MU­SIC Drake world

An­wen Craw­ford on Drake

The Monthly (Australia) - - NEWS -

For all his short­com­ings, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine con­tem­po­rary pop sans Drake. Drake is fake, sug­gests Google’s au­to­com­plete func­tion, and I think to my­self, Not this again. Drake is 225,000,000 search re­sults. Drake is 10 bil­lion streams on Spo­tify, a num­ber that ex­ceeds the cur­rent hu­man pop­u­la­tion of the planet. Fake doesn’t en­ter into it; one might as well de­clare that the in­ter­net is fake. Some­times I won­der if Drake is the in­ter­net. Drake is memes. Drake is Ap­ple Mu­sic. Drake is a re­ac­tion GIF that stands up and claps when some­body posts some­thing right­eous on Twit­ter, a thing that hap­pens ev­ery day. “What do you see when you see me?” Drake asks on his song ‘Lose You’, and I want to an­swer: Drake, I see you ev­ery day. I look for ev­i­dence that Drake ex­ists be­yond the in­ter­net but I have to search for that ev­i­dence on the in­ter­net and so it eludes me. Where else would I look for Drake, though? Drake’s 2017 “playlist” More Life – an al­bum in ev­ery sense bar Drake’s re­luc­tance to call it one – is not avail­able on any phys­i­cal for­mat. Drake has re­leased four of­fi­cial stu­dio al­bums, be­gin­ning with Thank Me Later (2010), and five mix­tapes; let’s con­sider More Life as an al­bum and call it even.

When Drake pleads, he sings, and when he com­plains, he raps.

More Life has 22 songs, of which ‘Lose You’ is prob­a­bly only the 14th best. It is a record that holds in bal­ance Drake’s rul­ing modes, melan­choly and pique; when one threat­ens to dom­i­nate, the other comes swerv­ing in again. I think that More Life is my al­bum of the year but I feel dopey ad­mit­ting it, like I should have tried harder. Drake is ubiq­ui­tous. Drake is self-ev­i­dent. Drake is 31 years old, ap­par­ently, though his in­di­vid­ual ex­is­tence is less con­vinc­ing and ul­ti­mately less in­ter­est­ing than the sim­u­lacra of Drake. I think that Drake called More Life a playlist and not an al­bum be­cause “playlist” im­plies a thing you can keep run­ning in the back­ground, with­out mind­ing how many times you’ve al­ready heard it. Drake’s best songs hardly ex­ist, which has ev­ery­thing to do with why they’re so easy to keep lis­ten­ing to. (Drake’s worst songs, on the other hand, are te­diously in­sis­tent.) Take, for in­stance, ‘Blem’, which, of the songs on More Life, I would rank num­ber one. ‘Blem’ is a ma­chine kick drum and a bass syn­the­siser, nei­ther of which mark the full four beats in any bar. ‘Blem’ is a hi-hat pat­tern in dou­ble time and a sil­very syn­the­siser like morn­ing mist, or – given that “blem” is slang for “high” – like the curl of smoke in a room. “Not a lot of chords, not a lot of mu­sic,” ob­served the song’s pro­ducer T-Mi­nus, which is per­fect, be­cause it means that Drake can carry on un­in­ter­rupted with the task of be­ing Drake. “Don’t switch on me / I got big plans,” he pleads on ‘Blem’. Drake is al­ways plead­ing, un­less he’s com­plain­ing; even his boasts, which are fre­quent, sound like com­plaints. Drake has a habit of blam­ing the re­la­tion­ship trou­bles he com­plains about (Drake is dat­ing, sug­gests Google) on the woman to whom the song is ad­dressed. He makes these at­tri­bu­tions of blame sound like ad­vice. “I need you to stop run­ning back to your ex / He’s a waste­man,” Drake pleads, again. Waste­man is Ja­maican pa­tois for a loser. Drake is not Ja­maican. When Drake pleads, he sings, and when he com­plains, he raps, and so it hap­pens that he tends to both sing and rap in nearly all of his songs; a sim­ple com­bi­na­tion, re­ally, though no one did it much – at least not in the main­stream – be­fore Drake came along. The late Gil Scott-Heron did it, way back be­fore rap was even a genre, and Drake sam­pled Scott-Heron on what is still his sin­gle best song, ‘Take Care’, from his 2011 al­bum of the same name. ‘Take Care’ also fea­tures Ri­hanna, with whom Drake has re­port­edly con­ducted an on-and-off ro­mance over the course of sev­eral years. (‘Blem’ may be ad­dressed to her.) On ‘Take Care’ they keep singing past each other, and I think it’s be­cause the song’s drums, while more present than on ‘Blem’, in­clude al­most no snare, so that the singers’ re­spec­tive en­treaties for the other to trust them hang in­side a cav­ernous space where those sen­ti­ments can­not find pur­chase. The song be­comes about a mu­tual in­abil­ity to re­main in place, which would also mean re­main­ing vul­ner­a­ble. Scott-Heron’s griz­zled voice, sam­pled from a remix of his 2010 cover of the Brook Ben­ton song ‘I’ll Take Care of You’, lends age, and grav­i­tas. ‘Take Care’ is – so far – my favourite pop song of this decade. Drake sets his var­i­ous pleas to lovely vo­cal melodies, but you wouldn’t say that he has a great voice. Drake has a Drake voice. Once you’ve heard it, you can’t mis­take it – he has a cer­tain nasal­ity of tone – but you’d be hard-pressed to re­mem­ber it if Drake was only singing in the sub­way. Drake is worth US$90 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Forbes magazine. A lot of that money comes from tour­ing. Drake tours Aus­tralia this month: a gen­eral ad­mis­sion ticket within shout­ing dis­tance of the stage will set you back more than $400, which is no longer an un­usual price to pay for the priv­i­lege of at­tend­ing a con­cert by an A-list per­former. “Long as the out­come is in­come,” Drake once rapped, while boast­ing – and also com­plain­ing – about his tax bracket. Drake’s voice is as or­di­nary as tax.

