Featured, Pop Culture

Drake, The Most Talented Rapper…Ever

drakeHe will not be as revered by history as Tupac and Biggie. He’ll never capture hip-hop’s collective consciousness the way Wu-Tang did in the mid-90s. He won’t be defended as fervently as Nas will always be. He’ll never be considered a creative genius the way Kanye is. He won’t be as loved by White people as Snoop continues to be. And he (probably) won’t make as much money as Jay Z and Dr. Dre have. But after watching his performance during last night’s ESPYs, I don’t have much doubt Drake may end up being the most successful rapper ever. Barring a Penny Hardaway-sized drop-off (or, well, death), I can’t imagine a future where Drake does not have a prominent place in pop culture for the next two decades. He, not Jay Z, not Kanye, not Weezy, is rap’s biggest star right now, and he’s still growing. And this is largely due to a simple fact many — myself included — are somewhat reluctant to admit.

Drake is the most talented rapper, ever.

Now, what constitutes “talent” is subjective. Actually, that’s a lie. It’s objectivity coated in subjectivity. There’s really nothing subjective about talent. You have it, or you don’t have it. The subjectivity comes with how we assess it. Recognizing it — which we all tend to do rather easily — isn’t the same as appreciating it.

Anyway, calling Drake the most talented rapper ever isn’t the same as calling him the best. Although his rap talents remain severely underrated by grouchy 70s and 80s babies who scoff whenever the words “Drake,” “good,” and “rapping” are in the same sentence — basically, people like me — there are several of his contemporaries who are better at rapping than he is.

But there is no one — not now, not ever — who can drop a hot 16 and do what Drake did while hosting the ESPYs, as he owned a room full of superstar athletes by somehow vacillating between witty, funny, clever, mean, charming, self-deprecating, corny, and creepy. And sometimes — i.e.: “Honorable Mention” — he was all of those things at the same time. Although we think of Drake as a sports star sycophant, they consider him a peer. And they’re right.

He’s able to do these things because he is legitimately witty, funny, clever, mean, charming, self-deprecating, corny, and creepy. Oh, and self-aware. What I saw on stage and in each of those skits was someone completely aware of who he is and what he can do. He knows he can act. He knows he can sing. He knows that being biracial allows him to do a certain type of racial humor that neither a fully Black nor fully White person can pull off. His Drake vs Blake bit might have been the first time in recorded history a light-skinned Black man did Whiteface to emulate a lighter-skinned Black man. His Pacquiao skit managed to be both extremely funny and extremely racist. And no one was offended by it. Because Drake, even when crooning slightly sexist odes to sidepieces and completely creepy peons to Skylar Diggins, is somehow never offensive. And this is a talent. Perhaps his most important one. It’s what enables him to create songs possessing the perfunctory nihilism and misogyny required of rap stars while also getting invited to host SNL. He’s Tony the Tiger. A shark with Invisalign.

I’m aware there are people reading this who thumbed their nose at the title, and continued to gag while reading a piece lauding the five time winner of the Softest Rapper in the Game award. And I get it. I imagine those who dislike him are tired of seeing, reading about, and hearing about Drake. (It must really, really suck to be a non-fan of Lebron today.) That said, I have a small piece of advice for them.

Get used to it.

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • I watched his opening monologue and thought it was hilariously awkward at times but genuinely funny. That is until he decided to go at Lance Stephenson and his “blowing bubbles” motion (Paul George played that well though)…that was just weird.

    Drake is so polarizing because chooses to do what he wants to do rather than giving people what they think they want…and he still wins! If you hear him spit for real, it makes you mad that he is Charmin so much of the time but Drake couldn’t give two fcuks because the boy just wins!

    • menajeanmaehightower

      When you are secure in who you are and really like who you are as a person, tearing you down becomes near impossible.

  • CamCamtheGreat

    I watched a few of the clips on the ‘Tube and they’re pretty funny.
    That Blake vs. Drake sketch was the best one, in my opinion (aside from a
    very unnecessary appearance from Chris Brown). The “Cheetos” joke was
    the funniest of the night for me.

  • Val

    Yeah, creepy is the word that comes to mind with Drake. Hasn’t anyone told him you’re not supposed to crush on celebs when you are a celeb!? First he was crushing on Aaliyah, which was creepy for obvious reasons. And now he’s crushing on Skylar. He ought to be happy Sky played along and didn’t shame him for his creepiness.

    • ThinkyLily

      It’s nothing new, Jamie Foxx did the same to Serena in the early 2000s when he dedicated a song to her at the Espys.

  • iamnotakata

    “Drake is the most talented rapper, ever.” Fact! It is indisputable in my opinion. I love Drake! I have since his mixtape SoFarGone and I always will!!!

  • Medium Meech

    Can’t spell Playa Hater without moderator.

