Written by Sophie Milrom, illustration by Charlotte Fassler.
Kanye is a god, but Drake is the man.
I would estimate that roughly 65% of the music I’ve listened to this past month was by Drake. Not since my love affair with Kanye West’s College Dropout album have I been so compulsively loyal to one artist when it comes time to unwind, exercise, or have a dance party with my best friend (and occasionally my Swiffer wetjet).
This past weekend I was at a barbecue where an acquaintance told me that he too has been on a Drake binge. Apparently this obsession led him to visit Aubrey Drake Graham’s Wikipedia page, according to which no other rap artist has had more number one singles on the Billboard charts. I didn’t believe him.
Hip-hop has been my music genre of choice for many years. Having been a very devoted Kanye West fan for almost a decade, I found it hard to believe that in such a short time Drake has had more chart-toppers than Yeezy or even his BFF, Hova (of course we are on a nickname basis), but lo and behold, it’s true.
I kind of hoped that Drake’s fast-tracked success was attributable to him having had a bar mitzvah, since I would then also have that leg up. But as I bounced through the aisles of CVS yesterday mouthing the words to The Motto, I had an epiphany about the secret sauce recipe for Drake’s popularity: he produces low common denominator rap.
At many a dinner party I have referred to Kan-the-Louis-Vuitton-Don as the greatest artist of our generation. His lyrics never cease to impress me; however, I can’t necessarily relate to them. As a Jewish girl from New Jersey studying for law school finals, “my girl a superstar all from a home movie” just doesn’t resonate. So sue me.
Yet Drake’s songs are nothing if not relatable. “Started at the bottom now we here” applies to many of my friends who went from unpaid fashion/journalism interns to salaried employees with health benefits. Everyone has – or thinks they have – overcome something and can believe that vanilla-flavored chorus is about them.
Then there’s “I might be too strung out on compliments, overdosed on confidence,” speaking to any Gen-Y’er who gets a surprising number of likes on a selfie. And though “you hate being alone and you ain’t the only one” is almost painfully generic, a collaboration with Rihanna was probably more of a commercial than artistic endeavor anyway.
Realistically, how could any artist come up with something catchier than YOLO, which Drake is credited to have popularized? Not since Quintus Horatius Flaccus said, “carpe diem” before the common era has a motto disseminated so widely*. Even Yeezus, a self-proclaimed god, might admit that bar is set high.
In his music, North West’s dad touches on some of the hardest-to-articulate human emotions: creative frustration, fear of intimacy, despair, redemption, and the pleasure of balling too hard at the mall using your “African American Express.” For better or worse, his language is complex, layered and sometimes esoteric.
Take My Dark Twisted Fantasy for example. In my humble opinion, it should be canonized as the greatest album of this decade. But “this is so me” seems to sell better than “this is so profound,” and, alas, none of its singles were hits**. That is almost as atrocious as Taylor Swift beating Beyoncé for best female video. Almost.
I don’t mean to play favorites. Appreciating one of these artists is certainly not mutually exclusive of enjoying the other. I’m a fan of both. They suit me for different reasons and at various times, and this analysis doesn’t come down to more than a comparison of apples and oranges. Or kale and chocolate. I’ll let you decide who is kale.
Please note: in 2004, Kanye himself explained that “you can rap about anything except for Jesus.” The same rules more or less apply to bar mitzvah speeches, so Drake may have had a head start when he learned that lesson at 13. Thus, my original theory wasn’t totally off base.
*Credit to Amelia Diamond who first compared Carpe Diem to YOLO
** My Dark Twisted Fantasy did get critical acclaim: 5 stars from Rolling Stone and 10.0 from Pitchfork