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THE DRIZZLY PHENOMENON

 

By Wilfredo Gomez

 

Monday, November 1, 2010.

Lookin down from the top and it’s crowded below/my fifteen minutes started an hour ago--Drake “Fireworks”

On Wednesday, September 29, 2010, I made my way to New York City from the City of brotherly and sister love. I had readily anticipated this date for months on end and it had finally arrived. The occasion: Drake! The place: New York City, Mecca for superstardom and hip-hop history. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere…right? I had gone to New York City to see the phenomenon for myself. While my colleague Marc Lamont Hill has expressed his dislike for Drake with his heavily circulated “
I Hate Drake. There, I Said It,” I can speak for myself in stating matter of fact that I am a Drake fan and have been since he’d been doing his thing on the mixtape circuit with the release of his critically acclaimed So Far Gone.

At a minimum I had to go to New York to see one of my new favorites, along with Beyond Belief, STS, PacDiv, and others later on in the same night. But on the other hand, I had gone to New York with the curiosity of a serious hip-hop head. I wanted to know: so what exactly is this Drake phenomenon? How serious is it? Does he put on a good show? Is he the real deal live? All of these questions, and I patiently waiting.

Even before the show, the energy and excitement, was real, very real. A brief introduction and words shared with Toure, let me know that the event was something not to be missed as FUSE would be recording the show and airing at a later date. Once I got to my seat, the anxiety of those around me was palpable. Questions and statements came in constant barrages: “What’s the first song gonna be?” “Do you think Jay-Z is gonna come out?” “I heard he ends the show with “Over.” “I wonder who the special guests are going to be.” All of this, and the show hadn’t started. The audience was consistently tinkering on the edge of falling out of their seats waiting for the show to begin.

Drake opened the show with “9Am in Dallas” a song, Drake himself wishes would have served as the introduction to his debut album Thank Me Later. From the outset, several things are clearly evident. Drake is the rebirth of the slick, so to speak, a digable planet digested and palatable because we, the viewing public, and presumably fans feel what Drake is feeling at that moment. Drake is not invested in the contested politics of transcendence. By this, I mean to suggest that unlike Rick Ross he does not think himself as organized crime bosses Big Meech or Larry Hoover. Neither does he take the lead of hip-hop luminaries like Jay-Z and Nas, who have at one point in their respective careers refashioned themselves as Jay Hova and God’s Son.

 

Drake is the epitome of a hustler’s ambition turned hustler’s emotional rollercoaster. In a calculated move towards the mainstream, Drake embraces a racial sincerity and performative identity that moves towards the call for humanity as the man nicknamed “Drizzy” (famously dubbed such by mentor Lil Wayne) becomes the Aubrey Graham who some of us followed during his days on television on Degrassi.

Drake is transforming the way we understand emcees, an artist whose credibility is rooted in the musical mélange of emotional vulnerability and braggadocio. His foray into audiobiography, are less rooted in the cultural scripts on industry insider-ism, a so-departure from the hypermasculine black male identity that seems to plague all emcee’s regardless of what their class and racial backgrounds are.

 

His attention to emotional interiority undermines traditional notions of masculinity in hip-hop by affording the artist a sense of transparency. This particular brand of artistic transparency is sorely lacking when thinking about the commercial viability of the next great thing to come out of hip-hop culture at large. Perhaps, it is possible to read into his upcoming project, a R&B mixtape and first single appropriately titled Its Never Enough and “I Get Lonely too,” as offering further insights into this matter.

In the cultural imagination and historical memory that is hip-hop, modern debates of style over substance tend to be featured prominently on your airwaves and TV screens. As evidenced from his frequent facial expressions, mood swings, and propensity for kneeling, Drake comes across as an artist whose anxiety and human frailty manifests itself in a simultaneous call towards audience approval and audience forgiveness. This duality not only finds a perfect match in the rapper, who doubles as an R&B crooner, it seems to superficially, albeit momentarily resolve the dilemma raised in Bryon Hurt’s celebrated
Beyond Beats and Rhymes, by finding a substantive balance between Drake, the performer, and Aubrey Graham, the man who pens his lyrics.

 

It is within this capacity that Drake represents a new trope within hip-hop, an antithesis of sorts, a creative corpus that counters Lil Wayne’s sentiments about not being a human being! Through Drake’s presence in the mainstream, we have found a way to wax poetic on the gauntlet of human emotions that render us, vulnerable, overwhelmed, humbled, arrogant, and at times something other than our “true” selves. The cultural and generational amnesia that consumes us is present and packaged in the emo-rapper, a paradigm of the imaginative possible impossibilities of [brown male] life.

Nowhere is this more evident than when reflecting on the “
Left of Black” episode, featuring Duke University’s Professor Mark Anthony Neal, and spoken word poet and soon to be Princeton doctoral student Joshua Bennett. At a minimum, Drake, his music, stage presence, and ability to clearly move the crowd effectively deconstructs the politics of cool, suggesting that there is a space from which one can contest notions of the street hustler turned hustler of scrabble and video games.

Joined by the likes of Trey Songz, Swizz Beats, Birdman, Jay-Z, it is evident that Drake doesn’t lack credibility in the hip-hop game. His commitment to his craft, regardless of his infamous “Blackberry freestyle,” his ability to move the crowd, his ability to evoke a range of emotions from audience members while also having his own self-reflexive moments speaks volumes.

 

By explicitly invoking the memories of Marvin Gaye, Ol’ Dirty Bastard(Wu-Tang), and Aaliyah, Drake has a sense of history and his place in the pop culture pantheon of those greats and those who never got the chance to rock the mic. To be clear, there is no miseducation of Drake from which to speak of. Dare we say, that he does R&B and hip-hop like no artist since Lauryn Hill? That has yet to be proven, as Drake’s fifteen minutes of fame started an hour ago. But if this claim turns out to be truthful, please be sure to thank me later!

 

With thanks to New Black Man

 

Wilfredo Gomez is a Doctoral Student in Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

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