Drake is more popular than ever. His most recent album, Nothing Was The Same, is expected to hit number one on the Billboard charts, with the second-highest first week sales of the year, behind only Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience. He was just appointed “Global Ambassador” of his hometown Toronto Raptors, becoming the face of the Raptors’ brand overhaul and Toronto’s hosting of the 2016 NBA All Star Weekend. He was schmoozing it up on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, wearing an ugly shirt and playing charades with Scarlett Johansson. He’s probably the biggest star in hip-hop right now.
But how did that happen? How did Aubrey Graham, a half-black, half-Jew raised in upper-class Toronto and formerly most well-known for playing a wheelchair-bound teenager on the soapy TV drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, suddenly become the face of hip-hop?
I hate the word “millennial” and think that it comes with a lot of unfair stereotypes, but as with most stereotypes, there is some underlying truth to the perception of our generation. Millennials, commonly ranging from current teenagers to those in their early thirties, are typically described as self-centered and addicted to broadcasting their every thought on social media. Now, that obviously isn’t true of everyone, and social media use isn’t even necessarily a bad thing, but the relatively recent phenomenon of sharing our lives on social media has drastically changed the world as we know it.
Drake’s music exemplifies many of the worst stereotypical characteristics of millennials. He laments his relatively good life, complaining about things that most of us would kill to have. He’s emotionally immature, and unnecessarily brings his petty bitterness over his past relationships right out into the open, talking about his exes and slandering the opposite sex more than Taylor Swift at a slumber party. He’s ignorant of the history before him, rapping about Wu-Tang Clan like he just heard of them a few months ago. I thought Earl Sweatshirt’s biting of the “New Wu” sample for the last track of his album was a bad move, but Drake’s butchering of the classic “C.R.E.A.M.” hook on “Pound Cake” and the complete atrocity that is “Wu-Tang Forever” were truly disrespectful, to the point that Inspectah Deck felt the need to criticize him on Twitter (but the Clan is still apparently doing a remix of “Wu-Tang Forever” because twenty years later, cash still rules everything around us).
Drake is basically a caricaturized millennial, the type of person all of these “back in my day” Baby Boomers say is ruining our society, but on an even grander scale due to his popularity. However, in reality, he’s not really dangerous at all. He’s annoying and lame, sure, but ultimately pretty harmless; he’s that Facebook friend who fills up your newsfeed with statuses, that guy who constantly reblogs inspirational love quotes on Tumblr, that dude in class that can’t stop texting his girlfriend. He has to talk about his accomplishments and his failures alike, telling everyone that he “started from the bottom, now we here”, but also that he’s “the furthest thing from perfect”. Drake even has two consecutive songs on his album titled “Connect” and “The Language”, illustrating the strong needs he has for expression, communication, and attention. We all know people like this, oversharing their lives, craving emotional attention, desperate for anyone to listen to their musings on any given thing happening at the time. Listening to Nothing Was The Same evokes many of the same feelings that reading a lonely teenage girl’s Tumblr does, but we don’t go around calling those blog posts “art”.
The thing about Drake and other millennials that exhibit these negative stereotypes is that they’ll most likely grow out of this behavior and eventually realize that nobody truly cares that much about their every thought and feeling, just like how every generation throughout history has transformed from self-absorbed kids into conscious adults. They’ll be more aware of the world around them, be more concerned about society, and be less obsessed with their individual personal lives. Just by seeing the huge changes in how my own friends and I have altered how we use social media and express ourselves from middle school to college, it is clear that people will naturally pick up on this stuff as they grow older and wiser. Drake also seems to have grown up a bit, both as a rapper and a person, since his truly awful 2011 album Take Care. His flows are some of the most inventive in the game right now, bringing unique styles on “rags”-to-riches anthem “Started From The Bottom”, the ridiculously braggadocious “The Language”, and the heartfelt “Too Much” (not to mention his verse on the remix of Migos’ “Versace”, by far Drake’s best work to date). In particular, “Too Much” is a very mature, well thought out expression of how his current star status is negatively affecting him and his family, and shows how one can rap about emotional subjects in an artful manner.
Unfortunately, a great deal of this album is still Drake largely acting like an emotionally soft dude half-singing, half-rapping, and half-crying about some girl that ignored his love notes or some high school bully that shoved him down the stairs, and trying to make the world all sunshine and ponies. On “Connect”, Drake actually says “Wish you would learn to learn to love people and use things, and not the other way around,” which sounds like something he saw written in bubbly script handwriting over a poorly filtered photograph of a sunset on Pinterest. The eight tracks spanning from “Wu-Tang Forever” to “305 to My City” are nearly unlistenable, save for his rapping on “The Language” and soon-to-be breakout star Jhene Aiko’s singing on “From Time” (don’t even get me started on “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, which would be a great song for, like, Solange, but makes Drake seem like Lionel Richie with a silkier shirt). Honestly, the only way I could get through the middle of the album was to imagine Degrassi characters being involved in the plots of his stories. I bet Ashley was super jealous of Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree.
Despite his shortcomings, Drake, at only 26 years old, is the face of hip-hop, and one of the biggest stars in the music industry today. He is also building up an empire, and his role with the Raptors is very similar to his mentor Jay-Z’s role in the rebranding of the Brooklyn Nets (Jay-Z’s verse on “Pound Cake”, it must be said, was terrible, as he literally just talked about cake and made me visualize him eating an actual cake while recording his verse). Drake’s goal is to become a global icon, and it looks like he’s on his way to accomplishing that. But it’s clear that, like many other millennials, he still has some growing up to do.