The profuse, confessional storytelling that has defined hip-hop since Kanye West’s game-changing 808s and Heartbreak and Drake’s So Far Gone has shifted mainstream hip-hop away from male personas drenched in aggression and emotional denial.
But misogyny is still very much a thing.
This piece isn’t meant to expose Drake, nor will it absolve him of any wrongdoing. It’s just a dive into his portrayal of problems with women and intimacy. His voice rings loud in the minds of today’s young men and women struggling to understand love and gender roles in heterosexual relationships.
Drake’s influence has been enormous and progressive. But all of the articles that have come out criticizing his musical content are necessary. Letting his messages go unchecked would make us look like the sheep conspiracy theorists already think we are.
Yes, the shit Drake laments about in his music can be laughable, ridiculous, and disturbing. But he has distinctly clear moments of self-awareness about these things throughout his discography.
This can be confusing.
Many criticisms of Drake’s attitude toward women paint him as a “nice guy” deity who has played the masses into believing he’s harmless. Meanwhile, he pushes his subtly evil brand of masculinity and misogyny. Read ‘I’m Breaking Up With Drake’, written by Meaghan Garvey on Pitchfork, to get a feel for that viewpoint.
It’s clear he has tried hard to maintain his non-threatening image. Watch the promo video for his latest SNL visit, with a snapshot featured here:
However, it seems difficult to be proud about expressing these issues as publicly as Drake does.
Despite the massive success, as well as being known for embracing criticisms of his persona, I doubt Drake revels in the view of him as a teenaged near-30-year-old complaining about the same feelings and same women since 2009.
Here’s the thing. Drake’s work is necessary in hip-hop, and his presence will always mark an important shift in the culture. But it’s not as refreshing anymore. It’s not giving us anything new to improve how we think and feel about life.
The difference between Drake’s recent work and projects like So Far Gone and Take Care is that the vulnerability and self-awareness meant something.
Drake being honest about his jealousy-fueled pettiness on ‘Marvin’s Room’, for instance, was eye-opening. To commercialize that sentiment was gutsy, and a heavy change of pace from what hip-hop has always been.
It betrayed the rules of masculinity in hip-hop. It made niggas sing along with a sad man at the club. It gave women a voice, albeit a manipulated one.
But now we have to hear about one of his tings accuse him of acting lightskinned during an argument at Cheesecake Factory. You know, just in case the jokes started to seem unfair or excessive.
However, both male and female Drake fans will continue to affirm his pettiness and sensitive savagery.
“Tsk! Ungrateful ass. Drake didn’t have to go out of his way to save her from the hood. But when he sees potential, he just gotta see it through. She got off lightly with that eloquent threat, I’m surprised Drake is even being this patient with her. Talkin’ back when she should be enjoying that damn cheesecake.”
– Ideal Drake Apologist
A healthy level of Drake criticism is in order, as long as we’re intent on making this a larger conversation. As guilty as he is of normalizing these forms of sexism, we have to realize he and the millions of teens and young adults he speaks to are all products of the same milieu.
For one, the fear of a committed relationship, sometimes coinciding with deep feelings of attachment, is a real thing these days:
And I hate that you don’t think I belong to ya, just to busy runnin’ shit to run home to ya.
– ‘Furthest Thing’, Nothing Was The Same (2013)
I know a girl I should propose to, but we just on some different shit.
– ‘Company’, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
Married in our 20s now, where’s the fun in that?
– ‘Child’s Play’, Views (2016)
And that’s okay, really. Polyamory, casual relationships, and long term relationships as simply boyfriend-girlfriend are all viable ways to experience love and intimacy. But if you were actually okay with some distance and pacing in your love life, you wouldn’t say shit like this:
Can’t lose you, can’t help it. I’m so sorry, I’m so selfish.
‘Good Ones Go Interlude’, Take Care (2011)
But don’t you go getting married, don’t you go get engaged.
– ‘Good Ones Go Interlude’, Take Care (2011)
I’m self-made, selfish with my women, self-employed.
– ‘Where Ya At’, DS2 (2015)
You don’t need no one else, you don’t need nobody else.
– ‘Hotline Bling’, Views (2015, single)
The internal conflicts used to be captivating. Now we are practically being forced to talk about them due to his omnipresence. And there aren’t any developments to make today’s conversations about Drake’s saga very interesting without asking questions like, “Where is this going?”.
We should take a quick peek beyond Drake’s streaming records and historic first-week sales of Views. Many listeners used the imminent approach of Views as their reason to be patient for Drake’s innovation. And despite quality moments on the album, it’s time to seriously question whether Drake’s art can be pushed content-wise and sonically.
It’s time to reconsider our dependence on Drake continuing to be hip-hop’s trendsetter.
We need to see male accountability for feelings and behavior. We need to see male artists grow if they’re going to put their personhood into their art.
And maybe it’s time to find that change in something or someone else.
