Aubrey Drake Graham, more commonly referred to as Drake, is a Canadian actor and musician who has garnered mainstream appeal as a rapper unafraid of being sensitive and emotional. His songs "Shot for Me," "Marvin's Room," "Shut it Down" and others depict a man embroiled in romantic affairs that he cannot overcome, while his other hits like "Started from the Bottom," "All Me," and "Over My Dead Body" display a hardened and successful rapper that pulled himself up from nothing to live the American Dream. His latest release, If You're Reading This It's Too Late continues this tough persona that he and many other rappers in the hip-hop community continue to perpetuate. This need to embody a tough and masculine character is a major problem among musicians like Drake, and adds to the amount of societal pressure for young Black men to fulfill damaging stereotypes.
Black men across America are all vulnerable to the common stereotype of being thugs, gangsters, and pimps that sell drugs to the community, degrade women, and play basketball. Two of the most influential rappers in hip-hop history, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, are often painted as the "thug" stereotype in popular media even though they were both Black men struggling within the confines of economic inequality and community hardships. Through their music and claim to fame they were able to transcend their damaging environment, inevitably bringing younger Black men and children to idolize their success and use them as role models. Enter Drake. With his emotional intensity and singing background, Drake is the perfect medium between a hardened mogul like Biggie and the pop star mainstream media covets, right? I would argue that you would be wrong because Drake's special circumstance as a mixed-race rapper with privilege means he did not actually "start from the bottom." This is not to downplay Drake's talent as a rapper, or his success, but to identify the damage in chasing a romanticized "hardcore" dream.
This criticism of Drake is based off of his history and his current involvement with the communities he identifies with; he did not "start from the bottom" but rather at the lower middle, and climbed the class ranks even further as he started to appear on Degrassi: The Next Generation in 2001. His success on the show is important to note not only for a need to state the facts, but also to point out the black tokenism and stereotypes that were placed upon his character. Wheelchair Jimmy was indeed stricken by real tragedy, but why is there a need for so many rappers to exude this "pulled myself out of the hood" archetype? The archetype is not necessarily harmful in of itself, especially since it holds true for some rappers in the hip-hop canon like RZA and Eazy-E, but why do those for whom it doesn't hold true (like Drake) still feel the need embody it? I would argue that rappers do this because of the amount of pressure that society places on Black men to entertain and inspire so they can be used by the media as fodder. Rappers rap about the money they make, consumers buy their products, and record label executives reap the profits, using marketing and advertising to push through a never-ending cycle of the rich getting richer and Blacks as the middleman to fuel the system.
The amount of pressure that society puts on the young Black men in this country is simply irrational: it's incredibly difficult to find the time to be good at basketball, sell drugs, rap, organize large-scale gang activity, rob a white neighborhood, and eat a bag of Skittles all at the same time. The mainstream media promotes only the entertainment value or the criminalization of Black men- your LeBron's, your Drake's, your Mike Brown's, but what about our Garrett Morgan's? What about our George Washington Carver's, our Huey P. Newton's? If I shoot ten 3-pointers I'm on ESPN, but if I get a Master's Degree, well hooray for me. Enter Wheelchair Jimmy.
As a mixed-race Black man, our community needs someone like Drake. We need that platform to talk about the real things that go on throughout the course of our lives and make actual steps towards changing our situations. Drake should be rapping about the young criminalization of Black men, the animosity we receive from white supremacy and within our very own Black communities, the ire we endure from the police, or our struggle for personal identity between clashing worlds. Even if he doesn't rap about these topics (I understand artistic freedom) he should at least be using his renown to provide some attention to the frequent and inexcusable murders of Black men in the United States, but instead he's focused about if he has to "catch a body."
Aubrey Graham has a special and unique opportunity to change and expand a community: to redefine masculinity within rap culture and be unafraid to show his emotions, but instead he is truly uh "crippled," under peer and societal pressure. The Black archetype he participates in is damaging for all youth of the African Diaspora, especially to the young Black kids who are trying to pull themselves out of low-income communities. These kids who listen to rappers like Aubrey can't accurately relate to their personas because while they rap about what it's like to have nothing and come from below the poverty line, in reality they don't. It's self-defeating for these rappers to assuage struggle so they may fuel the capitalistic nature of the modern music industry and further perpetuate the stereotypes that the media creates.
The problem is that these rappers are rich, famous, and highly successful so Black youth naturally look up to them, and for the wrong reasons. For some of these youth, the success of these rappers has put the idea in their mind that the only ticket out of their situation is to become a famous rapper or a hardened scoundrel. These types of rappers don't have them thinking about the thousand other pathways to achieve; pursuing college, developing neighborhoods and communities, or participating in social work and awareness. Our generation needs that rapper: a rapper that is successful, but raps about the value of education, the impracticality of becoming a rapper, and the difficulty that young Black kids actually face by trying to bring themselves up. I focus on Drake because he is in the perfect situation to become a positive role model for kids of color, for kids of mixed race, and for the Black youth that are struggling to strive in the performing arts. However, he falls short in his social responsibilities and so we are left to wonder: when will we get the rapper we deserve?