Whether you like him or not, hip hop needs Drake. I know I know, he sings he raps hesingsheraps. And he has SO many feelingz??? (<--the Z tho.) It can be confusing for some. It can be annoying for many. Nonetheless, hip hop needs Drake. Now, obviously I would not make such a bold declaration without sound support of my thesis, but before I do, let it be known, I am as hip hop as it gets. I can quote GZA album cuts, my ringtone is Slum Village, Dilla produced "You Know What Love Is," I have signed copies o "Illmatic," "Do You Want More?!", "Reasonable Doubt," "Doggy Style," and "Only Built for Cuban Linx," Weezy gave me a personal tour of his house and art collection (OK that was just name-dropping) and I interviewed Kendrick before many of y'all even knew he existed. However, in the last five years, as the music has drastically changed and the culture becomes submerged in all swag everything, I have been desperately fighting to hold on to my love for hip hop. There are but a handful of millennial artists whose music has given gusto to that grip. Amongst them, Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, Big Krit, Wiz Khalifa, and yes, Drizzy aka That's an emotional dude aka * one hand moving while rapping* aka Drake. With his latest release, "Nothing Was the Same" it is clearer to me than ever Drake is essential to the maintaining of the boom bap. Here's why:
He brings new meaning to "real"
In hip hop "real" has always meant one who represents in actuality what they present in imagery. For instance, once upon a time, if a rapper spoke about being gangsta they needed to truly be that or they were "frontin." Well, with the invent of the Internet and sites like SmokingGun.com we've all learned that pretty much 80 percent of the rappers who were claimin "gangsta" were really just rapping about it and in actuality were too busy somewhere in a studio working on becoming rappers to even have time for gangsta ish! Drake however, claims to be...emotional. Yea, he puffs his chest out every so often but for the most part, he speaks on being a regular guy, who "started from the bottom," was on a teenage drama Degrassi, gets in fights/love his mom, didn't grow up in the hood, but associates with folks from it, and unabashedly SUCKS at relationships. In a world where reality TV is actually the furthest thing from reality and many people use social media to assume personas and a lifestyle they would LIKE to be rather than they actually are, hip hop, (and the world for that matter) the birthplace of "realness" needs as many examples of folks unafraid to be themselves, as possible. Drake ain't fake.
He puts together complete albums
So sad how the days of the complete have really dissolved. Albums like, "The Chronic", "Ready to Die", "Blueprint", Kanye's "College Dropout" trilogy, Kendrick's "Good kid Mad City" were so impactful because they left no stone unturned in making sure all the pieces came together in their sonic vision. You may not like every song, but every song has its purpose in the bigger picture of the project. That art is dying. There are only a handful of hip hop artists who are consistently dedicating themselves to making complete, fully thought out, albums as opposed to a bunch of "dope" "hot" "poppin" songs gathered together in one place. It is important to note that Drake's producer Noah "40" Shebib has handcrafted the MC's sound creating a consistency throughout his work. The song concepts and beats vary, yet still have a common thread and seamlessness. On "Nothing Was the Same" Drake does this even more successfully than on previous projects and helps to keep the hip hop album as a narrative vehicle as opposed to just a dumping ground for hyped up studio sessions alive!
He can actually rhyme
From the beginning with "So Far Gone," Drake's work has been to find a way to deftly balance his singing and his rapping. Unlike some who may just color their music with some melodies (Mos Def, Wiz Khalifa, etc.) He really really does sing! Yet it doesn't take away from the fact that he really can actually rhyme! In many cases one skill is always substantially greater than the other but Drake has managed to find that deftness. And thank goodness because, the current hip hop landscape leaves much to be desired in the way of lyricism. Once upon a time it actually mattered that you had creativity in the quips coloring your cadence and well, cadence. Now it has become the norm that simple is fine and flow is unnecessary. And in the event there is flow, let's be real, far too often they're saying nothing. I appreciate Drake's dedication to flow, his uncanny ability to say what he's thinking through that flow, and to also pen clever lines that remind you he too his a hip hop head regardless of the r&b flava.
His work is thought out and intentional
Which brings me to content. What separates MCs from "those who rap" and icons from folks that used to be rappers, is that among other things (charisma, originality, creativity) there is actual substance in their music. It is purposeful in a particular way that listeners can attach and relate to which evolves fans into supporters. Fans may be around for the hoopla but supporters are down for the ride. Because they connect to your work as an extension of themselves make the ride, their ride as well. Whether you like it or not, all the Marvinsrooming, and girl you know ______________, and just blatant venting Drake does on wax, feels genuine. It feels real. Thus, folks don't just band wagon it they see themselves inside it. They go through it with him because they have or are going through it themselves. They give it life with their own and that is what keeps it breathing and that is what keeps the artist afloat after the novelty has worn off and that is what makes classics and builds legends and creates Icons. Hip hop needs that. It needs creativity and originality and even swag but more than anything it is the substance and intention that makes this more than music but culture.
So that's that! Love him or hate him, whether you think is song substance is too mushy, his albums boring, his rhymes too infrequent, or his realness too "real love" I believe Drake is here to stay because in the culture of hip hop he has his own niche, style, and voice that consistently and with quality speaks to and for so many! As hip hop becomes over saturated with mediocrity, an artist like him plays an essential roll in the starting lineup. What do you think? Is Drake as essential to hip hop as Jordans and 808s or is he a sad sap thorn in its side? Leave it in the comments!
-See my segment "Dating Drake, based on "Nothing was the Same" on the ep4 the latest taste of my web show "Things I Learned this Week" over at TILThisWeek.com