Critics of Drake say that his music isn’t “real” and “hardcore” enough for hip-hop’s subversive culture. He has no rags to riches story since he comes from a nice little suburb in Canada raised by a white Jewish mom. He has no dopeman-turned-rapper story either so basically he has no idea about the pains and struggles of growing up poor in the violence-ridden ghetto; just trying your best to survive each day.
These stories form the standard hip-hop archetype and because he doesn’t fall into either, they say Drake demasculinates hip-hop with his apologising-to-his-mom-on-tracks-freestyling-off-BlackBerrys-singing-songs-for-women-Canadian persona. They say he’s a sheltered simp, a wussy crybaby who has never experienced life because he raps about strained relationships with his family and women who’ve broken his heart or he couldn’t hold onto, and not about drugs and gang-banging. Basically the perception of Drake is that he’s an effeminate “girly-guy” and as a result, he has become the butt of the many “Drake be the type of nigga that…(insert any statement here that threatens outdated masculinity)” jokes.
I know that showing emotion don’t ever mean I’m a pussy/ know that I don’t make music for niggas who don’t get pussy/ so those are the ones I count on to diss me or overlook me – Drake, Lord Knows
But what is considered “real”? Are you “real” as a rapper because you rap about borrowed diamonds and leased cars? Are you “real” as a rapper because you rap about killing people and selling dope? How relatable is gang-banging, drug-peddling and new-money braggadocio to the general population? Drake raps about themes nearly every human being can relate to whether you like urban music or not. He raps about love lost, heart ache, regrets and relationship dynamics in a manner that is both self-examining and self-flagellating. So why is it that he gets so much flak for rapping about relatable human experiences? It is because he does it in a way that challenges hip-hop’s masculinity. He raps about relationships in a context that doesn’t objectify women per se but actually humanises them to an extent. He raps about family issues that shouldn’t even be spoken about in public.
He raps in a sorrowful, remorseful, broody, or sometimes conflicting and contradictory tone. His subject matter is emotion and in the tough stoic world of hip-hop, showing emotion is a sign of weakness, a sign of vulnerability, and vulnerability is the antithesis of masculinity.
To lay your emotions bare as explicitly as Drake does in his diaristic style is so unimagined as a man. To admit that a girl deceived you, manipulated you and consequently broke your heart and SING about it too is so unimagined as a rapper. It completely shatters the image of hip-hop and breaks down the rigid constructs of masculinity as a whole. Because real men don’t look through a girl’s phone while she’s in the bathroom right? And real men don’t throw bottles at other men over a woman hey? And which self-respecting man pays money to save strippers? Real men don’t save hoes bruh. And as a man why would you turn Juvenile and Wu-Tang Clan tracks into love ballads? Drake does things that are so against the traditional hip-hop and masculinity model that the only thing we can do is laugh at him.
We love to make jokes about him and hate on him because we hate the fact that he has the courage to hold a mirror up to himself and rap about his insecurities and vulnerabilities yet we can’t do the same. Because we are afraid to do the same. Because men have been societised to bottle their emotions in and if you dare to express them you are seen as weak and puny. Yet Drake didn’t feel the need to oblige to this old model of masculinity or to the old traditions of hip-hop and by so doing so has actually spearheaded a sub-genre of hip-hop and redefined what masculinity actually is in the game.
Rappers who are defined as “gangsta” and “hardcore” such as The Game and Rick Ross constantly feature Drake on their tracks. Drake has defied the parameters of hip-hop masculinity and created new ones. He’s ignored the boundaries on the approach of certain subject matter and instead has transcended them making his music more relatable and accessible. Making his music more human.
Might look light, but we heavy doe/ you think Drake won’t pull some shit like that?/ You never know! – Drake, Stay Schemin
Why would a gun-wielding (supposedly) gang-banging Lil Wayne sign this kid from Canada that sings and raps about love and heartbreak? Because he could relate to what he was saying and might have wanted to rap about them too but because of the image Lil Wayne has painted for himself he knew that he couldn’t tackle issues of love, relationships and heartbreak like Drake does. And while we know Drake seems awkward when he tries to emulate the gangsta persona of his boss and mentor (I don’t think Drake will ever catch a body like that) he can hold his own when being threatened (see: his verse on “Stay Schemin”).
That’s why every song sound like Drake featuring Drake. – Drake, 5AM in Toronto
Thing is if we don’t let ourselves be an ostrich-in-the-sand about it, one cannot whatsoever deny the commercial and critical successes Drake has accomplished. He has made such an impact on hip-hop it is almost unfathomable. You may think the guy is soft but you can’t refute his songwriting/wordplay skills and his ability to structure songs almost to perfection.
He has the keenest ear for beats, a broad versatile taste in music and can use language to clearly express his feelings when others would otherwise agonise over what words to use. He has the most no.1 singles in hip-hop beating the greats Jay-Z, Kanye West and Eminem. His rap-sing-about-heartbreak formula is the go-to formula now (a phenomenon known as the “Drakewave”) and not forgetting that he made hashtag rap a trend and now the new “Versace” flow.
Drake has also played his part in introducing the world to some of the most influential rap music of this generation today. Before Kendrick Lamar became hip-hop’s golden child he was introduced to the mainstream by being Drake’s opening act. A$AP Rocky also has Drake to thank for putting him on the map. Drake challenges the genre and bends it to his will like a sage forcing a spoon backwards with his mind and in doing so he has made his type of music almost a standard staple in hip-hop.
He has gone from the awkward and scorned 22 year old outsider who made money from an unconventional mixtape to a confident 26 year old go-to-guy-for-a-definite-hit musical pioneer. Like Lil Wayne says, if you have Drake on every hook you’ll be alright. You can hate on him, but Drake’s success tells us that even if you think you are too much of a thug to listen to him, dropping “Drake be that type of nigga” tweets, you’re probably listening to him from your hidden file on your laptop inside your locked room shedding a tear because you’re thinking about that ex that did you wrong.
Because Drake has that rare gift to connect with you and he is secure enough within himself to rap and sing about his flaws, his fears, his feelings. He lets you know that it’s ok for you to actually FEEL and not bury or ignore your emotions however “sissy” society tells you they are, because they’re not.
It’s OK to feel vulnerable, heartbroken and hurt. You’re human after all, not a machine. Drake is more of a man for challenging the archaic archetype of masculinity because it is a basic characteristic of a human being to express how they feel and shouldn’t be looked down upon just because of your gender.
Written By: Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)