Are we forgetting that Drake is black

We’re dismissing his achievements as part of our culture.

Image by Chris Liverani

When Drake was named Spotify’s artist of the decade, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. He’s dominated the charts since he officially burst on the scene around 2009 and brought with him a new perspective to hip hop music, one which sees him sing R&B melodies as much as he hits you with boom, bap rap bars.

But amidst the congratulatory tweets from his peers and the back and forth commentary on whether he deserved that title, no one has paired the reality that the top musician of this decade is black.

In a recent video interview with Rap Radar, a rarity for Drake who hasn’t done a sit down video interview in years, he laments on the sidestepping of this lack of acknowledgment. He admits it’s something that does bother him (he didn’t use those exact words) but he essentially just keeps it moving.

Why don’t we give Drake black love?

So why aren’t we acknowledging that someone who’s been on the charts for approximately 500 weeks since he started releasing music, someone who has the highest grossing rap tour of all time, an artist who has defined a decade and sold tens of millions of records is actually from our culture?

Where are all the #blackexcellence when Drake’s name is mentioned? He’s mixed race (white, Jewish mother and black father), but so is J. Cole and he gets infinite black love. Maybe it’s because he’s a rapper that’s into his emotions and unapologetically makes music for women. In the hyper-masculine world of hip hop, this has been a criticism of Drake. One that he dismisses but as a fan of rap, I can definitely see how it plays a role in reducing his “black card.”

Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that he’s Canadian? Hip hop is an American art form that has spread all over the world, but the U.S still dominates. Race in America is a nuanced, complicated matter that has shaped the country since its inception. Is it possible that even though Drake identifies as black, he’s still somewhat of an outsider because he wasn’t brought up inside those borders?

I really don’t want to believe it’s because he’s light skinned. I’m going to give us some credit and assume that the tone of Drake’s skin is not reason enough to question his blackness.

So then why? Is he not the right archetype? Not tough enough, outspoken enough, arrogant enough to warrant full acceptance? He isn’t nearly as celebrated within our culture as his counterparts. Kendrick Lamar is black royalty. There’s hardly a mention of his name without claiming Kendrick to some aspect of blackness.

I admit, references to black existence echoes in Kendrick’s music more than Drake’s. Kendrick’s entire second album To Pimp a Butterfly was dedicated to the black experience. Drake doesn’t and probably never will give that much attention to being black in his music. It’s not his style. But because he chooses to make music about topics surrounding love and insecurity and ambition, does that make his experience as a black man any less authentic?

If he made songs like “Blacker the Berry” or “Alright,” would we more overtly shout out Drake as what he has been — the most successful black artist of the past decade? Or is there some kind of asterisk because you can remove the word black from my last sentence and it would still hold true?

Yes, I am Canadian. From Toronto, more specifically, same city that Drake grew up. I know the impact he’s had on this city. Musicians, producers, the sports world, club promoters and pretty much any creative owes Drake a thank you for showing us it’s possible and for forever changing our perspective on how we view ourselves as a city. We give him that reference (his nickname is 6 God, 6 being a reference to Toronto). So when the broader black community doesn’t seem to be showing that same level of appreciation, I’m left wondering where Drake went wrong.

Although I don’t think any of this is his fault. Sometimes narratives get created outside of our control. And with someone as famous as Drake, I imagine it’s impossible to control every narrative that pops up. But we shouldn’t let this one go so easily. He’s representing us. By his very existence, this is true. We should show more pride in what he’s meant for our culture rather than submitting to any other invention meant to dismiss the reality that he is and always has been anything less.

CRY

Writer | Ghostwriter | Author of Thoughts of a Fractured Soul and Beauty Scars |

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