Paul Thompson prefers The Drake over Drake’s Coffee Cakes
Have you seen that old video of Drake in his childhood home? The one where he reads a fan letter that claims young Aubrey could “complete the trifecta of great African-American actors, with Sidney Poitier and Denzel”? (He “never got a chance” to respond to the letter.) Where he sits in his Audi and calls Mercedes owners “pretentious”, then raps (in an unaffected Ontario baritone, not the nasally Southern drawl) “And the Benz got bump, forreal”?
That’s the problem with Drake. It’s not that he’s “soft”—it’s that he’s always play-acting. It’s not the whining or the simping or the rampant misogyny masquerading as cute text messages. The problem with Drake is that nearly everything he expresses on wax—at least in the last handful of years—is a facsimile of something else he thinks is cool. You shouldn’t hate Drake for claiming he’s a fan of the hottest team on Basketball Twitter; you can hate there is no struggle, no loyalty, no identity to his co-signs. How many Raptors games did he watch between the McGrady-Carter years and lint rollergate? How many Blue Jays games has Drake watched after Memorial Day? I don’t mind that Drake isn’t an underdog; I mind that underdogs aren’t a part of his worldview.
Over the weekend, Drake unceremoniously dumped his drafts folder into the universe, and we might be worse for it. The three songs were supposedly cut from his upcoming Views From The 6, an album about Toronto that no one from Toronto will recognize by name. (This is where I would make a Nazem Kadri joke.) Drake stressed that they are not an EP, just a few cuts that “hackers” had got their hands on; still, there are twelve-and-a-half minutes of new Drake that someone has to process. I did that; I am through to the other side, and sadly, I hope you ain’t have to go through that.
“Heat of the Moment”, which is a Drake song’s actual title and not a joke, maybe tries to take up arms for misunderstood millennials? Aubrey gets halfway to his falsetto and opens “All the school kids are so sick of books and learning/They don’t read anymore…they don’t even read anymore.” There are shots at “All the cops still hanging out at the donut shops” (#politicaldrake). He tells a girl “I wish we had met while I was in my teens/…Nowadays I only know conditional love”, which is very deep and not at all something a teenager would think.
There is, to be fair, something going on under the surface; “I don’t wanna think about that right now” and all its variants are fixtures in songwriting for a reason. But this is not how you do hedonism. “Heat of the Moment” is too slow to make it into rotation at any respectable clubs or house parties, but the haunting negative space from “Marvin’s Room” or “The Ride” is nowhere to be found. It’s drab but busy; “Who am I gonna be when it’s all done?” reads less rhetorical than it should. Ultimately, this song was written on an iPhone by a sad-looking boy at a loft party as it was winding down. Probably on a balcony.
Speaking of millennial-filled loft parties, the next three you attend will play “How Bout Now” three times each. Boi-1da spry, spacey beat kills, and Mr. Graham is certainly not as listless here as he is on “Heat”. But a few weeks ago, I wrote about Drake and his disciples’ tendency toward faceless women in their lyrics; “How But Now” drives home the point that this is not only a political problem, but a creative one. For half a decade now, Drake has been pledging his devotion to the current girl, who isn’t like any of the other girls. At this point, it rings too hollow—why are you deleting all the other girls’ numbers out your phone for her, Drake? Why is she—or at least why are your feelings for her—unique, new, interesting? For most emcees, writing in the second person is reserved for battling the invisible wack rappers; it’s Aubrey’s default, and that’s okay. It makes his verses feel pointed and personal, and it’s undoubtedly one reason he’s so massively popular. But what happens when the ‘you’s become interchangeable?
(This is also the song wherein Drake laments that a girl has “always been Daddy’s little angel/I bought your dad a bunch of shit for Christmas, he didn’t even say thank you”, which is the fundamental misunderstanding of Christmas shared by the villain in the first two acts of every Lifetime movie. Thank god he was “man enough to tell you I was hurt that year.” Who would have known?)
The egregious cut, though, is “6 God”. Vocal tics are en vogue, and not just in the theatrical way Wayne used them in the middle of the last decade. Future, Rich Homie Quan, Yung Thug—you are supposed to growl and squeal and sound bad in job interviews. Unfortunately, Drake isn’t Sidney Poitier. “Worst Behavior” failed because, though it’s formally solid, sports a great DJ Dahi beat, and is just gritty enough to make radio sound dangerous, it’s impossible to buy with Drake on the vocals. If you are the guy who blew up with “Best I Ever Had”, you can’t reverse course and drop the last consonants in all your words. You cannot sell that, no matter how it’s packaged. “6 God” falls into the same traps.
Alternately dragging out and clipping syllables, Drake promises to “hit you with the work”, raps like he bought an ODB costume for Halloween and thinks can pass. When he chides you for being “too worried ‘bout the bitches”, it’s not the duality of the human spirit or whatever, it’s just Drake being a clumsy, cloying loser who will say whatever he thinks you want to hear. The lack of self-awareness is thorough and impressive—how can you assert how “hot” things are in your city when your reports come via “phone calls back home”? Even when he’s in control of the narrative, Drake comes off out of touch. Then, you know, he talks about his black Benz—he “already had the Rolls Royce”, and “a couple Bentleys” are just his “old toys”. Isn’t that pretentious?