‘Cause the gooood oooones go, the good ones go, if you wait too long. So yoooou shoooould go, you should go, before you stay too long.
– ‘Good Ones Go Interlude’ (again)
Perhaps some early foreshadowing from Drake to the hip-hop community. Advice, even. What do you think?
Update (5/15/2016): Adding to the sentence, “However, it seems difficult to be proud about expressing these issues as publicly as Drake does.” I agree that he has an agenda to popularize his stories about women, but I don’t charge him with malicious intent. Rather, irresponsibility and shortsightedness.
Dope perspective. Something you said about Drake’s “internal conflicts” resonated with me for two reasons. It seems as though his subject matter of Women (capital W for emphasis) will forever be a potent topic that he may never have the chance to abandon. I have two key points. The first being, It seems as though Drake is “evolving” due to the clout his female fans give him. In particular, I can account to multiple tweets I’ve witnessed or multiple Tumblr posts, by predominately female users, who cannot help but note Drakes once “can I get a hug” persona (skinny, non-American dude from Degrassi always in his feelings) to the now “daddy” persona. The more “daddyish” he gets, (lifting weights, beard maintenance, complete apparel changes, & more blatant misogyny coupled with the popularization of drug culture instead of masked or more honest misogyny caused by an internal whirlwind) the more emphasis HE gets. Granted the latter is based upon archaic ideologies of performed masculinity but look how deeply entrenched we are to those norms. Breaking free from standard gender norms not only handicaps Drake but limits his potential as well.
By this I mean, Drake is simply evolving based upon what his female fans expect of him. Drake’s vice is women. Point, blank, period. Not drug use, not hustling in the streets, or the capitalist machine, but women. This ultimately leads me to my second point about something you eluded to in regards to evolution in the rap game. His idea of the self is not comprised of different life experiences which is something we desperately need to hear. Its comprised on something we’ve heard since Take Care to Views: Women. Perhaps this is the reason why Drake can’t grow the way fans need him to. He’s trapped in one of the most complex webs of society. Establishing Gender Identity in a world that thrives on toxic masculinity not only inhibits the artist but handicaps the world as well. Women as a subject matter is important for many reasons too exhaustive to unpack. Just like Lil Yatchy stated in his verse on Mixtape, Chance The Rapper’s latest project Coloring Book: “They told me I wouldn’t go, cause in high school all I cared bout was hoes, well maybe that shit shit was my interest”. With that being said, maybe Women will always be of interests. The question is who will innovate and elevate that conversation of Women. Hence, why we’re getting used to the common rhetoric expelled upon us by egotistical rappers.
Male rappers aren’t just adding fuel to the already burning sexist fire. They are burning alive by that same exact gender fueled flame as well. For more follow up thoughts I encourage anyone to look into Chance The Rapper’s latest project Coloring Book. This project is significantly different from other projects recently dropped. Why is that? What does Chance The Rapper do with vulnerability and life experiences that we so desperately need? Peace & Light. -Messiah
“The question is who will innovate and elevate that conversation of Women.”
I also really love your comment about how Drake plays into heterosexual male models. His evolution into a more daddy-ish role is real and says a lot about gender performance.
Dope article. You took the words outta my mouth on this one. My girl made a great point out of seriousness and sarcasm: What’s Drake going to talk about when he gets in a good relationship and has loyal friends? I laughed but then said yea that’s a good question.
Man, I’d even say he’s been giving us content very similar to this since 2007 on tapes like Room For Improvement and Comeback Season. Songs like Bitch Is Crazy, Thrill Is Gone, Think Good Thoughts etc.
It’s very possible he gave us too much music from ’13 to present day? I believe had Views been a mix of If You’re Reading This and some of his loosies he’s dropped before we might have a slightly different conversation.
Views IMO was sequenced awkwardly and there were literally six too many songs. Still enjoy some of his records on it but not like Take Care and SFG which had stronger production and content, all similar but stronger. VFT6 felt a little random and uninspired in places.
Well written. So much so it made me comment because I usually don’t!
Have A Good One!
The content prior to So Far Gone was definitely similar, but the depth of his storytelling and the sound really evolved from 2007 to 2009. Take Care was another step forward in terms of his brand, and Nothing Was The Same was a very lean, concise showing of his best musical traits. NWTS also seemed like he was close to resolving a lot of the issues that seemed to plague him, and all the music he put out prior to Views were like updates on his progress toward some kind of resolution. Views just didn’t really sound like a conclusion.
He’s always hinted at putting an end to his rapping around the age of 30, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he really went R&B/neo-soul with his music. I just don’t get why there’s still such a paranoia and edginess in his music, it’s like he doesn’t believe his own boasts about being on top. So Far Gone and Take Care had ambition but it wasn’t so obsessive. He might need to do a Mos Def and take a hiatus, get back to acting for a bit or something.
Thanks for commenting!
I doubt Drake revels in the view(pun intended) of him…
You think you real funny huh? Lol