Drake is clearly the most divisive figure in Hip Hop today.
And I’m trying to figure out why.
Now the easy answer is folks just ain’t feeling his music. But I’m not convinced. I know so many Hip Hop fans that really just don’t like Drake. By that I mean the very idea of Drake. Half white. Canadian. Middle class. Kinda clean-cut. Child actor. Always crooning. And pouting. And emo and shit. He’s almost the exact opposite of what our concept of an emcee has always been.
And that’s what’s so interesting about him. Like it or not, he’s breaking the mold. And he’s winning.
So don’t fight the feeling. And get comfortable.
Because Drake is coming into his own; and he’s about to go to the next level.
And here’s why…
Drizzy’s most engaging quality is his knack for melody. Most emcees struggle with melodies, often enlisting others to provide the melodic component to their songs. But Drake doesn’t need an R&B singer to provide his hooks. He’s like a self-contained hit-making machine. Lil Wayne’s “She Will” is completely unremarkable without Drake; he provides a hook that perfectly underscores the dark, sexy, faintly malevolent core of the track. He’s the centerpiece of the song.
In tandem with his melodic skills are his abilities as a songwriter. Guys like Jay-Z and T.I. are lyricists; they write rhymes, which makes them songwriters by default. But Drake is a real songwriter. Remember that really good Alicia Keys song, “Unthinkable;” basically the only really good song off her last album? Yeah, Drake wrote that. The melody, the lyrics; he wrote that whole song. How many emcees are capable of this kind of songcraft?
And contrary to baseless popular opinion, Drake is an engaging and unique emcee. He’s no Eminem, but over-the-top wordplay is not a prerequisite for being a rapper. Emceeing is about style, charisma and clarity. Drizzy has these in spades, people.
His style is easy to sleep on because it’s unconventional. He smartly imbues his verses with strong melodies, deftly shifting from a standard rap flow to a tuneful, memorable sung-rapped hybrid. He drops these moments like sonic anchors into the minds of his listeners, cleverly ensuring that there’s at least a few bars in his verses that they’ll easily remember.
The best example of how Drake is out-stylin’ everybody in the game right now is “I’m On One,” that DJ Khaled posse cut from earlier this year. It features Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, both equally forgettable, and a dazzling double-duty performance from Drake. His opening verse is his best use of this sung-rapped hybrid style to date. Midway through, his verse ramps up to a fever pitch, before bottoming out into a hard-edged-yet-melodic chorus. Like the above-mentioned “She Will,” Drake completely dominates this track.
Then astoundingly, dude flips the the song entirely with the internet track “Trust Issues;” slowing down the chorus from “I’m On One,” and switching up its tone by detailing with brutal honesty the paranoia and isolation that comes with sudden fame.
Leading up to the November 15th release of his new album Take Care, Drake has dropped one free track after another, from legit singles like “Marvin’s Room,” “Headlines,” and the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Make Me Proud,” to darker cuts like “Club Paradise,” the aforementioned “Trust Issues,” and “Free Spirit.” Every single one of these tracks are fantastic, and none of them give an inch to mainstream radio formats or silly, Gaga-esque, euro-house-dance music.
In other words, this guy is a real artist. And he’s on a roll.
His problematic qualities are those mentioned at the beginning of this piece; mainly his background and his subject matter. Which I care very little about, in all honesty. He’s never lied about who is and where he’s from. Hip Hop is about telling your story; Drake’ story isn’t everyone’s, but he tells it with sincerity and honesty. He’s no phony.
Now, Drake’s obviously not alone. J. Cole has serious promise, as do guys like Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa. But none of them have come into their own yet.
And C’mon! Are any of them really fuckin ’with Drizzy right now?
I doubt it.