It’s not quite clear whether our love for Drake is ironic, some sort of patriotic obligation, or if a Canadian, mixed-race, emotional, TV star-turned-rapper simply beat the odds, rose to the top of the charts and became, in his mind anyway, a legend. Regardless of what you think about his latest feat If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, it’s hard to deny that since his first album, Drake has been subverting stereotypes about masculinity without even trying.
Drake has made himself a successful real-life meme with a loyal fan base by rapping about his feelings. He raps like he finally worked up the nerve to challenge his Forest Hill bully to a freestyle battle, but he drops bangers. Aside from the rare critic who claims that Drake is too “soft,” the hyper-masculine culture of hip-hop has welcomed his r&b/hip-hop hybridity.
While previously, rappers like DMX were saying “Pull out the machete, hack off the limbs/ Bag up the pieces, wipe off the Timbs,” Drake is saying “I’m scared that every girl I care for/ Will find a better man and end up happier in the long run.” There’s something refreshing about music that appeals to everyone’s emotions in a way that seems almost brave. He may be the punch line of a lot of jokes, but album sales don’t lie. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late sold 495,000 copies in three days and debuted at the top of Billboard 200. Drake has proven he doesn’t have to conform to what the rap game has always been. He’s proud to be himself while also showing vulnerability that prevents him from coming across as conceited as Kanye.
It’s hard to categorize Drake as r&b when he is very clearly rapping with hip-hop beats, but our previous disassociation between hip-hop and emotionality makes everyone want to classify Drake in the same genre as Boyz II Men or Usher. Although like Usher, Drake uses his songs as his diary. Hip-hop has always been emotional, but tears came from rapping about past socio-economic struggles, family members, or fallen homies. Now, Drake is rapping about broken hearts and hurt egos.
Drake either has a huge ego or a tiny one. He’s always quick to laugh at himself and is always cool with being the butt of any joke. You can always expect to see an abundance of Drake memes whenever you are on Twitter but increasingly people are using Drake screenshots and quotes to describe their current emotional state. Although a lot of these jokes are posted ironically, the truth in them is obvious. A lot of teenage boys will post jokes about crying and Drake without feeling a shame to admitting the truth in their post. Those posts are a way of acknowledging that men have emotions without making it a huge deal to say so.
It’s such as easy concept but one rarely addressed in pop culture. Men have feelings. There’s a factualness that exists in song writing; you know that Drake is writing from personal experiences, not just from made-up exaggerations that can never be as interpreted as the truth, like in film.
Drake is the one-size-fits-all-artist. He’s appropriate for pre-club turning up, for laid back nights, or for crying and binge-eating after a break up. We’ve gotten to a point where we can take Drake semi-seriously, while still acknowledging that his music gives us the feels. Some could even say that Drake is the male Taylor Swift. If you hurt him, you can be sure he’s going to put it in a song.
The vulnerability of Drake has changed the game of hip-hop and also redefined what it means to be masculine in the hyper-aggressive culture of hip-hop. Emotional storytelling used to only exist in r&b but rappers like Drake make way for a new generation of people who don’t equate masculinity with detachment from emotions.
The verdict is still out on Drake’s likeability, but he does represent something great. Drake just wants to run through the six with his woes, and we’ve come to the place where we can agree that we really do know how that shit go.