Nothing Was The Same and that’s OK
Drake’s success reveals hip-hop’s irony
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
Drake is a hip-hop artist who’s won the Grammy for Best Rap Album (Take Care), released two platinum-selling albums and earned multiple Billboard-charting singles. He grew up acting on a popular teen drama. He also sings and is apparently a very emotional guy.
People don’t like that, and the “that” refers to one of the aforementioned attributes or some odd combination of them.
Hip-hop diehards loathe the fact that someone so anti-hip-hop is suddenly at the center of the genre. The hands of hundreds of music bloggers quiver when a Drake track is released. He’s the type of hip-hop artist music fans point to as an example of how they “listen to all types of music” despite not being able to name one non-hook lyric.
Drake isn’t just a marketable character, either. The man is actually pretty talented; of course, you’d have to be if you’re going to say emotional early morning phone calls to your ex-girlfriend is a reasonable thing (“Marvin’s Room”).
His downfall is how he’s in a genre that glorifies the struggle. If the hundreds of online memes didn’t clue you in, Drake was pretty well off before his rap stardom. Some feature profiles revealed he did go through a few trials, but a lot of people would agree times couldn’t have been that hard if you’re starring in a famed Canadian drama.
And it’s absurd Drake should be criticized for that. Hip-hop has been sculpted from an urban landscape, so it ought to at least fall under the common wisdom of urban prophets and teachers: The point is to get out of the hood.
How many times has the rags-to-riches story been told? How many times have we heard artists balancing street consciousness with a growing self-awareness? These are stories that have been told multiple times in the genre’s decades’ long existence. Sometimes they’re inspiring, and sometimes it feels like they aren’t even worth telling.
It’s a discredit to the genre to constantly base a rapper’s credibility off his experience with the struggle. It’s been a long journey to get mainstream to accept hip-hop’s complicated ethos – which has been doused with crack narratives and misogyny in its rise to claim a piece of the American dream. Why limit hip-hop when there’s so much to gain now that it’s a widely accepted art form?
It’s weird “hardcore” fans continue to complain about empty rags-to-chains stories when some of their mindsets are the ones supporting them. If the struggle is necessary to gain cred in the genre, it forces the artist construe this false personality that translates into weak musical output. A prime example of this is “Can’t Touch This” MC Hammer gangster transformation in 1994’s The Funky Headhunter, which was a change just as bad as the album’s title. The mid-00s are filled with examples, also.
Hip-hop – like music itself – is constantly changing, and it’s evident with the rise of the Beast Coast rap movement and the Kendrick Lamar-headed Black Hippy collective. Drake is one of the symbols of the changing times. Perhaps the strangest aspect of Drake’s popularity is how his best songs – except “Marvin’s Room” – portrays a perceived struggle: “Headlines,” “5AM in Toronto,” “Started From The Bottom.”
Here’s the thing: a great number of us de-emphasize the irony because of just how good these tracks sound. The strange thing about hip-hop is how its fans value this sense of realness – whatever that may mean these days – more than any other genre.
Songs like “5AM in Toronto” resonate from fans at the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn to those nerds who write music columns for hours on end. Perhaps that’s enough.