I’m used to Drake being a joke. On the Singles Jukebox he was almost always called Fucking Drake (an inside joke that started here), and his attempts at a music career were called embarrassing at best, because they so clearly were. Disagreeing would have be contrarian to the point of being silly. This has all been retconned, and I don’t know why. (That’s not true. I have my suspicions, but I know better than to voice them.)
There will be a lot of men reviewing Nothing Was the Same, and few if any women. (Before you ask: I don’t plan on reviewing it for anyone. I’m not pitching it, and I haven’t been commissioned.) A lot of people are going to criticize anyone (read: any woman) who takes issue with Nothing Was the Same's lyrics, claiming they (again: women) should shut up and take in the production. It's already happening; see these comments, and note who’s being disproportionately ranted at. (Hints: It isn’t the only negative reviewer, or the only reviewer who took issue with the lyrics.)
They will have ammunition, of a sort. Even if lyrics aren’t generally denigrated in music criticism, Nothing Was the Same is in fact immaculately produced. It is immaculately produced in a way where taste equals money — “Tuscan Leather,” for instance, references Whitney Houston in more or less the same way as Bret Easton Ellis. It is immaculately produced in the way that’s replicable — sometimes literally, as in “Hold On, We’re Going Home“‘s over-timely retromania; there is approximately a 50% chance that Drake’s next album will find him whining that he couldn’t get Nile Rodgers. It is immaculately produced in a way where, were Drake a woman, would find all the credit ably assigned to her producer. Can you even imagine such a thing getting written? “Nothing Was the Same sounds good, but it’s really just because of Noah Shebib”?
Well, maybe. When Yeezus came out I wrote something to the effect of “here it is, the one album a year where critics bother to talk about misogyny.” I was wrong, because here’s the other one. The fact that both are rap/R&B albums is not a coincidence. Yes, NWTS is different, in that it doesn’t make the kind of provocative, explicit statements about race that Yeezus does; yes, major rap albums like NWTS are, in 2013, the major mainstream albums; yes, Drake’s (at my old job I’d always leap at the chance to write up any leaked Drake track because the Google referrals were always much higher than usual, even for leaks); yes, pop is dominated either by women or male producers you’d never write biographical criticism about. (“What does Avicii’s TRUE say about Avicii’s view of women?” #howilostthegig) But still, more verbiage will be expended on NWTS and women than — if it’s a critically acclaimed grand millennial statement you want to compare to — Modern Vampires of the City, whose centerpiece track “Hannah Hunt” is essentially Ezra Koenig moaning that the world has no future because his voiceless girlfriend dumped him or something. (If you believe Koenig’s backstory, Hannah Hunt’s a woman in a band that will never get as much exposure as this.) Which is reductive, but no more reductive than any of the Drake verbiage will be.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
Drake stans remind me of — to switch fields — the sort of guys who sent Carolyn Petit death threats for 9.0, Editor’s Choice review of Grand Theft Auto V on GameSpot. (Game reviews have notoriously inflated scores, even by review standards, but come on.) It’s apropos to me because the first death threat I ever got for my writing came from a Drake stan (the next was from a Christina Aguilera stan; there were more, but those are the ones I remember) but it’s apropos in general because they’re saying many of the same things. Only fans should talk about an artist, narrowly defined. To be a fan, you must be uncritical. To be a fan, you’d ideally be in the in-group; if not, you must ignore what’s said about you. When you’re attacked, you should appreciate the arc of the blow and the poetics of the moment and hide your bleeding. And if you don’t want to or can’t do that — then you should just shut up, because you’re not a fan.
From time to time people point out that I’m mostly a fan of female musicians, or female authors, and so forth. Partly it’s a statement; it bothers me enough when people’s carefully curated lists of favorite musicians, their statements of good taste, are 90% male, with maybe a stray Nina Simone or Joni Mitchell thrown in, that I try to be the opposite to prove the opposite is possible. But partly it’s because women are far less likely to make me feel unwelcome. I’m not offended by GTA, but I’m not a fan because I’m fans of media where women have more interiority than an NPC or bullet target. I’m not a fan of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” because I hear lines like “I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly” and find them laughable in context (even more laughable from the pipsqueaks who repeat it as a pickup line), then hear lines like “I know exactly who you could be,” where “who” means “the sort of woman who’ll let me fuck her then fuck her over and not mind at all,” and I recoil. I’m not a fan because Nothing Was the Same doesn’t want me as a fan. I’m a woman, after all. There is only so much I have to offer, and it’s not inside my thoughts or above my neck.
I should not be recoiling, the narrative goes, because I am also a millennial, and Drake’s album is supposed to inherently speak to The Millennial Experience. The Millennial Experience is always a fallacy; no, not everyone was told they’d have a great life after they went to college; no, it’s not just 22-year-olds who are looking for jobs, and if you think finding a job at age 22 is hard, try being 52, laid off and replaced by a 22-year-old.
