The general public defines cultural appropriation as taking from a culture or region that is not yours and exploiting its features or characteristics for personal profit.
Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen Drake transform from your friendly next door neighbor rapper with the occasional corny punchline (Wayne’s here, soo-woo!) to a “mobster” street, and heavily Southern-influenced rapper (with some damn good R&B).
Over the past year or so we’ve been able to explain why there was such a big shift from Take Care Drake in 2011-2012 to current Drake in 2015-2016 – a partial reason being a thick presence of writers and ghostwriters behind Drake’s music. But this convo isn’t about if that’s good or bad, it’s about the cultural shift itself.
The Hip-Hop community trashes Iggy Azalea, a foreign rapper, for many things, a main one being her faking rap accents when rapping to gain popularity. The Australian-born Azalea imitated a thick Southern accent to create “Fancy” and other tracks and people took offense. But when we listen to many of Drake’s post-Take Care verses, especially on IYRTITL and WAATBA he does the same thing. He’s faking foreign rap accents to gain favor, especially when it comes to Southern drawl and slang . The slang, the accent, the body language/hand movements…everything Iggy is dissed for is the same thing Drake does. When you listen to Drake rap…he doesn’t really speak like that. Or act like how he’s portraying to be in his music. So what gives?
For example: On “Used To”, “10 Bands”, “No Tellin”…he doesn’t really speak like he’s rapping…with the drawl that Southern MC’s are known for. He’s only rapping like that for “us”. And it’s not too surprising, because he didn’t write these songs himself (I think it’s been confirmed that ATL-rapper Q Miller helped with chunks of “Used To” and “10 Bands” with writing credits on “No Tellin“…but as a fan of the Q.M. and the WDNGCRSHRS, the whole “No Tellin” song sounds like QM from the rhyming to the adlibs).
Throughout Drake’s career you might even notice he’ll ride very close next to a hot rapper or famous celeb from the area he’s trying to influence and even name drop legends from that region in songs. This happens with both athletes and musicians. He especially has done this with Southern acts. Early in his career, Drake’s name was almost synonymous with Southern acts like UGK, Bun B, Little Brother and the man who discovered him, the legendary J Prince.
But, still, this all seems like typical commercial rapper behavior, right? Drake isn’t the only rapper out there faking the funk on wax and stealing waves from the South. So why is this even a thing?
Recently, a few fairly influential underground southern rappers such as the Sauce Twinz have called Drake out for stealing their sauce on separate occasions. Meek Mill, Joe Budden and allegedly Diddy have all had rifts with Drake as it pertains to his actions in the culture. It seems that recently actors in the industry, especially musicians and underground fans from the South, accuse Drake of robbing and commercializing (profitizing) their culture. Acting cool on one hand but then sticking them up the next.
On the Drake-diss track “Wake” Joe Budden raps,
“You leverage your celeb, taking waves over / That’s territorial takeover / Maybe he thinks nobody notices / Gucci wasn’t home two seconds before you rode his dick / Bodied Versace flows, copy, that he stole / Ay dios mio, sorry Migos, adios amigo / Was that your plot all along? / Why you ain’t do that vid with Fetty (Wap) but you hopped on the song?“
Recently, D.R.A.M and other musicians associated with Soundcloud’s boom renaissance expressed publicly (via Twitter) how frustrating it was for DRAM to release “Cha Cha” and then have Drake’s team come and practically rip the track from it’s course to record “Hotline Bling“.
D.R.A.M “Cha Cha” dance track was gaining huge popularity and traction online before being derailed by Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, which used virtually the same sample and cadence in production, and which Drake also, like D.R.A.M, promoted as a dance track. D.R.A.M said, “I feel I got jacked for my record“. I mean, yeah, it’s business and people are free to record what they please and may the best record win, but it’s also a culture and culture vultures usually don’t care about the latter part.
“Drake = culture vulture” is not an opinion or a viewpoint that is widespread right now, but it is one that I’m noticing is growing in Hip-Hop circles. Especially in the past year before the Meek beef was even a thing. It’s relevant again now because there has been recent bubbling in the European Hip-Hop community that Drake is doing to their local rap scene (coddling, references, exposure, features) what he’s allegedly done to the others mentioned to profit from the Grime scene popularity.
UKGrime.com posted an article this past April 2016 titled “The Danger of Drake and FAKE Supporters Rant”
UK Grime: “When you skim the surface of recent events you’re left with the impression that one of the biggest (if not the, biggest) names in hip-hop endorsing our scene can be nothing but good news. But when you dig deeper past the superficial photos, surprise appearances and constant “Drake BBK” posts you realise its actually promoting a lot of the problems people who have been listening to the genre for years are moaning about.“
More recently, Caribbean dancehall artists such as Mr. Vegas have spoken out against Drake’s sudden infatuation with the Caribbean culture after Drake tried his hand at dancehall music on his album Views with the songs “One Dance“, “Too Good“, and “Controlla“.
Mr. Vegas on Hot 97: “If someone is gonna say we gonna endorse this culture…and do an album with almost half dancehall music…you’d expect this person to be supporting the acts that come from this culture” (rough translation) Vegas said on Hot 97 “If you’re gonna say you’re down with this culture, one would expect you’re going to (credit our artists) on the record properly“.
Posts on popular Hip-Hop forum The Coli reveal a story behind Drake & Migos classic “Versace“. The thread links to an article in The FADER titled “Who Will Survive When Migos Meet Big Data?”, where Migos’ label Quality Control recalls a situation where they experienced clearance issues with Drake’s OVO label after Drake voluntarily hopped on “Versace“.
Let’s take a breath. This conversation begs a few questions:
- What exactly is cultural appropriation?
- Isn’t Drake a huge part of the Hip-Hop culture, how can he be a culture vulture?
- Is it fair to target Drake? Aren’t there other, worse perpetrators in Hip-Hop?
- How much of the “culture” people fight for so dearly still exists in Hip-Hop today?
- And is there anything wrong with Drake hopping on whatever genres and trends he wants? Doesn’t he have artistic freedom?
On one hand, Hip-Hop is a free, open genre created by African-Americans in the South Bronx, NY for anyone to join and compete equally. Artists should be free to express themselves artistically, right? Sure, however, you can understand why some people would care more about authenticity in the culture than others when they have to live in the culture and thus have to live the repercussions of the music versus simply observing it.
What’s your take? Comment below.