Without question, Drake has enjoyed remarkable success as a rapper. Even from his arrival on the hip-hop scene, he has been well-received by most people and has proven to be a phenomenal talent who cannot be ignored. Although Drake introduced himself to hip-hop fans beginning in 2006 through mixtapes, it was the release of his third official mixtape, So Far Gone (2009), that began to lead him to greater success and larger exposure to a national and international audience. Before hip-hop music fans had an opportunity to listen to Drake’s first official studio album, Thank Me Later (2010), many of them were already in love with him and his songs from So Far Gone, especially “Successful” and “Best I Ever Had.” We were seeing and hearing him featured on a number of artists’ songs. It seemed like his presence was ubiquitous. His two official studio albums, Thank Me Later and Take Care (2011) have engendered tremendous sales and achieved numerous honors.
Artists have an understanding that everyone will not like them and their work. What is particularly interesting about a significant percentage of people who don’t like Drake and his music is their reasons for disliking of him and his music. Many of Drake’s critics viciously attack him because they perceive him as being “soft.” They negatively critique him for not being masculine enough and not exhibiting many of the hyper-masculine characteristics and qualities they have come to idolize about gangsta rappers. I call these critics “hyper-masculine critics” because they are hyper-masculine men and/or women and men who embrace hyper-masculinity and desire to impose hyper-masculinity on Drake and other artists. The overwhelming majority of Drake’s hyper-masculine critics are African American.
In Drake: Take Care, David Amidon unveils how he immediately responded to hearing Drake’s Thank Me Later. He refers to Drake as being “soft” because he sometimes elects to mix his rapping with singing. What’s so “soft” about a man electing to sing? One has to wonder what the would think about artists like Usher and Brian McKnight who only sing and don’t rap. Are they extremely “soft” because they only sing? The answer, of course, is no. Hyper-masculine critics simply evince an unwillingness to be rational.
On Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and sundry other public spaces, hyper-masculine critics contend that Drake is not a “real” rapper because he has not lived the life of a “real” rapper. Drake was reared in an affluent neighborhood in Toronto, Canada, and many other rappers grew up in abject poverty. Hyper-masculine critics want to penalize Drake for not growing up facing impoverished conditions. They seem to think his middle class to upper-middle class upbringing disqualifies him from being a real rapper, considering they appear to think growing up in poverty is a prerequisite for being a real rapper.
When did there become a class or income prerequisite for being a genuine rapper? Does Drake have to rap about selling and using drugs, gang violence, murder, and/or other criminal activities to be considered an authentic rapper? He certainly does not. Gangsta rap is not the ideal form of rap music. One does not have to be a gangsta rapper to be a true rapper. One’s masculinity is not proven by how many drugs he can sell or how many people he can kill. One’s masculinity can be demonstrated better by the power of his intellect. When listening to Drake’s music, an individual has an opportunity to witness a rapper devoted to his craft, rather than someone trying to live up to a destructive hyper-masculine image.
Moreover, hyper-masculine critics seem to debar Drake from being considered a real rapper because of his racial composition: he has a black father and white mother. Seriously? After black people have had and continue to suffer from the devastating realities of slavery and the brutal legacy of Jim Crow laws, there should not be a single black person who has any desire to deny anyone from anything simply based on race. Rap music is inclusive—not exclusive. What’s interesting is many of these same critics warmly receive Eminem, who is white, of course, as a legitimate rapper. Eminem’s racial composition does not seem to bother many hyper-masculine critics as Drake’s does.
Even a distinguished professor like Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, whom I deeply respect, went so far to say he “hates” Drake in “Marc Lamont Hill Would Not Be Considered a Drake Fan.” When one reads this aforementioned piece, he or she discovers that Dr. Hill does not give any meaningful reasons to “hate” Drake. He also is guilty of creating hyper-masculine standards for being considered a “real” rapper. Dr. Hill is not willing to admit that he sees any of Drake’s great intellect reflected in his music. He is, however, willing to see the great intellect of those hyper-masculine rappers he praises in the article.
Many of Drake’s critics simply don’t like him because he’s not afraid to be himself. It’s truly shameful that many of his critics will not allow him to be himself, and they’re unwilling to see any rapper who is not hyper-masculine as a “real” rapper. While they continue to hate on Drake, he continues to amass a larger and larger bank account. Even for those who legitimately dislike Drake’s music, they shouldn’t assert that he’s not a real rapper. He, like any other artists who say that he or she is real rapper, is a real rapper. We can judge whether a rapper is good or poor at rapping, but we shouldn’t posit that they are not real rappers. It’s quite pompous to think only rappers who meet certain standards are real rappers.
–Antonio Maurice Daniels
Antonio Maurice Daniels is a Research Associate and Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis (ELPA) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He blogs regularly for his cultural commentary blog, Revolutionary Paideia. His works have been featured widely in academic publications and for popular online publications, including The Fresh Xpress, Mused Magazine, Up 4 Discussion, From Ashy to Classy, The Black Man Can, Healthy Black Men Magazine, and etc. Follow him on Twitter at @paideiarebel.