Drake opts for sweaters over swagger

The backlash against Drake is not really about his music; it’s about rap fans growing old

What happens when rap fans grow old

CP; Getty Images; Reuters; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

In the beginning, there were the sweaters. So many sweaters—maybe as many as a thousand, by one count. There were stylish cardigans and colourful pullovers. Some were striped. One had an owl. But rarely did they ever zip up. “I don’t do zip-up,” the man himself told New York magazine. “Zip-up’s not really my thing.”

The backlash against Toronto rapper Drake, born Aubrey Graham, whose second studio album Take Care topped the Billboard charts in November and earned nearly universal acclaim—one prominent reviewer called it “the glue that binds together all of urban radio”—did not begin with his sweaters. But they make as good a place as any to dive in.

Drake enjoyed massive success after breaking out in 2009. But the hip-hop community never fully embraced him. Many still don’t. And that’s at least partially because of the image his sweaters helped build. More than music, hip hop is a culture, and Drake, a sweater-clad kid from upper-class Toronto, has never totally seemed a part of it.

In that, however, he is hardly unique. Today’s hip-hop world is more fractured and less singular than ever before. Artists from all over the world have bent the music to their own aims, and the culture has become a fluid hybrid of influences.

But Drake, for whatever reason, has become a magnet for a kind of reactionary rap music essentialism. For some fans—wedded to an older idea of what rap is or should be—he is everything hip hop isn’t, and for that he has inspired an almost endless series of everything-was-better-back-in-my-day attacks.

The criticism most often lobbed Drake’s way is that he is “soft,” that he lacks the edge of an earlier generation. This critique is at least partly biographical. Drake grew up in a good neighbourhood. He is Canadian and Jewish, and he became famous first for playing a wheelchair-bound teenager on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He is not, in other words, from the same world as N.W.A. or Tupac Shakur.

Since breaking into the mainstream, Drake has also refused to shy away from the stranger aspects of his personality. The sweaters are part of that. Since wearing a baggy Missoni number to the MTV Video Music Awards last August, the sweaters have become a legitimate thing. Interviewers ask about them. Blogs are dedicated to them. Drake even mocked them on Saturday Night Live. (He also has an obsession with smell. “[My] dream, my goal, is to form a fragrance-and-lifestyle line—like candles, incense, room spray,” he told one interviewer.)

That style—complicated and less aggressively masculine than traditional hip hop—bleeds into his music. On his albums, Drake is often introspective and emotional. His rapping sometimes drifts into song. Critics of his early work say he was a poor MC, that his rhymes were clunky and his delivery weak. There was some truth to those quibbles. But the main attacks against him aren’t about how he raps; they’re about what he raps about: romance, the downside of fame, how he’s feeling at any particular moment.

There is no doubt that Drake lacks the posture of an earlier era of hip hop. In a world where boasting is an art form, he can seem almost self-conscious; he undermines himself rather than let others do it for him. (That’s not to say he never boasts. His first line on Take Care’s first track is “I think I killed everybody in the game last year.”) But the fans who attack him for not having the required swagger are missing the point.

Drake is treading a well worn path. He is neither the first, nor even the most effective rapper to mix in R & B elements, or to undermine his own image. What the backlash against him proves more than anything else is that rap fans grow old, too. Hip-hop heads who hate Drake for what he is are no different from Rolling Stones fans who hated Led Zeppelin, Zeppelin fans who hated punk or punk fans who couldn’t stand Guns N’ Roses. They’re upset that their thing isn’t the thing anymore. In hip hop, Drake and other genre benders like Kanye West are. Even if it’s not entirely clear that what they’re doing is hip hop at all.

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Drake opts for sweaters over swagger

  1. Terrible article.  A lot of people who dig Kanye can’t stand Drake.  Why?  Drake can’t flow, his lyrics are wack, and his autotuned voice is annoying.  The comparison of the reaction of old hip hop heads to Drake with the reaction of Stones fans to Led Zeppelin is ridiculous.  Drake is more like the Beegees in this equation and the old heads are the people that hate disco.

    • Wow… Your name is serves you well, you are as dumb as “fuck”. The writer compares the impact of Drake versus Kanye not their fan base and if anything you prove the author correct with you knee jerk reaction to Drake’s flow which is a far departure from the old school flow. Anyone can pretend to be hard core and sell drugs but realvtalk is much harder.

      • Not as dumb as anyone who honestly believes that that kid has flow.  And anyone who thinks hip hop is about selling drugs is a complete moron.  Learn a little more  about hip hop and come back, son.

    • Drake will never be anywhere NEAR as important as the Bee Gees.  That said, the fact that you meant that comparison as an insult is reason enough for me to discount your opinion.

      • Beegees sucked, get over it

        • LOL

          You’re entitled to that opinion, of course.

          I think a more informed opinion is that the Bee Gees (as a collection of individuals, not just as the group) are more important to the history of popular music than Drake and Kanye COMBINED.

          • Yeah, the Beegees suck and so does Drake and so does Kanye.  Good point.

  2. Common is just petty.

    “I’m taking too long with this amateur guy/you ain’t wet nobody,n—a, you Canada Dry.”

    • In Common’s defence, that line is from a song that is a response to / remix of a Drake song which disses Common. (Which was, it’s true, in response to a Common song purported to dis Drake (though less explicitly)…)

      Such is rap…

      (I think there’s some animosity between them surrounding Serena Williams too, which probably shouldn’t be discounted when judging the relative pettiness of the feud…Dissing someone because you think they’re “too soft” may be petty, but what about dissing someone that you think is messing with your girl?)

  3. Drake isn’t rejected by hip hop heads for wearing sweaters, being soft, being a child-star, or his upper-middle class up-bringing.  Drake is rejected because his only talent is for picking decent beats, crafting lyrically mediocre songs, and using autotune.  He is not comparable to hip hop’s crop of raw talent and is only adulated by teenage girls, out-of-touch music critics, misguided nationalistic Canadians, and people who love his “safe” image.  Not only that, but he has started to claim a hard edge that he has no legitimate reason to claim i.e. rapping about catching bodies, tough-talking critics, and claiming that he would “beat the shit” out of a guy who called him the “softest m’fker in hip hop” and “some rnb goofnugget.”   So much for the clean-cut image.  Dude is mad corny.

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