  • Medium Meech

    Pac still has the title. He could call you a Nubian Queen on one song, a [female dog] on another and then explain why he called you a [female dog] on the third song and make you agree with him. Rap on the east coast and then TAKE OVER the west and have no one say word one. Be the least hardcore dude in the world as a back up dancer and then personify rap during the boys in the hood era. Be the Gandhi of rap on one song and proceed to Richard Cheney the most populous region of the country on the next. He didn’t battle people, he battled geography and land masses. Was deep, apparently was a prophet, was a legit actor, carried an interview like no one else I’ve seen in rap. I don’t think drake has that range or upside, talented though he may be.

    • Rafael

      My sentiments exactly. Though talented, Drake will never unseat Pac as being the most talented.

      • Good thing ‘Pac was a trained musical theater student at Baltimore School for the Arts. Look, I get it, as of now, Drake hasn’t carried a movie the way Pac did, but as big of a Pac fan as I am, Drake is a far better rapper than Pac was.

        • Medium Meech

          HA! Some people might say Drake is a better lyricist than Pac, but a better rapper? Far better?? I think Drake has all of the talent in the world, but I can’t think of a single significant song he’s dropped, let alone an album.

          That’s like saying Lupe is a better rapper than BIG.

          • How can you say Drake has talent and then say you can’t think of a significant song or album. Now Pac has dropped some significant songs, and I’m the biggest Pac fan I know, but when I defend him, I’m never doing it on his ability as a rapper, nor can I honestly say he released a classic album especially compared to his peers like Biggie, Nas, Jay, Snoop and UGK.

            The fact is, Drake can rap circles around most people who are even rapping today. Like, listen to something like 9 AM In Dallas, then come back here and tell me you’re not impressed. If you do that, I will step away and respectfully disagree.

            • Medium Meech

              Listen, I think Drake is on of the best rappers in the game. Flow, imagery, composition, he has all the tools. His themes and subject matters are personal and and vulnerable, which is gives him a unique voice especially in hip hop, but at the same time they aren’t universal or terribly introspective.

              Take Kendrick’s verse on “Buried Alive” off the Take Care Album. Best verse on the album and encapsulated and expressed everything Drake is about better than Drake has done it on an INTERLUDE. Basically he made a deeper and more relatbale Drake verse by breaking fame down into it’s emotional components instead of focusing on the outcomes. I think Drake has better tools than Kendrick but Kendrick builds better products.

              Same with Pac, Drake has a better flow, but Pac some significant thought provoking stuff. His albums covered a lot of ground. We can agree to disagree about how significant Pac’s albums were.

              I have no hate for Drake, but I’m not a fan boy either. Hearing dope flows about the surface level struggles of fame isn’t enough to carry an album for me, let alone a career. You got the tools, build.

              • Well, this has to be one of the most well-articulated arguments against Drake I have ever heard.

                I think what he lacks in nuance, he makes up for in vulnerability, but that doesn’t erase the fact that as you said, he doesn’t get very deep on personal demons. But his willingness to be open, and rap on an emotional level (which kind of reminds me of ‘Pac, because I think of all artists out right now, Drake is most likely to pull a “Dear Mama,” assuming “Look What You’ve Done” wasn’t already that) is what gives me hope that he’ll get there one day. There’s a self-loathing thing he does about fame that I can relate to if only because I think at his age (26) it’s something most folks are guilty of.

                But nah, really, great breakdown.

        • Rafael

          But does being a “far better rapper” make him the more talented of the two?

          As far as him being a trained theater student that is a bit ambitious. It’s not like went to Julliard or anything. After all, Baltimore School for the Arts is still a high school that caters to those who are artistically inclined. I’ve seen all the seasons in which Drake was featured on Degrassi. He was so-so for not being a trained actor. For Pac not being a trained actor, he carried Juice and Poetic Justice. Even shined a little brighter when paired with James Belushi and Tim Roth.

          • But Pac was a trained actor, don’t undervalue the significance and advantages of going to a school for the arts. That education accelerates skill levels in a very real way.

        • Shay-d-Lady

          @jozenc:disqus ‘far better” sooo…. based on what criteria exactly?? I am officially side eyeing your musical opinion from this moment forth. and that means something. maybe not to you. but to someone. somewhere lol and I LIke Drake. I got a drake spotify list and everything.

          • Um, 2Pac is to hip-hop what Tim Tebow is to football: a really charismatic dude who has the ability to make you overlook his real shortcomings.

    • BeautifullyHuman

      Don’t forget author & poet.

  • Shay-d-Lady

    I just appreciate Drake for being confident enough to remain Drake. I mean many would have caved under the pressure to be less “drake” but he hasn’t. I admire that. and as the reigning southern slow body roll queen, I thank him for his contribution to my body roll play list.

    • Damon Young

      I thank him for his contribution to your body roll play list as well

    • Medium Meech

      Pictures or it didn’t happen.

  • menajeanmaehightower

    I told my friend last year that Drake will be more successful than Jay-Z (even in financial terms). I still believe this.

  • Andrea

    I liked the side piece song. And now picturing a shark with invisalign.

  • YAASSSSSS
    *runs through the thread waving cdn flag and shouting 416*
    *goes to read the rest of it. hope it replays somewhere. i missed it last night. :(

    • I’m catching clips on ESPN. the skits are HILARIOUS.

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