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Drake: our hip-hop Hamlet

It’s no secret that Drake is a multitalented musi­cian. Since before “Take Care,” we’ve known that he’s capable of caustic bars, angelic frequencies and artful, unexpected turns as a producer. But If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is different; this is new. From the titanic opener, “Legend,” it oscillates between an art­ist delighting in his ability (‘I’m too good with these words’) and the ponderousness of a man weighed down by his fame (“oh my god, if I die I’m a legend”).

The tone of any given song is unclear: “10 bands” is a mixture of calm, brooding, and seedy. The ‘woes’ on the chorus of the mixtape’s most eminently bump­able song, “Know Yourself” could either be abbreviated ‘woadies’ (=homies) or, simply, his emotional anguish, a theme he’s confronted in musical form throughout his career with more profundity than anyone else in his genre. The ‘woes’ flow into a playful ‘woah’ on the next track, “No Tellin,” where the cohesive production is sumptuous. It is still not neat; Drake, as he does often, restructures a track midway with an interlude, an outro, a switch-up of flow, a sample of thick Jamai­can accents, or even some automated voicemail mes­sage. The initial menace of “Star67” slips into smooth synth, with distant snares and his beloved high-pitched sensitivity. He samples Ginuwine’s “Anxious” on three different tracks. In an industry that praises broad, eclectic sampling (à la Yeezy), to sample the same track three times is bold.

Toronto lies at the heart of IYRTITL, the reoccur­ring “6” referring to its area codes. His claim, “I’m the real 6 God” is legitimate: he has put Toronto on the map as a city with a stake in hip-hop (he was even recently made an executive of the Toronto Raptors). The mood of the whole mixtape sounds distinctly noc­turnal; the sprinkles of treble above sparse yet heavy bass on tracks like “6 Man” evoke the same mood of Drake’s recent short film, Jungle. The mix tape evokes Hollywood after dark or the frozen aesthetic of Toronto.

The Independent’s review made a throwaway Drake/ Hamlet comparison, and I’d like to run with it. As Hamlet is a genius trapped in a revenge tragedy, Drake is an artist trapped in a flawed, obsolete rap scene, namely his label YMCMB. It’s common knowledge that there’s friction between him his producer, Birdman. On “Now and Forever,” he alludes to the label’s stagna­tion and constrictions. “Had to knock down the wall” Drake complains, “I’ve been here for too long…swear to god that I’m gone.” The song, however, works equally well as a dysfunctional- Drake-lovesong with which we’re so familiar.

Hamlet cements himself in the canon for his loquacious introspec­tion and his sprawling self-consciousness—Drake is hip-hop’s clearest equivalent, from his self-conscious questioning on “No Tellin” (“What am I willin’ to give her to get what I want tonight?”) to his anxiety about his career on “Star67:” “I am not a man, I can’t do this on my own.” This lyric is ironic, as the previous track is “6 God.” If not a man, then a boy, or a god? To extend the comparison, Drake exhibits a Hamlet-like frustra­tion with the fakeness that appears to be everywhere; except for Drake it’s mostly on Facebook.

There aren’t many misanthropes in hip-hop. Drake’s mantra, “no new friends,” pervades the mixtape, but he displays a contempt for social media. On “Energy,” the first verse opens with “fuck goin online that ain’t part of my day,” and in his second verse: “Bitches askin me about the code for the wifi, so they can talk about their timeline.” A listener could hear this as simply a dismissal of superficiality, but Drake seems sincerely invested in the idea of social media at odds with real humanity. On “Jungle,” the mixtape’s gorgeous last track, a slow, swaying number, he utters twice, “But fuck what they talkin’ about on your timeline, that’s cuttin all into my time with you.”

Drake recently tweeted that he will be indefinitely withdrawing from all interviews. He is producing less non-musical content, but his work rate in the studio is phenomenal. “Young but I’m making millions to work the nightshift,” he claims. Drake’s perseverance is made more exciting with rumors that IYRTITL was released as an album despite its apparent ‘mixtape’ format in order to release another album in the pipe­line with a new record label, having expired his four album contract.

IYRTITL retains Drake’s classic dilemma: how to succeed in hip-hop and express sensitivity. With su­perlative eloquence on “You & the 6,” he frames it: “I used to get teased for being black and now I’m here and I’m not black enough/ Cause I’m not acting tough.” “You & the 6” is about Drake’s mother, Sandi. His track from Take Care, “Look What You’ve Done,” on the same topic, was the previous standard for tender rap, if not in the whole game, then definitely in Drake’s canon. Yet “You & the 6” may exceed it. We hear him interrupt himself, reflect on his father’s music he grew up with, “He made me listen to his music, old mu­sic, soul music, shit that can only be created if you go through it,” and express naked gratitude, “You and the six raised me right, that shit saved my life.”

Drake reflects on the industry: “There’s no code of ethics…I gotta be logical.” Nevertheless, one need only listen to the hook of “Jungle’” to see how unabashedly, unfashionably nonconformist—how gentle—Drake is prepared to be, “Rock me real slowly/ Put a bib on me/ I’m just like a baby, drooling over you.” This is Drake at his most intimate, unfettered by opinion, ambitious and forward. “Are you still down?” He croons. The question’s rhetorical; the answer’s ubiquitous.

One Response

  1. Tyler Payne says:

    It’s the Telegraph review that references Hamlet, not the Independent.

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