the context of almost anyone’s life. It’s why he’s popular, but also why he’s mocked. Because when you make songs for the frat bro to get drunk to (like “HYFR”) or ones that are extra emotional for girls to connect with (like “Marvin’s Room”), you can’t expect the hip-hop community, or its fans, to accept you without criticism or suspicion when you turn around and act hard.
Though to think Drake isn’t aware of our polarized feelings towards him would be to credit him with far more naiveté than he possesses. If you listen to his new single “5AM In Toronto,” it’s basically an ode to him realizing his current position in the rap world. “The part I love most is that they need me more than they hate me,” he says. And he’s right. Regardless of how we feel about him, Drake has added an essential human element to the hip-hop scene that is so often painfully lacking, especially in the mainstream.
Kanye helped reshape the mold of the stereotypical rapper by making it okay to wear your heart on your sleeve (or your leather skirt) in your lyrics. Drake has expanded this on idea, and as a result he’s made a wildly successful career on the basis of being unapologetically vulnerable. It is this brazen exposure, explicit in his aesthetic, that leaves him open to both love and hate, to both respect and ridicule. It is also, however, what’s helped him achieve No. 1 hits, YouTube views, and industry accolades. So we can laugh at him and pick apart his clothes and his background, but in the end, Drake is having the last laugh.