Identity Crisis

I listened to Drake’s mixtape The Comeback Season last night. The review, I thought, would have been a divergent addition to some of the music I’ve been known to like. Drake is a packaged rapper. His rhyme schemes, look, content are all fairly predictable teen girl fare, albeit clean. Government name: Aubrey Graham, Drake has been a cast member on Degrassi High. Although it’s not impossible to come out from under the Nickelodeon stigma (see: Nick Cannon), one gets the sense that Drake has been thinking too hard about how to do so. “That B*tch Is Crazy” for example, takes us on a winding road of adult dating to induce cloying sympathy from other males. Much of The Comeback Season suffers from this problem. Graham makes a concerted effort to stride into adulthood with utterly sophomoric topics. The money-cars-ho’s motif is not only trite in this case, but also forced. I don’t think even he expects us to believe that his escapades in the Continental GT are exciting because most of the tunes drip with the resentment of being misunderstood by labels and A&Rs. Unfortunately, his trouble is the opposite — he’s too easily understood and it’s simply uninteresting. Drake’s website,, appears focused on gravity, all dark hues and stormy profiles. The young man seems trapped in the throes of an identity crisis. But who is to blame?

The Degrassi High Prom King

Tom Breihan of Status Ain’t Hood wrote a piece about hip-hop’s fading star power. Unconventional heroes like Lupe Fiasco, Saigon, Lil Boosie and Flo Rida, have been the post-9/11 version of stars. Each performer has used the draw of a specific audience to gain national attention without necessarily conceding to a standard form. Breihan contends that Boosie (and even Wayne to an extent) have benefited from the cult status of their region, internet promotion, and unique styles. But on the other side of things, a whole crop of specialized rappers have emerged, possibly hoping to reinvent some images and barter them for success. Drake fits with this aforementioned kind, a mold of Jay-Z one-liners and faux slickness.

Parlor tricks are old-hat, though, when it comes to rap stars. So is persona borrowing. Ja Rule and DMX used the Tupac insignia of shirtless, emoting thugs to vault themselves to stardom. Jay-Z used some of Biggie’s blaxploitation-inspired machismo and pimp talk to enhance his cool. It stands to reason that Drake wants to create something in this world of business-minded rappers the same way Rick Ross, Jeezy and Gucci Mane proliferate the hustler-as-performer theme. Fabolous, for one, has made an entire career out of pained love raps. Although Fab’s talents range far beyond that typecast, he is content to devote songs to relationship highs and lows. But for every Fabolous and Jay-Z, there are a million Lil Bow Wows and Drakes carving out categories to define the ineffable. Instead of viewing rap artists as a combination of intangible qualities and skill, the public leaves little room for anything but pimps, players, gangsters and variations on all three. Jimmy Iovine spoke in a recent interview about the new “model” for the music industry, explaining that good music and talented artists will always sell. He went on to note that more copycats come out, on average, than great artists. Even though Drake is (on paper) a progeny of LL, Jay-Z and Fabolous, he’s actually a child actor forging a rap career out of decided hollowness. There are no redemptive songs, no piercing introversions, no triumphant crescendos when character lacks. The new “mechanics of rap stardom” does not explain the shortage of creativity currently presiding over figures like Drake. Formulas made to categorize the lesser artists are just that — formulaic. Instead of excusing the prosaic ones, or writing them off, it behooves us to examine the channels through which we hear of inexperienced yet overexposed upstarts.

Drake is dark

Drake reached my e-mail inbox first through a friend. She told me that his publicist had been consistently contacting her since she joined MTV Networks. Clearly, his handlers were making a play for mainstream existence from the start. Then, through similar means, my contact at SmokingSection asked if I had heard of him. Again, the filtration was based on who knew Drake more than on who knew whether he was any good. A casual trip to his Myspace page might even yield a casual thumbs up. It’s not as if his music “sounds” bad on the first listen. After listening to twenty-plus songs on The Comeback Season, however, I was more lucidly inclined to berate him. Drake possesses a sense of entitlement rarely seen among rappers even more gifted than he. In an interview with HipHopCanada he reveals his conceit saying:

HHC: So you’re not on a major record label right now…
I’m getting great radio play and a lot of Internet buzz and attention. I have a fan base that some people say is equal to that of signed artists’ maybe even more. Degrassi is shown in 40 million homes in the US and spectators say that I would be the perfect person to sign because I have a large fan base. I feel like if I was to come out with an album with the right publicity and of course the great music, I could not see it failing. But record labels nowadays don’t see that; they see numbers. I still just like everybody else need to meet quotas with my spins, with my buzz and make my way into the office. It has to be undeniable; the world has to know about you before Jay-Z makes a call.

Expecting Jay-Z to make a call seems dreamy at best. The Comeback Season could interest Jermaine Dupri, though, who comes from the same music pedigree as Mr. Graham. His father, like JD’s father, is a known Southern music figure, having played drums for Jerry Lee Lewis. Avant garde muralist Banksy once said, “in the future, everyone will be anonymous for fifteen minutes.” Luckily for Aubrey “Drake” Graham, the future is now.


6 Responses to “Identity Crisis”

  1. 1 sona February 27, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Before you make judgments about artists, perhaps you should get to know who they are on a personal level. This just makes you look unintelligent and petty.

  2. 2 drewricketts February 27, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I didn’t judge him based on anything but his music. I’m sure he’s a great guy, but I’m not here to judge his personality. The point I’m making is about how image tends to outweigh artistic merit. Drake didn’t impress me or my intelligence. I see you’re a fan, though.

  3. 3 Misanthrope February 29, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Word! How I’m suppose to feel an artist if there art doesn’t appease my standards of taste. Drake and I aren’t friends, we don’t hang. The only vehicle I have to know of him is his music. So if I don’t feel his music then I don’t feel him to whatever extent I know him. He could be cool people but that remians to be seen.

  4. 4 Lil Reezy August 17, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I think it’s unfair to judge him so harshly; to say that by taking close cues from other artists to make your own music is to belittle Jay-Z, as you put it, “machismo Biggie style rapper”, or that DMX is nothing but a Tupac clone. What Drake is bringing to the table, I guess, is his swag. I heard him on a track with Wayne called Stunt Hard, and it’s better to say that he is following in the footsteps of Wayne’s confident, “swagger raps” than anything LL, Jay-Z, or Fabolous has done. Is he the most original? No. Are his songs suffering from unoriginality? No. His flow is nice, he has some clever punchlines sometimes; the subject matter and his overall style may not be new
    but we’re not gonna severely fault him for that.

  5. 5 Snoop June 17, 2009 at 4:35 am

    I suppose you were wrong on this one as Drake is now the biggest new artist in music and the featured artist on Jay-Z’s first single…

  6. 6 drewricketts June 17, 2009 at 4:59 am

    I was wrong how? I said I could see him becoming popular, and even how his packaged look has appeal to the legions of teen fans who will hear him through overexposure. Do I think he really merits the incredible hype he’s getting however? No.

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