Yet Drake’s album is supposed to speak to this un-universal universal experience, somehow, male and female. Which is standard enough; the majority of male writers write about specifically male experiences and the majority of female writers write about specifically female experiences, but only the former tends to be re-classified as universal experience. (For example: The comparisons to The Idler Wheel have already begun, but I don’t remember seeing that album lauded as the universal human experience so much as the universal female experience. Which itself is more charitable than most reviews.) I’ve never felt like I have much in common with millennials (in part a function of never feeling like I have much in common with anybody, but still.) And I don’t have Drake feelings. The very thought is ridiculous. Lately I have Goldfrapp feelings, so many of them (how can you not hear “Thea” and feel ten times more like a tragic heroine?) But I don’t have Drake feelings; to me they’re almost a red flag. If someone tells me he relates to women the way Drake would, I would be rather put off. Why wouldn’t I? Yet it’s a thing I suspect I’m supposed to just get over.
(That said: did you know there’s a documented on-record instance of Drake feelings? There is! It’s in Kalenna’s “Matte Black Truck”: “I’m feeling like Drake now. You can thank me later, baby, even though you hate me now.” I wonder if anyone’ll bring that up.)
Since I’ve danced around it: the first Drake review was the first full-length review to address the “Drake speak to millennials, man" angle, and it ran on Buzzfeed. It began like this: "the day after Drake’s album leaks is like postpartum depression." This is possibly the stupidest thing I have ever read. The day after Drake’s album leaks is the day after you downloaded a set of mp3s from the Internet. Postpartum depression is actual clinical depression (it’s often contrasted with the “baby blues”) and, if it’s bad, can make women suicidal. (How many women? We don’t know, because it’s never been tracked.) If it sounds like I’m taking that entirely too seriously, I’m not, because the argument continues: "Drake’s edge is in his ability to appeal to the episodes of sadness, insecurity, and bewilderment that people experience daily." (Examples given: being bullied in high school then becoming wildly successful and rubbing it in the bullies’ faces, as opposed to being emotionally stunted and skittish or worse, which is more often a thing bullying does; answering a booty call, which 50% of the rest of pop music appeals to as well; taking your mother’s debit card to go on a shopping spree, which speaks for itself.) I will submit that Nothing Was the Same does not have much for a woman’s episodes of postpartum depression. I would also submit that it does not have much for a woman in general.
Who are the women of Nothing Was the Same, then? They are many. They are NPCs. Sometimes they are nameless people who are seduced and schemed against. Sometimes they have names, names like “Courtney from Hooters.” (I’ve seen that “From Time” verse cited as something humanizing, “the one that got away” and such — but it’s clearly supposed to be in part a joke, Drake getting so fucked up he seriously thinks he believes “the one he needed” was some girl he met at a place like Hooters. The Internet has since doxed her and picked apart her looks.) Sometimes they are Jhene Aiko, forgiving Drake to the dulcet words “I love me enough for the both of us,” which is utter male-fantasy bullshit: the woman who is endlessly forgiving of all your deliberate fuckups and also looks like a model. If she loves herself that much, why put up with Drake?
Drake has one particular ability ,which is to repeat things women have said to him with zero awareness of what they mean. On “Own It,” which actually begins with a hack-caliber “Women talk a lot! Amirite?” joke: “My ex-girlfriend searching for a ‘sorry.’” Here’s what RapGenius has to say — Drake being perhaps the ideal RapGenius artist — ”[Drake has to deal] with Ex’s trying to get back with him.” Better explanation: She wants him to say he’s sorry.She’d maybe prefer him to never have done it in the first place, or to try to fix the damage he caused, or to change at all, but you know, baby steps. (Being a woman who’s been hurt by a man and knows he will never apologize: another way to be an emotional wreck that Drake’s album does not address.) Or on “From Time”: ”My mother is 66 and her favorite line to hit me with is ‘Who the fuck wants to be 70 and alone?’” This one jarred me, because I’ve heard something very similar from my mother. There are two ways to interpret such a thing. One is a cautionary tale to your 20-something lust life. The other is a thing said by a woman in her 60s — who’s lived more than twice as long as any millennial kid — and who’s worried about being alone. Does Drake have any inkling of a concept of that? Does he even want to?
Even that Whitney sample. Whitney suffused her songs with emotion, now posthumous emotion. Drake used it as an ornament, exactly like he did with Aaliyah. It’s pain, expressed as directly as she could, heard only as just so much talk.
One defense of all this — see the kicker in this otherwise good Tom Breihan review — will be deployed often, and always half-assedly: it’s okay, because Drake knows he’s an asshole, and he’s wounded. This may be the sticking point for me, because I have been hurt by too many wounded assholes, and I don’t have any patience for their rationalizations. I’d expect it from a celebrity, but from a civilian? So you’re wounded. Lots of people manage to be wounded without wounding others in turn, or even if they do hurt people manage to view it as them choosing to hurt people, not as a meditation on the cosmic signs of their own unavoidable fate to be an asshole. If you know you’re an asshole, wouldn’t you try to stop being an asshole? I spend at least three hours every day twisting myself into mental knots trying to do and say and think and believe the right things. It isn’t enough, because I still do and say and etc the wrong things. But I don’t understand how a person wouldn’t.
Or maybe the sticking point is when I hear “started from the bottom, now my whole crew’s here,” what I think is “started from the bottom, falling alone back to the bottom, in a parabola.” Drake’s eludicated something here. I’m not yet sure what.