In the wake of a more nuanced discussion around race relations, sparked by Jordan Peele's Get Out, Drake has dropped his fifth album, titled More Life. Present on the growing-pains playlist are the influences of Toronto (home to 75 percent of Jamaican-born Canadian immigrants) and that of his former love interest, Bajan singer and philanthropist, Rihanna. However, not everyone is a fan of how these influences have manifested.
The half-black, half-white, Jewish actor-singer-rapper, is ruffling feathers with the use of a "fake accent" throughout the album. Though he paid homage to dancehall and Carribean sounds, questions of appropriation continue to surface. A similar question of belonging was raised by actor and advocate Samuel L. Jackson in regards to British Ugandan actor Daniel Kaluuya playing the role of a black American in Peele's Get Out.
Jackson shared in an interview with HOT 97 his frustrations with Black British actors getting roles over Black Americans. But who determines what qualifies or does not qualify a black actor or rapper to explore roles and cultures within the diaspora?
In response to Jackson questioning how the depiction of Kaluuya's character would have differed had the role been played by "an American brother", Kaluuya touched on the difficulties that come with being black in different settings. "When I go to Uganda, I can’t speak the language. In the black community, I’m dark-skinned. In America, I’m British. Bro!"
Despite the success of Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney, of Lupita Nyong'o and Viola Davis, the lack of on-screen representation is still a struggle for black communities everywhere. English actress Thandie Newton recently drew attention to how she and other actors of color are struggling to find work in the UK. The British Film Institute's research has shown that "59 percent of UK films since 2006 had no black actors in any role."
This year was the first since 2015 that #OscarsSoWhite wasn't the overarching theme of the Academy Awards Ceremony. Taraji P. Henson said it best in her new memoir Around the Way Girl . "There are way more talented black actresses than there are intelligent, meaningful roles for them and we’re consistently charged with diving for the crumbs of the scraps, lest we starve".
These observations raise the questions of whether there are enough seats at the table, who's being given these seats and for what reason. Between Passionfruit & Madiba Riddim, More Life listeners take a trip from the Carribean to South Africa. Drake also features U.K. rap star Giggs on "No Long Talk" and "KMT." It's safe to say that Drake was hoping to cover a lot of ground while exploring new terrain? Well, the chameleon is causing just as much talk as he planned (I credit him with being very crafty).
Drake has changed colors many times throughout his career from choosing entirely new paths to his style and topics of choice. It's his fearless exploration that makes him the rapper that he is today. And it's this characteristic in entertainers that sets them apart and moves us to admire them.
How appropriate is the conversation about levels of blackness according to birthplace and background? Is Kaluuya entitled to exploring himself as an actor through diverse roles? Is Drake overstepping his black, Jewish, Canadian boundaries by taking on a Caribbean accent?
Creative expression isn't always comfortable to observe. It's often a representation of who we are as a society and as a people. John F. Kennedy said, "If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” Let us be nourished.