Jeff Miers: Drake is the poster boy for “Generation Selfie”
Drake is something else.
Seriously. It takes an incredible amount of fortitude to release a single called “Started from the Bottom” when where you really started from was the set of an incredibly popular Canadian teen soap opera known as “Degrassi: the Next Generation.”
Audacity is not Drake’s greatest talent, however. As the freshly released “Nothing Was the Same” makes plain, the rapper’s deepest gift is his ability to turn narcissism into high art.
With the possible exception of Eminem, no other mainstream hip-hop star has been able to turn whiney self-examination into cold, hard cash with such élan. Drake wants you to feel sorry for him. That’s fine and all, but when you realize that he wants you to feel sorry for him while he brags about all the hearts he’s broken, all the girls he’s “seen naked”, (as he claims during one new track) and the amount of money he’s able to waste on his materialistic lifestyle – well, a rational mind has got to cry foul. Or not.
“Nothing Was the Same” is a self-referential magnum opus. When it comes to the lyrics, “cloying” doesn’t even describe the half of it. Musically, it’s mostly a tribute to the 80s, with synths and slow jams that celebrate an era most of us who actually lived through want to forget.
And already, it’s being hailed as a masterpiece.
Pop music critics and culture watchdogs have taken to referring to Drake as “the voice of his generation” with such alarming consistency that a skeptical sniff and a rolling of the eyes would seem to be the only healthy response. The thing is, he very well might be the voice of his generation. This is, after all, the generation responsible for giving us the “selfie,” the social media-spread self portrait that screams “It’s all about me!” from the digital rooftops. We should all admit that there is something incredibly creepy about the “selfie” – it seems like a thinly veneered cry for help, a sort of ‘I take a picture of myself pouting into my iPhone, therefore I am’ moment that probably shouldn’t be shared with thousands of strangers, but very likely will be.
“Nothing Was the Same” is basically an audio “selfie,” and just like the confused teenaged girl who purses her lips and attempts to hold her camera phone at the most flattering angle, Drake is completely frontin’ here.
He loves to brag about chasing booty, then he courts our sympathy when those conquests come to nothing emotionally substantial. He wants us to believe he has street-level authenticity, but in point of fact, he comes from a privileged background. He’s clearly completely self-obsessed, and yet he expects us to buy his “in touch with the feminine side” jilted lover persona. The guy is an emotional train-wreck, if we might be excused for judging him by his lyrics.
When “Nothing Was the Same” works, it does so as dimly-lit, late-night, slow jam mood music. No one should ever confuse it with far superior works in the same vein by Marvin Gaye or even Barry White, but then again, no one is ever likely to, because the folks who populate Drake’s target market have probably never heard of either of them.
Drake and his producers – Chilly Gonzales, Noah “40” Shebib, Hudson Mohawke – are collage artists, and as such, are thoroughly modern, “of the moment” record-makers. Together, they cut-and-paste a monument to Drake’s apparently massive ego, and place it in the center court of every metaphorical shopping mall in America (and Canada, too), there to be gazed upon lovingly by (mostly) young people who recognize in Drake the confused narcissism/crippling insecurity hybrid they are beginning to accept as “normal”. That’s not good.
Occasionally, in the midst of all the navel-gazing and “I-Me-Mine”-ing, Drake hits upon something somewhat interesting, as if by accident. “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” for example, is sugar-sweet hip-hop lite, Drake attempting to be all coy and sexy, but it’s also revelatory – scanning the lyrics, you realize that Drake can only relate to women in terms of how they relate to him. He doesn’t seem to see them as separate autonomous beings, but as appendages of his own ego. This is solipsism run amok. And it’s super creepy.
No matter. “Nothing Was the Same” will sell incredibly well, will most likely be nominated for Grammys, will top critic’s year-end lists. It’s just pop music, after all. But the story it tells is a bit chilling.
- Jeff Miers