See ya tomorrow, Drake.
See ya tomorrow, Ry-Guy.
By the time I’ve created our imaginary itinerary, he’s barely finished “Summer Sixteen,” the opening song of night one of Drake’s back-to-back Miami concerts. But it doesn’t take Drake very long to charm people, even complete strangers.
He does this in a few different ways.
To start, Drake is funny. And not funny in that unintentional way other hip-hop personalities are, like when DJ Khaled is the only one in the room who realizes he’s saying absolutely silly things, or like when Birdman is the only one in the room who doesn’t know he looks like a constipated auntie when he crosses his arms and demands “respeck.”
Drake is both self-aware and doesn’t take himself too seriously, which are two essential ingredients in a humor pie. As he’s finishing up the final chorus to “Feel No Ways” he plugs his left ear, hunches over, and really goes for it, softly stroking each word like it has a tummy ache. And just when it’s starting to get cheesy, he stops and walks over to his keyboard player, begging him to stop with this “R&B shit,” and forces him to take a shot of Hennessy.
Later, right before launching into the song of the year, “Hotline Bling,” a single pink glowing orb — it looks like one of those round Chinese lanterns — descends down above the stage. Drake approaches it and begins mouthing words to the orb, real serious, like he’s trying to seduce it or tell it he’s disappointed in it. Suddenly, it retracts like a frightened testicle and then a hundred other pink glowing orbs rain down from the ceiling like bombs, and, for a moment, it looks like whatever Drake has said to their comrade must have angered them and, great, now we must engage in battle with the entire glowing orb army. But then Drake does his cute little “Hotline Bling” dance and all the orbs are like, Aw, Drake, we can’t stay mad at you. And then they start dancing too.
See, he’s funny.
But Drake is also sweet and genuine. At the top of the show he tells the frenzied crowd: “I've been staring at this date on the calendar for like three weeks straight on the bus," which conjures up a very Drake image of the 29-year-old Torontonian sighing longingly at a fat red X he’s carved into his calendar while he lays on his stomach and twirls his hair. He tells us that he literally placed a bet that Miami, night one, would be his favorite crowd on the tour and he’ll tell us a handful of times throughout tonight (once while literally flying over us in an airborne Drake cage) that he was right, and is very, very proud/happy for us all.
Last time Drake was in town was for a brief cameo at Rihanna’s concert (she sadly did not show up to his, even though he made the crowd stop and cheer for her), and after the show he spent time with a young fan named Megan Flores who was battling cancer. A month later, when his album Views finally dropped, he dedicated it to her. Three months later, when the sarcoma finally took Flores’ life, Drake took to Instagram and said, “Rest in peace my angel. I know heaven is celebrating today. Thank you for the moments and emotions we share I am blessed to have known you in this lifetime.”
See, sweet, genuine, and funny? So far, he’s meeting all the best friend requirements.
But I also want to be Drake’s best friend because he’s changed hip-hop forever, and I think it would be cool to tell someone, “Hey, this is my best friend Drake, and he’s changed hip-hop forever.”
And then, backstage, when someone approaches me and asks how he did that I’d say, “I’m glad you asked, Future, you gorgeous rap alien from planet chill,” and tell them this.
Drake has done a very big thing for hip-hop: he's helped shift it to a kinder place. Gangster rap had its moment, when NWA and others like it used it as a tool for political protest. But these days hip-hop doesn’t handle the topic of violence very tactfully, which only hurts the same community — young people of color — that the genre was originally intended to provide with a unique creative outlet.
Let’s take a look at some of the pre-Drake Drakes. There was Lil Wayne, who, I’m pretty sure, under doctors orders, has been surgically attached to an attorney at this point. 50 Cent enjoyed a decent run at the top, and once wrote a song called, “My Buddy,” and the “buddy” he refers to throughout the song is actually his gun. We could go back a few more years and talk about Eminem, who somehow made wanting to kill your own mother seem like a dope idea. There's Kanye, of course, who helped pave the way for Drake with 808s & Heartbreak, but he's still got a way to go before we toss him in the same pot with the word "kind."
All those rappers were good — great, even — and they were all important in their own way. But, in the end, what did they stand for? Will any of them, on their deathbed, look back and say, You know what, I wish I spent more time being angry, and encouraging others to do the same thing.
When it’s all said and done, how will we look back on hip-hop that perpetuates the machismo and fetishization of violence that has infiltrated poor communities like a cancer?
It would have been so easy for Drake to change his tone when the first wave of memes started coming his way, accusing him of everything from tickling his friends to making eye contact with you while eating a banana. And, look, he hasn't been perfect. Drake has succumbed to casual sexism and reckless bravado on each of his seven releases. And the bigger he gets the more we have to worry about him falling victim to the Mean Girls phenomenon — that's when Katie Herring accidentally stumbled into popularity and became a mean girl herself, the very thing she swore to fight against.
But, when looking at his body of work as a whole, Drake has stayed true to his message of emotional honesty and inward reflection, two things the world could sure use more of right about now.
He's not the first to do this, certainly not. Folks like Bun B (a former Drake collaborator), Andre 3000, and, in our own backyard, the late Uncle Al, have long preached messages of nonviolence, positivity, and tolerance. But none of them, or any like them, have had anywhere near the reach or influence Drake has had for as long as Drake has had it.
Views wasn't groundbreaking, and when placed side-to-side with more conceptually adventurous albums released this year from music's biggest names — like Rihanna's ANTI, or Frank Ocean's Blonde — it falls short artistically in more ways than one.
But the emotional revolution Drake has led in hip-hop is bigger than just an album. He just made an arena full of people scream, "Why you gotta fight with me at cheesecake?"
And he just made me want to be his best friend.