Drake and the paradigm of intangibility

drakeThe hottest thing in rap currently has no CD for sale, one old video to play and no official singles to buy, yet has the imprimatur of multi-platinum seller and media darling Lil’ Wayne, and has been tabloid-fodder for his dalliance with Rihanna.

Simply based on the avalanche of buzz garnered by his mixtapes, it seems as if Drake, the rapper-singer from Toronto who might be best known for his role as Wheelchair Jimmy on “Degrassi,” is the next big thing. But history has shown us time and again that rap fans are notorious for building up artists only to tear them down once something concrete is given to them.

It’s both inevitable and surprising that Drake has blown up the way he has. His mixtapes, namely “Comeback Season” and “So Far Gone,” show a savvy artist that can make songs for the ladies (the real audience that can truly make or break an artist) and the boom-bap crowd (his underground rep and affiliations with respected artists are strong).

To be sure, Drake’s songs are catchy. The unofficial single, “Best I Ever Had,” is carried by a propulsive, summery beat as Drake spits about the females in his life and then croons, “Baby, you’re the fuckin’ best” – a chorus whose vulgarity almost seems to slip by given the uptempo nature of the beat.

“So Far Gone,” in particular, is a great mixtape, one that I’ve been bumping for most of the year. I’m always, however, a little leery of mixtape rappers and mixtapes in general. I feel like anyone can put together a good mixtape given the relative freedom in sampling, using current songs, limited expectations, etc.

What I really respect is an artist that can put together a good album. It’s not easy. I want to know if they can pick out good beats, if they know about proper sequencing, if they can hold a relatively coherent theme together for 45 minutes. If Drake can do that with “Thank Me Later,” his impending 2009 release, it seems as if he’ll be on his way.

But buzz means little in the rap game; just take the recent example of Asher Roth, who was hailed as “the next Eminem” and gained the approval of several of the game’s heavy hitters based on his solid mixtapes. But Roth’s recently released album, “Asleep in the Bread Aisle,” has sold just 120,000 copies and was considered a critical disappointment as well.

Roth’s not alone however. Mixtape legend Saigon still hasn’t released a proper album. And buzzy artists like Crooked I, Joe Budden, Skillz and others have never been able to satisfy fans or labels once they’ve delivered something concrete.

Can Drake buck the trend? He’s got a lot of things working in his favor, but I’m not ready to proclaim him a star until I get something a little more real to work with.


~ by Elliott on June 2, 2009.

One Response to “Drake and the paradigm of intangibility”

  1. […] a year ago, I wrote about Drake’s popularity and the fact that he had no real physical currency to show for it – mixtapes are an ephemeral […]

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