Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Loneliness of Drake

Hip Hop is often in the business of compensatory fantasies of wealth and power. The money, the jewels, the clothes, the cars, the houses, the stacks of bills, and the sexual partners that rappers go on about are intended to be signs of the poverty and marginalization that they have overcome. “But look at me now,” they tell their listeners. This can take on cartoonish proportions. Rick Ross, for instance, asks in DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One,” “Ever made love to the woman of your dreams/In a room full of money out in London and she screams”?  Well, no, and for reals though, who the fuck has? The verse is supposed to be an affirmation of his wealth and virility but it is nonetheless complicated by its lack of immediacy. In other words, if that situation did actually occur to Rick Ross his rapping about it is a testament to its symbolic and not its real nature. He raps about it because it illustrates how far he has come. He is not wealthy and virile necessarily; instead the situation proves that he has become wealthy and virile.

Psychosexual fantasies of affluence and privilege spun by once impoverished young people who render these things in illusory ways, that is much of the thematics of Hip Hop. Although he also raps in “I’m On One,” there is something else at work in Drake’s music. “H.Y.F.R.”, like many of his songs, is driven by conflicting impulses. The bravado of Hip Hop echoes in Drake’s music but so too does the feeling that what fame has brought him does not fill the need of what life has taken away. If so much of Hip Hop sounds like a hollow boast then Drake’s music examines the hollowness of the boast while at the same time still boasting.

“H.Y.F.R” centers on his unresolved relationship with an ex-girlfriend. He presents the background in an unromantic light. But the coldness of the past is a ruse. She remains a part of him even if now “we don’t talk too much” “just only ‘hello’ or ‘happy belated.'” He claims he loves fame and all that it brings yet it does not give him the happiness to let go of the past or of her. He raps: “Even though it’s fucked up, girl, I’m still fucking wit ya/Damn, is it the fall/Time for me to revisit the past/It’s women to call/There’s albums to drop, there’s liquor involved.” His moment of triumph—the albums to drop—is also a moment of boozy, sad introspection. Drake here sounds isolated and empty. The present drives him into the past before fame, a past no happier than the present but at least no sadder.

But this is Hip Hop! He cannot remain in despairing self-examination. That is a theme for other genres, like the classic country that the first line of his song references. There is also space in rock and roll to dwell on the loss that a rock and roll life brings. Drake is further opening that space in Hip Hop but he still feels compelled to affirm the slogans. An imaginary interviewer asks him: “Do you love this shit?” Although his verses show us nothing if not his ambivalence toward fame and the emptiness that fame cannot fill, he nonetheless answers at the end of the song: “Hell yeah/Hell yeah, hell yeah/Fuckin’ right/Fuckin’ right, all right.”


  1. Interesting post - I'm not a big Drake fan, but I've been noticing this increasing sense of desolation in hip-hop. Kanye does a rather (to me) unconvincing version, where it comes across as the same kind of boasting as the Rick Ross example above, except now he's complaining about how HARD it is to be so rich and famous, but you also see strains of it in Childish Gambino, or in Frank Ocean - especially the track Songs for Women.

    1. thanks for reading and commenting on the post!

  2. this is awesome—you should write for slate or something!

    also, a drake/philsophy jokewebsite that may interest you:

  3. Thanks! Checked out the site and you're right, funny.