Drake is the realest artist in the game. The irony is, I don’t know if that’s a compliment to him, or an indictment of the music industry and our hypocrisy filled definition of Black masculinity.
In today’s hype driven popular music culture, some of the most underwhelming music is called amazing, decent albums are “classics”, and the leaders of the new school are already deemed as legends. Drake’s music is often a breath of fresh air in this sea of complacency and mediocrity.
However, when I stumble upon people (especially men) who don’t like his music, no critique of his talent is offered, but phrases like “too emotional”, “sounds gay”, and “always whining” often arise in the conversation. Here’s my reaction:
So you’ve never fallen in love? You’ve never experienced heart-break or regretted hurting someone else’s? You’ve never been infatuated with someone who’s unavailable? You’ve never struggled with loving one woman in a society that equates manhood to frequent sexual conquest? You’ve never been scared of being hurt? You’ve never been vulnerable, or wore your heart on your sleeve for someone?
No? Aw ok….well, let me be the first to respect your gangsta…….you and the Tin Man.
Drake is confronting politics of black masculinity in ways that people are simply uncomfortable with. He combats the idea that authenticity in rap means poverty stricken beginnings, selling drugs, shooting your enemies, and brash masculinity, including but not limited to having emotionless sex with as many super-models as your libido can muster.
The irony about those assertions is finding out how many so-called gangster rappers have no criminal records, come from working class backgrounds, and went to private art schools; how many rappers who brag about fuckin’ bitches are actually happily married with kids, and would be ready to kill you for calling their female loved ones out of their names. When “hip-hop heads” are busy praising their favorite gangsta artist for not loving these hoes, MC 10 Guns is at home telling his wife “I love you, baby”.
Then the writing on the wall becomes clear: for some artists and fans, this rap thing is all entertainment. The whole game is creating and selling a public image that is isolated from their private one.
But for others, good art represents life. It’s a narrative of trials, triumphs, contradictions, dichotomies, imperfections, joy, depression, love, hate, and everything in between. It’s honesty, and maybe even more important than that, it’s transparency.
I hope our appreciation as fans doesn’t solely comes from enjoying the spectacle and overlooking the spectacular. I hope our art really does imitate our lives, and isn’t a love-letter to the facades we create to hide our insecurities or to sell records. Because if we ever rest in that dark place, I’ll be singing sadder than any ballad Drake has ever created.
The best music often evokes an emotional response. When we hear our favorite jams, we respond in the same way a snake does to a charmer’s flute. Drake’s music may simply pluck at heartstrings more intensely than some of us are comfortable with. It stirs up memories that we don’t want to confront. It reminds us that the most frightening thing that most people will ever have to do is look in the mirror, though we hold off slaying that dragon as long as we can. But Drizzy displays a level of vulnerability that the majority of rap artists do not have the courage to show.
For every “Lightskinned Dudes Be Like” meme that uses Drake as the butt of a joke, there’s someone who connects with his honesty. For every Twitter thug perched behind the shield of his Macbook screen, there’s an insecure dude over-posturing his masculinity because a crush broke his heart once or because his high school teammates once made fun of him for still being a virgin. The same macho man saying “Drake is so gay!” on social media is the lonely soul lip-syncing the lyrics to Trust Issues at the top of their lungs when no one else is around.
All of us are hypocrites in one way or another and none of us is perfect, not even Drake. There are plenty of legitimate critiques to be made about him too. While he did work extremely hard for all his accolades, Drizzy’s stardom and music career didn’t exactly “start from the bottom” like he suggests. I personally wanted him to chill on the “No New Friends” talk ( I’m assuming Lil Wayne was a new friend once ). And he problematically brags about sexual conquests and calls women bitches just as much as the next mainstream artist does.
But for the most part, Drake displays the very human struggle of hypocrisy; of positioning your self-image against the fear that people won’t accept you unconditionally.
“Just another kid that’s going through life so worried that I won’t be accepted” (1)
You don’t have to enjoy his music for the reasons I or any other of his fans do. In fact, you’re allowed to dislike it, hate it even. But if you really loathe it because it’s too emotional, you’re discomfort may say a lot more about you than it does about him.
And that’s real.
We Out Here,
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(1) Line from Drake’s “Look What You’ve Done” off his 2011 Take Care album