Drake As A Megabrand: What It Means To Me And Why I Think A Break From Him Could Be Good For Us All
"Few institutions, fewer people, can be labeled too big to fail."
In 2008, the United States witnessed the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the biggest financial disaster since The Great Depression. In 2009, a book entitled, Too Big To Fail, was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin, chronicling the events that quieted nationwide uncertainty surrounding the country’s financial infrastructure. The government and our largest financial institutions decided to combine struggling banks or institutions with thriving ones, which would create even larger institutions that would indeed make them “too big to fail.” It's dangerous when something is deemed so important that failure is not an option. Few institutions, fewer people, can be labeled too big to fail: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah, our president. In hip-hop, the search is more difficult to find individuals who serve as walking economies. Puff and Jay are the leaders of the old-guard in hip-hop, but Drake is the newest name. He is amongst those that generate so much money for so many that failure is no longer on the table.
Drake his more than a rapper, he’s a pop star. Rarified air that most artists associated with the “urban,” or more plainly, black folks, rarely are able to soar. Beyoncé is the biggest because she’s Beyoncé. Hip-Hop/Rap has officially surpassed Rock as the most popular genre of music in America. The mainstream, or more plainly, the majority race in this country, has assimilated hip-hop into American culture. It no longer belongs solely to the streets and hoods that birthed it. We have to share it with those that for so long denied it as a form of art.
Drake is the leader of the genre’s shift in popularity, with his fifth studio album, Scorpion, leading the way in sales. Drake has also earned his sixth number one single, the most among rappers, on the Billboards. "In My Feelings" is another inescapable summer smash that has the “mainstream” attempting dances that the’d never seen before. The viral video clips helped "In My Feelings" rise to the top of the charts. Scorpion roughly sold 750k units (including streams) the first week, and followed it up with about 350k the next week. Drake is more popular than ever and also more inaccessible than he’s ever been. There has yet to be a press run for Scorpion.
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As the our country’s economy hung on by a thread, I was a high schooler who had just discovered Limewire. I was ignorant to the pressure my middle class parents were under financially back in 2008. My parents thought it would be cool to visit my brother in college, so I did. I arrived expecting to hang with the college students. I was overly excited to be around older and more mature women. I ended up in a dorm room alone searching through my brother’s extensive music library. I found a song called "Replacement Girl" by a some dude named Drake, featuring Trey Songz. I played it over and over again. I wanted to learn the first verse before the night ended, and hopefully the whole song by the end of the weekend.
I didn’t know that he’d released a mixtape entitled Comeback Season, but I was hooked. In 2009, most fans of hip-hop heard Drake for the first time when he dropped So Far Gone. This was an era when mixtapes were more anticipated than albums, and Drake had dropped the grandaddy of them all. Drake is Canadian, half-Jewish and half-singer. He was also Wheelchair Jimmy from the TV show, Degrassi. The combination was perfect for maximum exposure, but not so perfect for a MC. He is not what people envisioned as a hip-hop messiah destined to take rap to its highest levels. He brought a Blackberry to a freestyle for Funk Flex, his rap hands were laughable, he wore fake Jordans and he tweaked his torn ACL performing prematurely, which was a meme before memes. He wasn’t hip-hop. Back then, there was no way to know he’d be accepted by the rap community. Some speculated his rap career would be short-lived and he’d go back to acting.
Those days are now long gone.
Drake is no longer obsessed with Blackberrys. A beard covers his big grin. Drake doesn’t have to do cover stories or freestyle for local radio stations. He's now a Jordan brand athlete without being an athlete. There are no more doubts about his sustainability in rap. “Soft” can only be a label attributed to the B side of Scorpion, which is filled with tales about the women he’s dated. In real life, chain snatchers know better than to try Drake. Everyone knows he’s backed by hip-hop royalty, J and Jas Prince. Drake has toured the world multiple times unscathed. Even though he’s the biggest thing in hip-hop, there are still doubters.
A couple weeks before his album’s release, Drake was exposed as a father. Throughout the years, his life had become so private, but now he was at the mercy of the public for the first time since his career’s genesis. Pusha T’s diss, "The Story of Adidon," resurfaced the doubters, and they were louder than ever. The blackface photos and the accusations of being a deadbeat father are the greatest attempts at exposing Drake as a phony. It was a real, “Is this your king?” moment.
But even with that, Drake’s momentum hasn’t slowed a bit. Drake’s biggest public “L” resulted in him going platinum quicker than the RIAA could frame the plaque and postmark it. This was his final album under contract with YME (Young Money Entertainment). He can court any record label now, think of any number he wants and watch record executives scramble to attain his services. But, I just don’t know if people want to hear another album from him anytime soon.
Scorpion may be his best work to date, but his fans have run out of superlatives. Writers are bored breaking down his work. Drake has become too big to fail. He doesn’t need us anymore. Time apart could do us all some good. It may be a good thing if music fans had a chance to miss him for a while.