Ladies and gentlemen who are reading this, I am aware this is not especially that hot a take, the act of disliking Drake. Entire careers have been made insulting Drake, and as many careers have been broken (Alas, Meek Mill, we hardly knew ye) doing this very thing. Fear not, however. I think I can bring a unique enough perspective to the industrial complex known as “Drake-hating.” I will not do so by accusing him of being soft or focusing especially hard on how he has brought a certain kind of “nice guy” misogyny back into vogue, or even his career on “Degrassi.” Instead, I offer the explanation that Drake simply has revealed himself to be a man without qualities, and what he exhibits is so utterly vacant that there is not real point in continuing to endorse him.
Where did it all go wrong? Say what you will about his subsequent career, but “Take Care” is a great album, filled with gorgeous production and genuine introspection on the part of Drake. I remember when it came out and people were surprised at the depth it had, how Drake was taking things so embarrassing only Kanye West or Kid Cudi would dare broach this topic and rather than hide this insecurity with sheer confidence (Kanye) or innovative sound (Cudi) Drake instead did something very different: he embraced his inherent cheese and gave us a good wine selection as well. He didn’t hide the fact that he was talking about his embarrassing, weak moments but instead built an empire off of it. He didn’t make uncool cool, he made cringe cool, which deserves recognition.
So where did it go wrong? There will be many theories, but I’m going to lay the beginning of the Decline of Drake at the feet of one song in particular: “Started from the Bottom.” It’s sold over two million copies and it’s spawned a meme from its chorus, so it doesn’t seem like a candidate, but it was also the first single of his third album, and it signified something very different. Drake was attempting, for lack of a better term, a true banger without the same reflection as his earlier work, and while I will be the first to defend party music—if it’s any good—the entire enterprise felt weird coming from Drake. He’d always subscribed to being in the typical rap-game bluster before despite being probably the single most privileged rapper to ever hit the big time—if you’re a child actor with a decent resume you’re already ahead of a few million other people trying to break into show business—but this felt different. Before Drake’s bluster came via proxy: his association with Lil Wayne, A$AP mob, Kendrick Lamar and other people who had, in fact, started from a considerably lower place than he had. He delivered good lines and possessed great charisma, but “Started” even now feels generic: having monopolized producer Noah “40” Shebib’s sound, it started to feel less like a collaboration and more of a brand, and his lyrics stopped feeling like him owning up to his life and more like justification.
This made no sense: Drake won. He’d always have his critics, but so does everyone. Why spend your time thumbing your nose when you have all the chances in the world to do whatever you want?
But the album was good, and Drake recovered, until it began. Drake fell into the thing that has now in a way consumed him: overhype. He began to talk up his opus, “Views from the 6.” There were stories he was carrying around the master tapes to prevent leakage, of spending days at a time in the studio making sure he was going to come out on top. He kept his name in the news, and then came “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.”
Now “Reading” is another example of a Drake album that is good. I don’t think you’re going to find anyone who would really argue otherwise. The beats are interesting as before, and it’s clear Drake is expanding his range. He’s been listening to Young Thug and Future, rap artists who have brought abstraction into mainstream rap like few before them. There’s nothing wrong with it, so why does it feel so fake?
Drake has gone on record saying he intends to quit rapping at 30 and focusing on singing, out of a desire to not be caught in trying to keep up with how young a sport hip-hop can be. This is deeply ironic, because there’s no way “Reading” is an album that sounds like anything except someone trying desperately to be young. His hooks are taking up more and more focus, and his attempts at sincerity are becoming more and more narcissistic. “Know Yourself” comes off not as how Drake brought something new to his profession but instead how the profession culminated in him. Rap, says Drake, invented him, and he is a natural apex.
Which you know what? That’s a fair case to make. Drake has clearly done his homework, talking especially about how Kanye’s fashion and aesthetic led to him. But Drake presents this as the only endpoint. There’s no mention of Kendrick Lamar or Denzel Curry or Danny Brown, to just name a few others who could make that claim. Drake ignores this and continues to party, which is his right, but can backfire.
Cue “Hotline Bling,” the greatest song you came to despise. A song that proved how essentially Drake cast off the culture that made him who he is to embrace being fully a creature of the qualities of the culture. He dresses like DJ Khaled for winter. The beard. The music video that opens with a bunch of women working a phone sex line and who are obviously not the kind of women that would work at a phone sex line. This is a song that embodies Drake’s worst qualities: it’s cast off his willingness to make himself look bad, even unintentionally. It’s all about the girl needing him now, about how she’s the one at fault and how she should have realized what leaving the city did to her. Where is her perspective? Where is the sense that Drake has any idea about anything but himself?
And then comes the double hit of “Views” and the Rihanna award ceremony. Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on “Views” because I know none of you did either. It’s bad. It’s incredibly long, and it doesn’t embody anything that made Drake unique. It’s his “Be Here Now”: the kind of thing that only someone immensely high off himself and his success could make, which pushes itself simply because it has to. “One Dance” was the song of the summer because “Views” said it was, and Drake said it was, and none of us could come up with a decent counterargument. How many times do you intend to listen to “One Dance” now that it’s not absolutely everywhere?
And now, Rihanna. This is a masterful act of ego. Drake introduces a woman getting an award and somehow makes it all about him with a confession that led to nothing. We saw the video. There was no kiss. Everyone knew there wasn’t a kiss. Rihanna dodged his head, and yet we treated it like Drake got the girl and what the man of the night –what he wanted the entire time—simply because he decreed it. He left her room that morning but that’s no proof of anything. We filled in the blanks instead of considering the possibility Drake did the entire thing to look cool.
It’s gotten to the point where now Drake is having us do the work for him. Yes, I’m going to talk about the Meek Mill thing. I’m not actually going to defend Mill here: he didn’t put in the work he needed to, and he lost. But it was a dirty fight on Drake’s part. He was accused of using a ghostwriter or two or 10—which isn’t unreasonable—and when given the chance to respond—allegedly—wrote a pretty good piece with “Back to Back”. But does anyone remember that time he debuted the song live? He had a PowerPoint presentation of memes regarding the song and Mill’s defeat at his hands play behind him. Memes that had been circulating on Twitter or Reddit. Notice how Drake never really denied he used a ghostwriter. Even in the end, Drake got us to do his work for him.
Now this is what it’s come to. As part of a new project to cleanse the palate of “Views,” Drake has dropped a song insulting Pusha-T for being a drug dealer and Kid Cudi for his mental health problems. This is dumb for at least two reasons besides Cudi not being in a place to rap at his real potential and Pusha-T being Pusha-T. The first: why insult Pusha-T for being a drug dealer? He may have exaggerated his claim, but the man did deal and he has never shied away from that. He has made poetry off of that.
But in the end, it all comes down to Cudi. It was funny to suggest Meek Mill was coasting on his fiancee Nicki Minaj’s fame. The “Hotline Bling” video, gross as it is, is funny because Drake tried to make it funny. Drake insulted a man for problems with addiction and mental illness. That’s not funny in the slightest to anyone who has an ounce of empathy, and now Drake is once again back into the solipsism that his harshest critics have accused him of. But I’m not going to make a plea for Drake to come back to relative decency. He can do this himself. But if he’s too self-centered to realize that then we ought to cut him off forever.