Drake Is, Indisputably, A Hip-Hop Legend

You'll be fine.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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If there's nothing I hate more in my life and profession, it's any sort of conversation that resembles a weekday morning CNN segment. Is Putin a menace? Where's the plane? Should Biden run for president? Autism-something-or-other? Is Drake a legend? Fine, Drake is a legend. It pains me to say. Now, leave me alone.

While I'm a fan of barbershop discourse and shit-shooting in general, this particular brand of rap debate is polarized and oppressively dumb. "Legend," as applied to artists, and "classic," as applied to their artwork, reduce potentially rich and interesting discussions of music to infuriating simplicity; I can't listen or speak for 10 minutes about Drake without some polarized simpleton steering the conversation into a pundit's ditch, so hung up on the implications of affiliating one way or the other. When Drake opened his latest mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, with a simply diabolic boast—"If I die, I'm a legend​"—he's feeding his trolls and detractors; one can only hope that they choke on it.

If you're going to drag your friends and family into pointless conversations about Drake, let's at least be nuanced and fruitful and honest with ourselves; essentially, Drake invented the fuego emoji, such is his track record of hits and reserve of credibility among my generation of hip-hop heads. Some of you will balk at my describing Drake fans as any degree of hip-hop head, a sure sign that you grew up on either Guru or DMX, the Walkman or the Discman, and with a poor disposition in either case. I hate to break it to you, but listen: There is hip-hop scholarship and rigorous listening beyond the fall of G-Unit.

I hate to break it to you, but listen: There is hip-hop scholarship and rigorous listening beyond the fall of G-Unit.

There's no singularly, simply correct stance that's worth taking on Drake, an affable (if not goofy) Canadian who's made good music, great music, awesome music, bad music, and a baby handful of songs that are atrocious indeed. In 2009 he made a million off a game-changing mixtape, then he made that god-awful debut album intro "Fireworks" with Alicia Keys. His missteps are few and inconsequential; Drake's got more than 20 hit records to his credit, not counting his best guest verses and Young Money's posse cuts. As of the first quarter of 2015, Drake has more hit rap records than the Notorious B.I.G. or LL Cool J. He has more No. 1 rap records than Hov. Drake left potential Ja Rule status in the dust 2.5 albums ago.

For all you salty motherfuckers who serially struggle to come to grips with Drake's domination of mainstream hip-hop and indelible influence of pop music in general: I understand. For three years, 2007-2010, I fought the good fight against Lil Wayne's lazy, sedated nonsense; and, ultimately, I lost. My one residual act of vengeance is to point out that Tha Carter IV isn't as awful as Weezy stans pretend that it is, if only because "John" is among the best songs that either Weezy or Rick Ross has ever made. (Please share your hopeless counterpoints with me in the comments.) 

The six years of consternation and angst that have dogged Drake's ascent hardly disqualify him from the hip-hop pantheon; if anything, the inexhaustible backlash proves his point. Even the haters won't let go of Drake's robes. It breaks my heart to watch the real-rap dweeb and boom-bap reactionaries wage hopeless war against Drake and his zombified alliance of preppies, yuppies, hipsters, and jocks who, in their monotony, can sound rather like the vapid, anti-literary bullies of De La Soul Is Dead: flip "Crooked Smile" and "i" on screwed 40 Shebib bass so we can dance to it. Drake is a despot, as his fans now freely admit; a tyrant who thrives by fluid iterations of cool and a knack for hooks and chants that could easily be repurposed as Sesame Street jingles, for children. It's not right, but it's OK. "6 God" is delightful regardless.

As I'm aging out of the target audience of most new rappers, I'm gradually at peace with the occasional struggle of understanding music that I don't like, made by artists who aren't built for me. Anyone who would call Drake a narcissist, on the one hand, but then mock and dismiss the prevailing taste of a generation should perhaps reevaluate their relation to art and other people. Don't be such a myopic bore. Free your mind. Stranger ascendances have happened, e.g., Gucci Mane is a legend, nearly in the full, spooky, mythological sense of that word. Busta Rhymes, Noreaga, Ma$e, E-40, Jacka, Boosie—all these guys are legends in their own right. Biz Markie is a fucking legend! Take Care is a classic. Make of these distinctions whatever you will.

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