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Drake: First You Get the Hype, Then You Make the Controversy, Then You Get the Women…

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Upon hearing of Drake’s tumble, flashes of a kind of Putney Swope absurd, Wag the Dog cynical set-up rushed through my head: Drake never gets up from his fall, becomes a wheelchair-bound rapper, and the divide between actor Aubrey Graham, his character Jimmy Brooks, and his rap persona Drake completely melt away and he becomes an even bigger star. And really, a few days later, that sequence of events doesn’t even seem that far-fetched. The problem with Drake’s not that he isn’t very good, but that his every career move seems wrapped in the quietest of controversies and hype-building–never enough to alienate, just enough to maintain that crucial “buzz”.

This isn’t a surprise or anything, given the weird, new-ish media machine rolling through the radio and internets, but when Drake took that spill on-stage earlier in the week and it immediately became not only gossip/rap blog fodder, but a series of comments on just how Drake “took a chance” performing with a bad knee–as it it were all for his fans, and not the damage dropping-out of a tour just as he’s on the cusp would’ve done–we’re entering like, Entertainment Tonight style “reporting”–chunks of P.R thrown out there like they constitute an actual “story”.

A key to Drake’s success is the ability to consistently court mini-controversy and maintain a level of interest/hype almost completely separate from the music. And his injured leg is embodies this quite well. Though a deeply cynical/paranoid part of me could get into accusing it all to be faked, it certainly wasn’t. But what was at least, rather contrived is the contextualizing the fall as Drake’s devotion to his fans and whether intentional or not, the knowledge that anything sorta weird like dude collapsing is gonna have the internet going nuts.

So, Drake falling creates content for blogs, the possibility for exclusivity (who posts/gets the first picture or video of the collapse), and allows Drake to then talk/blog about the fall for the next few days, continually mentioning the tour, pushing his singles/album, and looking like a real trooper. Where, at one point, this sort of thing was an embarrassment or something to quiet down, it’s now an opportunity for some extra press. Not totally convinced this is even a bad thing, it’s certainly more honest (in a way), but this awkward embrace of “all press is good press” is strange nonetheless and something Drake’s an expert at using.

This kind of sub-controversy courting started at the BET Awards, where he performed “Every Girl”, along with the rest of the Young Money Crew, sitting on a stool for much of it, and towards the end, surrounded by pre-teen girls. The stool-sitting, presumably the first rumblings of his injured leg, but it had the odd effect of hinting–whether intentional or not–to his crippled character from Degrassi and also, both put him on the stage with the rest of the more swarthy Young Money and separated him just a little bit. It seemed to be saying, “Hey this is rap but it’s not rap either”.

The end of the performance too, surrounded by pre-teen girls, while ill-advised given the “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world” hook of the song, seemed to be again indicating Drake’s safe-ness (something he’s awesomely confident in). There are already plenty of Dads I’ve talked to that end up spending part of their night watching Degrassi re-runs with their ten year-old, pop-rap radio obsessed daughters precisely because Drake’s on the show. This is clever. While a sitcom in the vein of Hannah Montana starring Drake would never really work-out, with Drake, there’s already one, getting constant plays on paid cable.

The pre-teens surrounding him, was less a sexualization of pre-teens–though it most assuredly was that too–than a quick way of catering to a demographic hip-hop can rarely court so explicitly. That said, once the controversy started about the unfortunate combo of the pre-teens and “Every Girl”s chorus, a mini-controversy developed and that’s good for Drake too.

This after-the-fact, after-the-blog-hits apology is what Asher Roth courted, though in a more obnoxious way. When you have a label or even just a powerful A & R behind you, ill-advised Imus references on Twitter, critiques of “Black–African rappers”, or rocking a Larry Bird jersey, don’t become problems because nine minutes later, there’ll be something else to posted on all the blogs…and there’s no big-time media covering this shit anyway, so it hardly matters.

The next example, the video for “Best I Ever Had”, which while really brilliant–it looks great and continues director Kanye West’s interest in varied female body image–was clearly developed to confuse and bother a whole bunch of people. Again, not enough that anybody would come out poorly–this is Drake, etc. exploiting music fans’ and writers’ apathy and aversion to anything politically engaged–but just enough that it’d get some debates on Twitter or Facebook. With the setting of a high-school gym, there’s also again, bizarre, sideways hints at Drake’s come-up: Cornball Canadian soap Degrassi.

Drake though, is also sorta separate from the internet/blogosphere hype monster. Unlike Asher Roth or Wale or Kid Cudi, Drake’s struck a nerve with people; real actual people, some without wireless routers. He’s on the radio. Notice how even Cudi, who had a bonafide hit, weird enough to be cool but oddly catchy too, didn’t become ubiquitous or talked-about through “Day N Nite”–DJs didn’t even get his name right, they kept calling him “Kid Cooty”.

Being a child TV star presumably gave Drake some connections and being a Canadian child TV star helped him not become totally suspect, but he got some quick co-signs by rappers like Wayne and Kanye–and by co-signs, not in-your-face, on-the-spot video camera “Yeah he’s dope” asides like Asher Roth–and he knows when to shut the hell up. Probably because he began as an actor, we’ve not seen a lot of Drake Twitter or MySpace blog freak-outs, and probably because he has hits and isn’t quite as desperate for promotion of this kind.

And his songs are just better. Contrast “Best I Ever Had” or “Every Girl” with Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite”–the sole blog-rap hit. “Day N Nite” is an excellent song and one that secretly creeps up on your ears months later, but it’s a weirdo one-shot that’ll never happen again. The 2009 rap equivalent to Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly”. The only difference being, in 2009, kids won’t be exposed to Cudi’s contrived but mind-blowing enough for twelve year old wandering sing-raps, they’ll grab the single off iTunes and never pick-up Man on the Moon (not that they could, it keeps getting delayed).

“Best I Ever Had”, a kinda cornball love-rap, Slum Village’s “Selfish” sucked of its weary experience, is still catchy and fun enough and “Every Girl”, wisely aligns Drake with a Lil Wayne and a crappy crew–but a crew nonetheless–providing the illusion that Drake’s not as ubiquitous as he really is–this song’s not Drake, it’s the Young Money Crew! None of these are masterpieces, but they aren’t trying to be either.

Drake though, besides having those hits–and a kiddie version of street buzz–has found a way to more casually keep people talking. He stumbles into controversies, he explicitly hints at his very uncool past, making him critic proof. It’s like, rather than not acknowledge the loathsome qualities of one’s personality, you might as well just sorta quietly flaunt it, and hopefully get some blogs blabbing on and on about it. Awesomely 2009 it seems.

Written by Brandon

August 5th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Drake, Lil Wayne

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  1. Drake’s new video is hot but It doesn’t make the song better like some videos seem to do for me. Hopefully his next single will be better artistically

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    20 Apr 10 at 12:15 am

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