Drake: For The Culture or a Culture Vulture?

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As Drake prepares for the final few UK dates of The Boy Meets World Tour, he sat down with DJ Semtex for an open & honest interview. The meet up addressed a variety of subjects including Meek Mill, The Grammys, his position in the game as a rap artist and, of course, his love of the UK. Social media users were quick to weigh in. Some in support and ready to hand Drake his British passport, others not convinced by Drake’s love of the culture.

For a long time, Drake has been endorsing UK talent ‘I honestly, I think that the best rappers in the world are in London’ he declares. However, the debate surrounding if Drake is ‘For the Culture’, or is merely exploiting ‘What’s Hot’, is one that boomerang’s back around with every new release.

In the Semtex interview, he referenced his long-time friendship with Shola Ama which grew from My Space; that it was her that put him on to Giggs. He also talks about his friendship with Skepta, recalls Sneakbo, Johnny Gunz and, a surprising admission to watching videos of Brixton and Peckham postcode wars. Drizzy also brings our attention to first hearing Wanna Know on a YouTube Mix of 50 Hottest songs from the UK, ultimately resulting in him contacting Dave to remix the record; later referring to him as a ‘Good Yute’. How could we also forget that One Dance, one of the biggest songs of 2016, was born from the UK Funky House smash hit Do You Mind by Kyla and Crazy Cousinz. Drake seems well versed in the UK music scene & his adoration is nothing new.

In contrast, Drizzy has been accused of appropriating and stealing ideas from different cultures, riding a wave and then moving onto something else. Snippets of his & J-Lo’s re-make of Black Coffee’s Superman have been circulating since late last year (out of South Africa, but still a huge hit in the UK when it dropped back in 2010). I’ll admit, when I first heard it, I just thought ‘why mess with a classic?’. It’s a choice that didn’t necessarily sit well with me.  It was the same feeling when One Dance first dropped, a mixture of pride that UK music is being used on a global platform and confusion as to how or why it came about in the first place. Kyla however, was credited for her vocals on the album, she starred in the One Dance video which aired as part of his mini movie ‘Please Forgive Me’ & she came out on stage to perform the hit on the first of Drake’s London dates. Seems fair.

Not all artists however, have been as receiving of Drake’s recognition. When Hotling Bling dropped, many eagle eared listeners drew quick comparisons between the record & Dram’s song Cha Cha. The two do sound similar (if you haven’t listened to Cha Cha, I recommend it).  At first, Drake announced his version as a remix, and the beat as a ‘riddim’ (it’s not). But the bigger Hotling Bling grew, the less we heard about Virginia rapper Dram, or his original Cha Cha. As we know, Hotling Bling went on to be a high selling, high streaming, award-winning hit.

Last year, Mr Vegas accused him of being ‘fake’ & not crediting Dancehall artists properly on his latest album Views – we all remember when Controlla dropped & Popcaan’s vocals were missing. Most recently, XXXTentacion hit out, claiming Drake has used his flow on his latest track with Giggs.

In 2015, Earl Sweatshirt tweeted that “drake can be a bit of a vulture on young rap niggas”. Earl quickly affirmed that he wasn’t throwing shade, merely stating his opinion. He continued “it’s not his job to develop them as artists. but the line between paying homage and wave riding is a blurry one.” Indeed, it is a blurry one, so which one is The 6 God doing?

Years before Drake publicly showed his interest in the UK, he was a strong supporter of culture from ATL, Houston & Miami, to name a few. All which have had their moments of trending artists in the spotlight.

Drake’s music is most definitely a product of his environment. In his older music where he was spending more time in Houston, the southern influences were clear. Over 70% of Jamaican born Canadian immigrants live in Toronto, so the impact of Jamaican culture is also somewhat explained. As early as 2010, the video for Find Your Love, another dancehall infused track, was filmed in Jamaica, with Mavado starring as his archenemy. Now, as Drake spends more time watching & interacting with the UK scene, we see more of that too through his music & PR choices too.

Surely though, is that not the sign of a good artist? Being inspired by those around you? Making it as artist & ensuring those on the come up for global success are eating off it too?

Drake doesn’t owe anyone any favours, nor is he being paid to endorse these artists (that we know of). He is one of the biggest artists in the world right now, he doesn’t need to receive a co-sign from the UK Urban scene, he will sell records regardless, he will win awards regardless. It seems like a sincere appreciation, fascination and support for the UK scene that has been lacking in recent years. Watching videos of him in the UK rapping along to Section’s Trapping Ain’t Dead last year & Whippin Excursion last week alongside Giggs and Chip – bar for bar he looks genuinely into it.

UK Music has been going from strength to strength for many years now and I can’t off the top of my head name a US artist who has embraced what we are doing here as much as Aubrey. Dave performed Wanna Know in front of 20,000 people at the 02 & is about to embark on a US tour with AJ Tracey. He is an incredible young artist; Drake provided Dave a bigger platform, which ultimately has opened him to the next stage of his career.

On the flip side, is Drake just appropriating the culture around him & using it to further his own career? There is nothing wrong with being inspired, but problems occur when the inspiration isn’t appropriately credited, especially if they are on the come up themselves, as seen with the example of Dram.

Whether you like him or not, Drake shining light on the UK is more beneficial than disadvantageous. Yes, it may be beneficial for him but UK artists are reaping the rewards of this too & he is opening more ears & minds to our music… and I don’t think anyone can be mad at that.