Understanding Drake

Hip hop’s certified other boy

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Look, this isn’t a review or another think piece. This space is a rumination on cultural muses. We begin with Aubrey Drake Graham because he is beige and iconic like me and President Obama and the latter’s best suit no matter what unschooled white people may have thought at the time. Why would it be Barack’s problem that you never went to church or brunch on an Easter Sunday with a Black dad?

Once upon a time on this thing called television, a man named Henson sang us a song. It was a blues song for kids about the challenges of being green that was so true in its blue Ray Charles covered it. On his latest release Certified Lover Boy (CLB), his sixth studio album, Drake confides in us, his millions of certifiers, that having green and being a beige icon is no Sunday brunch. The fame and target on your back that comes with it in the social media-fueled, WWE-like sport that is today’s music industry have The Boy, Drake’s pet name for himself, a Joni shade of blue.

It’s an old lament and the Toronto MC who was once Wayne’s fresh-faced protégé has the woes to match the full-on papi chulo beard. On tracks like “Papi’s Home”, Drake raps to his “sons”  tired of schooling juniors who fancy themselves his peers. Ditto for the women in his bed (“Race My Mind”). At this point in the quest, the only one he can trust is his mother — a pint-sized Canadian Jewish woman named Sandi who meets Drake’s dad, Dennis, a Black mustachioed Memphis-born R&B musician, while he’s on tour in her country. Dennis wanders into a bar looking for a cigarette and instead meets the woman with whom he would father a child of destiny. Fateful origin story and shoe-horned Yoncé references aside, CLB makes it clear that Drake still can’t get his propers from the other guys on these 21 tracks even as he makes it clear that in his own estimation there are no other guys. The whole project feels heavy with a seasoning of sage disappointment that Drake salt baes his autotuned crooning with now as though despite his best efforts for his story to break old narratives, he can’t help but find himself in retrograde on the same lonely mountain top Biggie warned us from posthumously — while Diddy kept it jiggy down below. More money, more problems; more success, more envy; more spotlight, the more darkness and its agents descend.

A Drake album is a mood, an atmosphere. Drake is comfortable in pain and uses it as the ink in his pen.

Like his arch-nemesis and fellow rap gawd Kanye West, Drake is firmly seated atop the culture’s Mt. Olympus. Unlike Kanye, he is also a Billboard chart deity now, which is exactly why the former can’t stop competing with Drake even though he is Ye’s junior. CLB debuted boasting 9 records in Billboard’s Top 10, surpassing little albums you may have heard of Thriller, Rhythm Nation, and Born in the USA. Drake pulls this off because of his intrinsic, mixed-race otherness. This is what helps him remain emotionally relatable to the young and restless — the kind of music listeners that seek out hip hop, the musical art form of Black strivers on a quest. Like Missy and Ann Peebles before her, he can’t stand the reign. It is from this lonely vantage point, that Drake serves us a kind of fixed melancholic anguish that rises to champagne-soaked crescendos on CLB’s opener. His despair feels relatable as we barrel towards a second covidian winter.

Is our Nike-dripped Drake turning Icarus, narrating his own fall? Or is he trying to use his lofty platform to remind us that we are all fallen from our native celestial realms and to make us laugh at the ridiculousness of our predicament as he does on “Too Sexy” a throwback to the Right Said Fred song with a video (currently #2 on YouTube at the time of this writing) that feels more like an SNL parody. Contrary to some of my favorite follows on the tweet machine, I think it's progress that rap’s hero is at least able to acknowledge his own toxicity even if he’s not completely done with it yet. Shit, neither am I.

Album cover for Drake’s CLB.

Maybe the point of being human is to work through hubris, always in danger of succumbing to it. A master memesman, Drake knows as artists lucky enough to enjoy their popularity in their own time do, how fleeting the half-life of fame is. He knows that people will call themselves your fans while they manifest your downfall with their negativity and limitations that they’ll heap upon you like manure and call it roses. He knows how mortals will bop their heads to the beat of your broken heart and loneliness (“Love All”, “Friends in the Industry”) because we only ever knew Drake, the newest Billboard monarch and king of the hearts of Insecure good girls who like to break bad with good boys who are just a little broken too.

A Drake album is a mood, an atmosphere. Drake is comfortable in pain and uses it as the ink in his pen. Even in lighter times, when he was frequently Ms. Fenty’s best feature partner with benefits — RIP to their matching shark tattoos — to his current self-described golden age, there is a sense that Drake feels at home in the dark, a mildly-melanated international man of metamorphosis. This is what Kanye envies, because though he is one of the greatest visual artists of all time, Ye is always Ye, almost pathologically himself whereas for an artist like Drake his destiny is tied up in the mystery and transcendence of transformation, in the wisdom earned from repeated Saturnian pursuits.











Ani Wilmot is a native of the Bronx and ex-pat of Westchester County. She gave up ambition for destiny because she could steal, but she could not rob. These days, she likes to work as little as possible, preferably in sight of a large body of water like the Hudson River. She covers hidden/lost histories of the Hudson Valley and American culture. Keep up with Ani's adventures in reporting on the American wild here.


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