We need to talk about Drake.
I’ve seen a lot of people I know suddenly outraged at his friendship with Baka Not Nice, who’s been recently released from prison after being arrested on human trafficking and assault charges. The news of this friendship seems to come as a surprise to many fans, though Baka makes an appearance on Nothing Was The Same track “From Time.” The main concern seems to be “does Drake really respect women if he hangs out with a guy like this?”
The answer, to me at least, has always been “of course not.”
Drake is a smart businessman. He knows his audience and he continues to churn out what they want; songs like “Best I Ever Had,” “Hold On We’re Going Home,” and “Heat of the Moment,” introspective odes to the women in his life and tales of mistakes made with all the ones who got away. He plays himself off as someone with his heart always on his sleeve, someone who’s always seeking an emotional connection.
The marketing of this image is even mentioned on “Buried Alive” off Take Care. In his verse, Kendrick Lamar talks about the first time he met Drake. He raps, “We talk casually about the industry/And how the women be the taste makers for the music we making.” Should this be read as a shoutout to Drake’s fans or rather a shameless admission of guilt? (I say Drake’s fans because I think we all know Kendrick doesn’t make music for anyone).
Typically the women in Drake’s songs serve three functions. There are strippers, girlfriends (or exes, depending), and mom. He’s always doing them wrong but he puts them on this angelic pedestal and as a result “makes up for it,” instead of just treating them like complicated, real people. Just because he’s in his feelings about the women in his life doesn’t make him respectful. It makes him indulgent.
Of course, as a hip-hop fan, I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is all par for the course, and hey, if the music’s good enough, I can let it slide. Drake is an exceptional artist and I am by no means trying to front like I’m too good to listen to Nothing Was The Same over and over because I’m not.
The thing I find puzzling is why people try to decontextualize his music from that of other hip hop artists. For some reason his crooner tendencies make it easier for some listeners to place him above other artists with more blatantly sexist lyrics, when, in reality, he uses many of the same cultural memes in his work.
Take for example the lyric “I got strippers in my life but they virgins to me” from “Energy.” This is the classic Madonna/whore rhetoric that’s been pedaled out to the masses for centuries. Strippers are sexually promiscuous, but Drake treats them like they’re the good girls he knows they can be (shoutout to “Hold On We’re Going Home,” another classic example of Drake’s penchant for white knighting.)
Or there’s “Houstatlantavegas,” a song written about a stripper he’s presumably fallen in love with. It’s nearly five minutes of Drake crooning about how he has to save her from this sordid life; with his love, his money, whatever it takes. He sings “Ass low, ass low, I always request you/You go get fucked up and we just show up at your rescue/Carry you inside get you some water and undress you.” She has no agency over her own life to him, she’s made no decisions to get to this place. The money has her stuck there with no escape and Drake’s the only man thoughtful enough to treat her like an angel. He gives her no right to her own life. It’s all his to change.
Given all this information, what is there to gain from making Drake the mystical male rapper exception in the minds of the “politically progressive?” In the day of “problematic faves,” why does Drake get to be the one with a clean slate? This kind of liberal ownership over whichever artists are deemed worthy enough is nothing but condescending and toxic (think: white dudes who only listen to Kendrick and Aesop Rock and blabber about lyricism and “political relevance” ad nauseam).
The nice guy image has done a lot for Drake. The sensitive rapper, the emotional man, it sells a lot of records. It’s built him an empire. But at the end of the day, he’s still a hip hop artist working within a sexist industry. If we don’t really interrogate the meaning behind not only his work but that of anyone we listen to, are we really understanding it? Or are we just buying it?
Allison Hart is a freelance writer based outside New York City. Poetry and other work can be found at www.girlcereal.tumblr.com