Drake is a canny lis­tener. He gave Ken­drick La­mar a guest spot on Take Care – the same al­bum on which he com­plained about his tax bracket – be­fore any­one was much both­ered about who Ken­drick La­mar was. Lon­don soul singer Sam­pha turned up on Drake’s 2013 al­bum Noth­ing Was the Same, and this year car­ried off the Mer­cury Prize for his own de­but, Process. (Sam­pha also gets a song on More Life, ‘4422’, a song on which Drake doesn’t ap­pear. Some of Drake’s best songs don’t in­clude him at all.) An en­dorse­ment from Drake is worth some­thing in terms that are not strictly mon­e­tary; it means this mu­si­cian’s star is on the rise. Drake isn’t cool – he’s kinda square, which is partly why his self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment can be amus­ing – but, given his com­mer­cial dom­i­nance, it would be a hard-headed as­pi­rant who turned him down. More Life is en­livened by guest ap­pear­ances from two Bri­tish rap­pers, Giggs and Skepta – the lat­ter also a Mer­cury Prize win­ner and a pro­po­nent of the Lon­don-cen­tric grime genre. Grime is hip-hop but not quite; it also in­cor­po­rates el­e­ments of var­i­ous dance mu­sic styles. Grime has been threat­en­ing to con­quer Amer­ica for a good many years, though the Lon­don ac­cents and the Lon­don-Caribbean slang have proved dif­fi­cult for Amer­i­can lis­ten­ers to parse. Drake is one of the few prom­i­nent rap­pers out­side of the UK to take grime se­ri­ously, per­haps be­cause he’s Cana­dian, not Amer­i­can, and so less prone to be­liev­ing that Amer­ica is the cen­tre of the mu­si­cal uni­verse. On More Life, Drake bor­rows the enun­ci­a­tion of his guest MCs; “ting”, he raps, in­stead of “thing”. It’s not con­vinc­ing, but Drake doesn’t need to con­vince, he just needs to give the im­pres­sion that he’s try­ing to. Drake is in­ter­ested in all kinds of mu­sic of the black di­as­pora: English grime, Ja­maican dance­hall, Ghana­ian high­life. ‘Madiba Rid­dim’, from More Life, has a sweetly corkscrew­ing gui­tar line in the high­life style; like the syn­the­siser in ‘Blem’ it’s elu­sive, al­most in­sub­stan­tial, yet cru­cial to the song’s mood and tex­ture. Once again there’s no snare drum. Drake doesn’t use snare be­cause Drake doesn’t want to get snared. “My heart is way too frozen to get bro­ken,” he sings. Frankly, I can re­late. Drake is bad, sug­gests Google, which means that enough peo­ple across the world have typed the phrase into a search box for it to ap­pear as if Google is think­ing this for it­self. (Drake is the al­go­rithm.) I don’t hap­pen to be­lieve that Drake is bad, but I can see how one might ar­rive at this con­clu­sion. Drake can be ir­ri­tat­ing. His pre­vi­ous al­bum, Views (2016), was as long and as dreary as a wet Sun­day, which only makes the re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion of More Life a greater sur­prise. The ego­tis­tic need­i­ness that leaks through Drake’s songs ir­ri­tates me. “You’re to blame for what we could have been / ’cause look at what we are,” he sings on ‘Teenage Fever’, which is per­haps the 15th-best song on More Life. Thanks, ar­se­hole. I imag­ine that Drake, bal­ladeer of ro­mance-by-phone, has had his num­ber blocked many times. And yet, for all his short­com­ings, I find it dif­fi­cult to imag­ine con­tem­po­rary pop sans Drake. Ken­drick La­mar is the more gifted rap­per, and Kanye West is the mu­si­cal vi­sion­ary (West’s strange, crab­bing song on More Life is called ‘Glow’, and I can’t think of a bet­ter verb for his fevered ca­reer), but Drake is the glue. Drake is the wall­pa­per. Drake is the fur­ni­ture. Drake is Drake.

An en­dorse­ment from Drake means this mu­si­cian’s star is on the rise.

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