To quote the oft-overlooked mid-noughties white rapper Paul Wall, Drake has ‘got the internet going nuts.’ The Canadian multi-platinum seller has picked up where Kanye left off with 808s and Heartbreak and mixed-in the multisyllabic delivery typical of aspiring rappers eager to prove their technical chops and has, together with main producer and wingman Noah ’40’ Shebib brought R&B tinged sad-boy-meets-braggadocio to the forefront of Hip Hop’s mainstream. Now we’re a week or so into the ‘Hotline Bling’ dancing phenomenon which has seen a tidal wave of memes inspired by the music video hit our social media timelines it seems like it’s high time that we named Drake as ‘Brand of the Year’ for 2015 and take a detailed look into how the Toronto rappa-turnt-sanga-turnt-rappa-again has put his contemporaries in Hip Hop and pop culture as a whole to shame.
Creating Shareable Content
The above sub-title looks like something you’d see in a Powerpoint presentation given by some dead-eyed social media ‘content’ manager’ (or some equally grating title), however this is exactly what Drizzy has done. From HYFR to YOLO to ‘Started From the Bottom’ to ‘Motherfuckers never loved us’ (Worst Behaviour) to ‘Running through the six with my woes’ to ‘just hold on we’re going home,’ Drake has crafted intensely meme-able ideas and phrases which are applicable to an infinite amount of situations that you don’t have to be a millionaire rapper to have experienced. There could be an endless chicken and egg discussion of whether the Internet has turned Drake’s lyrics into memes or whether Drake has engineered his content to create instantly recognizable and widely relatable concepts. Either way it’s hard to argue that Drake hasn’t capitalized on this phenomenon.
In a similar vein Drake has used his music videos to put across imagery that will doubtless get people talking. From the awkward photo of him goofing around on the ‘No New Friends’ video shoot, to the Drake snr assisted Congolese Sapeur reminiscent ‘Worst Behaviour‘ video, to the intentionally OTT posturing, Mum-including and comedy-skit incorporating visuals for ‘Started From the Bottom,‘ Drake has always got people talking with his music videos and given the meme-curator class of the internet months of source material to work with. It comes as no surprise then that Drake would readily embrace Director X’s vision for his ‘Hotline Bling‘ video which seems him dance around like someone’s Dad (Uncle, granddad, weird cousin etc.) alongside ironically attractive sexline workers.
Drake has never been one to dive head-first into a controversial issue, he’s seemingly ambivalent on politics and only seems to enter rap beefs when he’s been provoked. He does however, by his very being, his success, his artistry, his circumstances spark a wide range of conversations between fans and detractors. He has been drawn into debates about ghostwriting, his lack of ‘hood credentials, his apparent lack of respect for ‘real Hip Hop’ in naming a downtempo R&B-tinged song ‘Wu Tang Forever,’ his embrace of up and coming buzzworthy artists and his penchant for airing his vulnerability in a genre so obsessed with projecting a hypermasculine image. Drake has handled these difficult points quite masterfully neither protesting too much nor completely ignoring every criticism aimed at him, sometimes a diss song is required, sometimes silence, sometimes you can let your friends and collaborators do the talking.
Owning his contradictions
Drake is many things. A rapper, a former soap star, a brand ambassador, an Art appreciator, a sports fan, a Ford Maddox Ford/Ezra Pound- style champion of up-and-coming artists, an Aaliyah obsessive, an enthusiast for everyone from UGK and Lil Wayne to Andre 3000 and Phonte (from Little Brother), a grime fan, black, jewish, privately educated, Canadian with roots in Memphis (on his father’s side), sensitive, boastful, self-deprecating- the list goes on. In a different world he might be seen as an unmarketable mess, however in 2015, an era of culture jamming and widespread access to an endless pool of influences, he might be seen as a fairly typical male in his late 20s.
Despite being largely apolitical in his content, Drake is a product of the post-war progressive tide, social mobility, the internet’s democratization of culture, the rise of easily-shareable content and the ongoing conversations about race and gender. Drake skillful draws upon these facets of his identity when and where it is required to make a certain point, portray a certain image or address a certain issue. The recent retort to Meek Mill, a former crony of whom Drizzy has fallen foul, ‘you getting bodied by a singin’ nigga’ on ‘Charged Up’ tells us a lot more than that Drake can still deliver a bruising ‘diss’ despite his penchant for singing. It tells us that he won’t allow himself to be solely defined by only one part of his identity.
Aligning himself with tomorrow’s innovators
The Weeknd, Chief Keef, Future, James Blake, A$AP Rocky, Party Next Door, Dej Loaf, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Fetty Wap, Skepta and BBK, Kodak Black- all of these artists and more have been given Drake’s mighty cosign whether through remixing their songs, tweeting their lyrics and videos, inviting them to perform at OVO Fest or just mentioning them in interviews, Drizzy has been either a cultural connoisseur or ‘vulture’ depending on how you look at it. Aside from doing wonders for the careers of those he has supported it also makes Drake look both influential and in tune with the innovators of tomorrow.