Home Arts & Culture Why Do Rappers Think Drake Isn’t Black Enough For Hip-Hop?

Why Do Rappers Think Drake Isn’t Black Enough For Hip-Hop?

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Source: Carmen Mandato / Getty

The epic beef between rappers Kendrick Lamar and Drake has once again demonstrated the linguistic acrobatics of rap culture. The feud has seen both artists release multiple tracks where they lyrically diss each other. Beefs involve rappers disrespecting each other and can happen in diss tracks, but also through interviews, social media and other statements.

When Lamar viciously but masterfully raps about Drake “tryna to strike a chord and it’s probably A minor,” he is playing with language; using double entendre and homonym (A minor being a musical chord and also a reference to an underage child) to combine the literal, on-the-face-of-it meaning of a word and its other potential meanings.

Some might lament the spurious facts and salacious accusations flowing between Lamar and Drake. The artists may hold lasting grudges against each other and the violent language of beefs can spill over into real life.

However, beefs are more about self-conscious plays with language and meaning than about the claims they make. They are a testament to the power of language, using hyperbole, irony and innuendo to best insult one’s opponent. Beefs acknowledge the social power of often derided forms of communication, like gossip and rumours.

Criticisms of Drake

Drake reminds us of this in one of his responses to Lamar, The Heart Part 6. The piece opens with a sample of Aretha Franklin’s 1967 song Prove It, while the only “proof” Drake offers for his own claims is a heart emoji on an Instagram post.

Beefs are less about truth claims and more about showcasing skill and, just as importantly, performing identity through language.

The Heart Part 6 by Drake.

Identity in rap is tied to authenticity, the connection an artist makes to their own autobiographical story and how that story connects to other identities. Canadian-born, mixed-race (with a white mother and African American father), Jewish and extraordinarily successful, Drake’s authenticity is always challenged.

Critics took him to task for Started from the Bottom, arguing that his roots in Toronto’s affluent Forest Hill (which Drake disputes) are hardly the bottom. Critics have also argued that his sensitive, “nice guy” persona obscures misogyny and sexism.

His sliding accents — a southern twang in Fancy, Jamaican patois in We Caa Done and a Toronto accent in Canadian rapper Preme’s DnF — spawned accusations of cultural tourism.

While such criticisms circulate on numerous platforms, beefs often target Drake’s race. Lamar calls Drake “off-white” in his diss track 6:16 in LA. Rapper Rick Ross just calls him a “white boy” and in The Story of Adidon, Pusha T raps:

“Confused, always thought you weren’t Black enough

Afraid to grow it ’cause your ‘fro wouldn’t nap enough.”

In his song Stay Schemin’ (Remix), American rapper Common says:

“You so Black and white, trying to live a n****’s life

I’m taking too long with this amateur guy

You ain’t wet nobody, n****, you Canada dry.

Rap and Canadian-ness

These lines emphasize how Drake is constructed as a Canadian who is not Black enough to claim an authentic connection to African-American hip hop culture. In Not Like Us Lamar suggests that Drake needs to mimic rappers like Future, Lil Baby and 21 Savage to gain “street cred.”

Claims of mimicry haunt Canadian hip hop but have also seen pushback. In 1994, Canadian rapper Maestro Fresh Wes released the album, Naaah, Dis Kid Can’t Be From Canada?!! that, in the words of Africana studies professor Rinaldo Walcott, “targets the narrative of hip hop as an African-American invention,” disturbing the need for what he calls “mimetic identification” with the United States.

Long before Drake, Maestro produced Canadian raps challenging the idea that hip hop’s authenticity depends on U.S. citizenship.

Certs Wid Out Da Retsyn by Maestro Fresh Wes.

But Drake’s Canadian-ness intersects with his mixed-race identity. The U.S. and Canada construct Blackness in similar, but unidentical, ways. Drake himself has suggested that emphasis on his whiteness is heightened in an American context: “That’s a very American thing … light skin and dark skin.”

When Black Canadians enter the U.S. public sphere, where Blackness is visible in historically contingent ways, their own lived experience as Black Canadians can make performing Blackness in a U.S. context fraught.

The cover of Pusha T’s The Story of Adidon is a photo of Drake in blackface. It is a shocking image. Responding in an official statement, rather than song, Drake explained that:

“This picture is from 2007, a time in my life where I was an actor and I was working on a project that was about young Black actors struggling to get roles, being stereotyped and typecast. The photos represented how African Americans were once wrongfully portrayed in entertainment.”

Drake’s use of “African Americans” in his statement assumes an American audience, erasing the specificity of Black Canadian experiences that, presumably, Drake was at least in part attempting to address when he was still working on the Canadian production of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Whether blackface can ever be reclaimed as an anti-racist act (as Drake seems to suggest it can), it is worth noting that dominant narratives position blackface as American, even though minstrelsy was historically prevalent and popular in Canada. This may be why Drake — Canadian and mixed race — uses the term African American, a reminder that Blackness itself is often positioned outside Canada.

Canadian rappers who have gained fame both globally and within Canada are often linked to other nations. K’naan of Wavin’Flag fame was often referred to by the media as Somali Canadian, Shad — host of Hip Hop Evolution — is identified as Rwandan. Drake’s friend Preme is noted to be of Guyanese descent, and even Scarborough-born Kardinal Offishall is identified with Jamaica, where his parents immigrated from.

As a Black man, Drake does not fully belong inside a nation always imagined as white, but neither does he fully belong to the imagined communities — immigrant or racialized — to which Canada expects Black individuals to belong. Absent cultural belonging to the state of his birth, to the U.S. and its history of hip hop geography or to nodes in the Black diaspora, perhaps it is unsurprising that Drake adopts the sounds of others in a bid for hip hop authenticity.

Echoing Pusha T, Lamar says of Drake, “he lives inside confusion.” But arguably that “confusion” also lives outside of Drake. Drake, as told through Common, Pusha T or Lamar’s beefy language, becomes a sign of an uneasy Blackness.

Not because, as Pusha T claims, Drake himself is uncomfortable with his own Black identity, but because these representations of Drake render Canadian Blackness and Canadian anti-Black racism invisible, even while suggesting that Drake is not quite Black enough for hip hop.The Conversation

Alexandra Boutros, Associate Professor of Cultural and Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation


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