As one of the most polarizing figures in not only Hip-Hop, but music as a whole, Drake has been an enigmatic figure in my life as a fan. After years of his music my personal jury is still out as to whether I can truly say I like him and his music or not, the numbers don’t lie, he doesn’t need my support, but here’s an introspective look at me and Drake’s troubled and somewhat one-sided relationship.
My first sonic encounter with Drake was when I popped Thank me Later into my CD player in my room back when I was about 14 or 15. Given that to me all there was was R-A-P and no such thing as the broader spectrum of H-I-P-H-O-P, the sultry opening piano note above the scenic firework noises was mildly disconcerting to a rural Irish Rap fan whose knowledge of the culture was radio-centered, with a knowledge that narrowly stretched from Eminem, Jay-Z and Kanye West to The Notorious B.I.G and Tinie Tempah if my memory serves me correctly. This in turn, was always going to be a rocky introduction to me, whether he was Drake or Loyle Carner. Looking back, if it was me now that had heard the opening track, Fireworks with Alicia Keys, it wouldn’t have thrown me as much as it did that evening in the suitably dimly lit room in Inverin. My newly-found lyrical love was questioned by his candlelit harmony and I didn’t really understand how it was in the same bracket as The Blueprint 3 and Ready To Die. Therefore, to me, an uneducated rap fan, Thank me Later, really stood by its name as I never made it to the end of the record that evening and it’d take me a little while longer to revisit the Canadian’s first LP. My early impression, ‘He’s better when he raps’ was both as unfair and as it was true (Something I still stand by). I bought this CD for five euro in third year at the back of science class off of Johannas whose means of obtaining it would make for a story in itself. If the Canadian crooner achieved one thing, it’s that I’ve thought a lot more about Aubrey Graham than I have about whatever we did in science that day.
At 19, I can say that Thank me Later is one of my favourite albums, both for the memories it brings back and the music itself. Drake later snuck into my music collection again with Take Care, which right now, I’m going through a transitory phase of liking and hating. The album has some of Drake’s hardest numbers in Underground Kings and We’ll be Fine, yet they’re cushioned by the numbingly lush tracks throughout that aren’t my personal favourites. In terms of lyrics then, do we we even know if Drake wrote them? The question of ghost-writing, ownership and creativity is one that only adds to the 29 year-old’s complexity as a musician and an individual, which I’ll get back to.
What makes Drake so likeable?
You could bring Drake home to your mother, he could play with your little brother, chat about sport with your dad, have a laugh with you, impress your friends and be a hit with the girls. I don’t know Drake and I (Probably) never will, but from what I can gather he never manages to make himself out to be an asshole or overly confident. At the same time, this contributes to the side of Drake that really gets on my nerves. You can’t please everyone. Or maybe you can and we just haven’t realised. Drake, despite his overall niceness and versatility, is uncategorizable. Now this isn’t why I don’t like the guy, far from it. He’s a rapper and has the lyrical skill* to prove it. At the same time he’s as raw and emotionally unstable as a troubled R n’ B singer. He hops on a Metro Boomin’ track and steps down onto a mulled wine-esque Noah ’40’ instrumental, as easy as you or me walks down a flight of stairs. There’s a certain air of confidence and lack of vulnerability about Drake that makes this talent lack validity and makes Drake’s multiple styles and personalities seem transparent rather than tangible. October’s Very Own belongs to no genre and can’t be tied down, yet seamlessly struggles at nothing from Trap to Dancehall, which paradoxically makes the likeable ‘6 God’ seem disingenuous. How does someone drop Jumpman, Hotline Bling, Back to Back and If you’re Reading This it’s too Late all in one year? For me, of course it’s a talent in itself to be that versatile, but it makes his lyrics pretty hard to believe.
Then again, his ability to stay current and in the public’s focus is his biggest selling point, ‘If you look at Drake, he releases something every month, to just stay relevant and stay in the limelight, which is hard.’ Sean Walsh of the Original Rudeboys said to me, which is totally correct. There’s a Drake for everyone, but sometimes I find it hard to like any of them.
Then we get on to the touchy subject of Drake and lyrics. Before this is addressed there’s a few things to take into account. Drake isn’t as good a lyricist as the Cole’s and Kendrick’s out there, BUT his music isn’t as popular as it is because of its lyrical content. The guy’s career has blown up because of hits like the aforementioned Hotline Bling, Hold on We’re Going Home, Find Your Love, Take Care and many more, not to mention his propensity to sing his own catchy hooks and the overall uniqueness of his music. With that being said, Drake is a rapper. His marketed uniqueness relies on the fact that he’s a rapper. Being a rapper requires you to write your own lyrics. ‘If you ask any kid that’s interested in rap, I guarantee that they’re trying to write rhymes…. if they like an artist like me or any other artist, they’re not going “I gotta find someone to write these lyrics for me” that’s not the first thought that pops into their heads because it’s painted as these rappers are doing it themselves’ Hopsin said to Vlad TV when discussing whether Drake having ghostwriters is a good or a bad thing. It’s hard to disagree with him either. It’s one thing if Drake sings someone else’s lyrics on a hook because the guy sings rather well, however rapping is something that everyone quintessentially accepts as something that’s your own, so if you’re rapping someone else’s words you’re only singing karaoke (Ironically that’s the name of the second track off of Thank me Later, which talks about his life growing up). The numbers don’t really lie in terms of the fact that Drake has managed to create special music and it should be celebrated that a Hip-Hop centered artist is at the top of the music world, however if that artist is only miming someone else’s lyrics then isn’t the spirit of Hip-Hop, the realest and most genuine music, being misrepresented?
Maybe Drake was right all along that ‘The truth hurts and those lies heal’ and that if we all stayed obliviously content with the fact that maybe all of his words aren’t his own, we’d sleep easier at night. Sadly, of all fans, Hip-Hop fans like to get pissed off at a wide variety of topics and ghostwriting is one that won’t fly as easily under the radar as some other Drake mishaps that scraped by most Hip-Hop heads in the past.
He has impressively blended his two pervading styles into a head-turning mixture of raw Toronto Trap (Where commendably, the lyrics are audible), and for once it’s sort of clear that Drake has finally developed his own style that can be solely attributed him, despite its clear influences from all corners of Drake’s growth as an artist. This is a guy who came up as a product of YMCMB, as well as Lil’ Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Tyga, produced two star-studded albums featuring Jay-Z, Rihanna, The Weeknd and Rick Ross to name a few, then took over the radio repeatedly since 2013 with a refined sound, beefed with Meek Mill, started his own empire in OVO, had multiple public friendships with the likes of Skepta and Future, released a project with Future after a week of collaborating and then shutdown the month of April in anticipation of his latest album Views from the 6. He has put Toronto on the map and by doing so has symbiotically carved his own character and musical personality, centered around the Canadian metropolis. At 29, is this Drake in his theoretical final form, or is this just another ploy to make us think we’ve finally cornered him and so we can finally slap that label on his blissful smile or is he just another step ahead of us?
His evolution from the piano-fueled emotional manipulator to radio and 6 God has been impressive, despite its hint of invalidity, and is certainly something that should be respected, however as far as me and Drake go, I’m going to stay sitting here watching his moves rather than singing along mindlessly.