In defense of the genre: how Drake is making hip-hop a friendlier place for women
OK, About-Face readers, I’ve let you in on a lot of personal stuff in our time together. So now, it’s time for another secret knowledge bomb: I seriously love Drake.
I love a lot of things about him—his beats, his flow, the way he carefully appeals to my ultimate hipster music fantasies (sampling Lykke Li, Santogold, and Peter Bjorn & John on one record? Yes please!)—but what I love the absolute most is that I can love him without feeling like I need an apology for his lyrics. It’s not like when I listen to Li’l Wayne and I have to either block out the degrading words or pretend that they’re ironic, or when Akon comes on and I just change it because I can’t handle how disgusting his lyrics are. No. There’s none of that with Drake, and that’s my favorite thing about him: the girls in his songs are actual girls. He has actual relationships with them. As a female listener, I don’t feel excluded or degraded or disrespected at all.
That’s not to say that Drake’s record, “So Far Gone,” is some kind of heroic feminist piece of hip-hop poetry. There are, of course, cursory references to hos (in “Successful,” he longs for the “money, cars, clothes, and hos” that come with being a rap superstar), and, of course, hints that he is a typical player (in “Forever,” he brags about “tellin’ mad girls they the one for [him],” but he isn’t going to call them). But a mainstream hip-hop record like “So Far Gone” would be out of place in the genre without these references. And, unlike the lyrics of many of Drake’s contemporaries, these instances are not vitriolic. They’re not violent or mean or sexually degrading; they’re just mildly unpleasant and reveal the misogyny of the genre as a whole.
Take, for example, the video for his single “Best I Ever Had.” It seems, at first glance, a typical exercise in female objectification: girls in skimpy basketball uniforms stretch suggestively in front of the camera, breasts bouncing and faces impeccably made up. But at the end of the video, something hilarious and amazing happens: the “sexy” girls lose their big champion basketball game to girls who are tall, strong, and dressed for sport. When Drake’s team loses, he seems distraught: “I don’t know what’s happening out there,” he says, confused until one of his team members points out that Drake only taught his team how to stretch.
The video is an awesome bit of commentary on the objectification of women, even if it does ultimately end up rehearsing what it’s criticizing by using women’s bodies to get attention for the male artist. It sort of encapsulates Drake as a whole. He drops these references to getting money and getting women, but spends far more time declaring his love for one girl (“Little Bit”) or talking with love, care, and concern about the lifestyle of the girl he’s in love with (“Houstatlantavegas”), or reflecting on the end of a long relationship (“Let’s Call it Off”).
Drake’s no savior, but he definitely makes mainstream hip-hop that I can listen to without feeling creeped-out, marginalized, or objectified. This is an experience I’ve never had before, and I love it. So, thanks Drake. I appreciate it.