Wizkid – Ojuelegba (2014)
In an ironically very Drake-like way, I’ve tussled with my feelings towards the Canadian child actor turned childish rapper for the last few years, caught between the rock of his undeniable vocal prowess and glacially impressive production and the hard-place of his transparently fraudulent persona (not coming from a hard-place and pretending to) and tendency to nick musical techniques off less high-profile, much more interesting artists and claim them as his own. He’s like a terrifyingly efficient and aggressive corporation, insulated against real criticism by success and P.R. He’s even got the one-word, no-meaning name of one of those tax dodging, culture assimilating corporations.
In rap music, in fact, success is the trump P.R. card to hold; as in politics, neo-liberal ideology has triumphed (with a little help from big business, natch) and the argument that success = quality, which used to be rejected with the old argument about Vanilla Ice and Nazi Germany being – fleetingly – successful, is now seen as completely legitimate and any opposition to it pure sour-grapes. This argument can basically be extended to excuse anybody of any act short of war crimes. Calling Chris Brown a woman beater, are you? Bet YOU’D beat women if you could drive a sports car like that!
Was it Puff Daddy et al who ushered in this era of greed exoneration with their “player hater” hating? Drake is certainly a leading exemplar of the ideology, answering any critics by pointing to his palatial mansion, stadium tours and opening day at Wal Mart queues of willing women. He even espouses the classic neo-liberal line of “Started from the Bottom”, which has often been used by rappers before him but somewhat legitimately, given their origins in ghetto communities. I’m sure George Osbourne thinks that HE started from the bottom, too.
OTOH I can really relate to Drake as a skinny nerdy outsider to Hip-Hop culture, now beefing myself up at the gym and singing joyfully along to Young Thug and Migos songs. When I used to write raps myself, I went the Slim Shady route of self-deprecation and “sicko” posturing, (after all, if you’re not REALLY hard then you HAVE to claim that you’ll cut someone’s tongue off and strangle them with it because then it’s OBVIOUS you’re just joking.) but I was ultimately doing the same thing Drake does, just alone in my bedroom with nobody giving a fuck (YEAH I’M STILL TALKING ABOUT RAPPING FFS.)
Drake, the fake who made it, should be an idol to wannabes like me. Is it just jealousy, then, that ruins him for us? Or is it that we can see through him, and – besides that – know that fakes like us SHOULD stay in our bedrooms, recording our embarrassing gangsta raps, not too loud in case our mum hears us swearing? Actually, I think it’s pretty obvious that Drake can both see through himself and see that others can see through him. He’s absolutely riddled with insecurity, behind that arrogant, toothpick chewing front. That’s why he did the song about starting from the bottom. Because everybody knows it isn’t true. In an era defined entirely by P.R., however, knowing something isn’t true is no barrier to believing in it. Does it impress us or not, THAT is the question.
Drake’s latest embarrassing adolescent phase which I can relate to 100% is an infatuation with grime and Top Boy. He’s adopted Skepta, started saying ”linked” and ”ting” etc. and now wears Stone Island clothes as if he’s a football hooligan. Look, I have shouted “Shut ya mout!” at countless dubstep/grime nights. I have worn Timbaland boots and an Ecko football jumper to school. I used American hip-hop slang without irony on internet forums etc. I just didn’t do this on an international stage, and at the age of 28. But then, I never got paid (or laid) for doing it.
I also never really helped Skepta out, even when I was jumping around deliriously up to my ankles in mud at a tiny surprise show him and JME did at Glastonbury one year which I just happened to be walking, in a k-hole, past. Even when naively claiming that him and JME were the best thing about grime on dubstepforum (and being – rightly – shouted at for the infraction). Even when memorising whole Skepta verses from the classic Logan Sama set featuring Ears, Jammer and Riko alongside the man with the mash in the Winnie the Pooh Scarf.
Skepta has been given a huge boost by Drake (though Kanye, as is often the case with Drake, got there first), just like Fetty Wap, IloveMakonnen and Migos before him. You’ve got to hand it to Drake – he identifies great songs, records inferior versions of them and thus points ignoramuses like me in the direction of the unsullied originals. He’s like some weird A&R, one of those “funky” Richard Branson-esque businessmen who play the guitar and know what Tumblr is. His verse on the remix to Wizkid’s amazing ”Ojuelegba” is, as Skepta himself might say, complete “air pie”; it is unmemorable but for gifting us another moment of era-defining cringe as Drake puts on an African accent. Skepta’s verse, by contrast, is actually meaningful, clever and witty. Still, why not avoid the blandening effect of Drake entirely and just listen to the original, like I have? Without Drake, I might not have ever heard this. So thanks, Drake, you cringeworthy prick! It takes one to know one, and I know you better than you pretend to know women.