Drake revolutionized rap in a way that no other rapper had done before. He has a significant influence on our culture, and it’s not because of his catchy reggae-rap songs that manages to always go viral. It’s also not because of the many Grammys he earned or being on the Billboard 100 list. It’s because he redefined masculinity in the rap game in a way that influenced not only young men, but young black men. He done this through his lyrics about women, heartbreak, and love. Drake helped young men in the black community by making it possible to be masculine and still express taboo subjects such as mental illness.
Historically, rap had been a way young black teens and young adults expressed their masculinity. Rappers had always done this through their lyrics about growing up poor in the hood, having sex with women, living without a father, violence, and making a lot of money. However, overtime these subjects became popular for the genre and it seemed that these topics were all artists wrote music about. It became the culture of rap and the only subjects acceptable to rap about. What happened as a result was that masculinity was put in a box with no space for other interpretations or ways it could be expressed.
That is why Drake is revolutionary. He is often made fun of for being a “soft” rapper. But, what makes him special and different is that he does not accept the status quo in the rap game. When he first came on the scene in the early 2000’s he did not except the limited ways to be considered a “man” and a “good” rapper. Drake broke expectations through his songs by rapping about subjects outside the norm such as love and heartbreak. In his albums he often describes being in love with women and the way they make him feel. For example, in his single “Best I Ever Had” from his third mixtape So Far Gone, he rapped about his love for his girlfriend and stated that she was the “best” woman he ever had in a relationship. He further elaborated his love for her with the lyrics “baby, you my everything, you all I ever wanted…I want this forever, you the fucking best”. He even praised her natural beauty and her being the “prettiest” without any make up and when she dressed in casual clothing.
He also raps about heartbreak. This is apparent in his popular singles such as “Marvin’s Room” and features with artists such as Rhianna in “Take Care”. Rhianna is also the artist he confessed his love to on stage. In 2016, while presenting her with MTV’s Vanguard award he had no shame for admitting he had a crush on her since he was 22 years old. It is not a common for rappers to profess their love to other artists on a public stage.
In addition to his love stories, Drake portrays women in his music differently from other rappers. He describes women as being independent and applauds them for being strong, educated, and accomplished. In his single “Proud of You” featuring Nicki Minaj he explained how proud he was of a woman he loved. He said that she “sound so smart like you graduated college like you went to Yale, but you probably went to Howard knowing’ you. Weekend in Miami trying to study by the pool, couple things due but you always get it done… that’s why you want to have no sex, why you want to protest. Why you want to fight for your right”. He is proud of women who are independent, educated, and “fight” for their liberties.
This is in contrast to other rappers who don’t write about women this way. Drake gives women personality and makes them “real”. Typically, rappers only describe women as being a beautiful stripper, a prostitute, or a gold digger. But, Drake does not objectify the lovers he raps about, because they are everyday women who have wants and needs.
Drake’s style of rap led other rappers to make music about topics outside the norm in the rap culture. Young black rappers like the late XXXTentacion, JuiceWRLD, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, and Logic to name a few have rapped about concepts such as love, heartbreak, and mental illness in their own successful albums. They in no way feel that they are less of a man for of it. For example, before XXXTentacion pasted away on June 18, 2018 he was popular for his sorrow songs such as “Fuck Love” and “SAD!”. In these singles he rapped about getting his heartbroken by a girl he loved. He was one of the most beloved rappers today, even after he passed away. This proves that the validation of being a rapper is not lost because one moves away from what is anticipated as an artist. Rap does not always have to be egotistic.
The rap music today concludes that for the first time in rap history the gender roles are reversed. Throughout rap history men were the ones painted to be “cold” and “heartless”. However, today the roles are reversed and women are messing with the heads of rappers who beat themselves up about it. For example, in Juice WRLD’s “ Lucid Dreams” he explained that he “can’t take back the love that I gave you, it’s to the point where I love, and I hate you…thinking of you in my bed, you were my everything , thoughts of a wedding ring, now I’m just better off dead”. The man is the one depressed about the lack of love he received from his ex-lover. Woman are no longer the “needy girlfriend” who are desperate for love, but the opposite.
As a result of Drake’s hand in the rap game young rappers also have been able to rap about all sorts of subjects besides love and heartbreak such as mental illness. Even though Drake himself does not speak publicly or rap much about mental illness, he contributed to this phenomenon by breaking stereotypes. Artists today rap about depression, anxiety, and even being bipolar. One of many examples is Logic’s “1800–273–8255” which is the phone number of the suicide hotline. In this song he rapped about suicide and depression which he discussed publicly that he himself suffered from.
Another example is JUICE WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” where described having been so depressed because of his relationship that he had to “take prescriptions to make me feel a-okay”. Even artists who had been in the game for a long time such as Kanye West changed their rap style to reflect the times. This is apparent through West’s his album cover “Ye”. The cover of the album is written with lime green print stating “I hate being bipolar , its awesome”. West had come out before and admitted to being bipolar. He also said that he is under medication for the mental illness.
Rappers being so open about there emotional and mental states impacts men, and especially young black men in the black community. Rap in the black community is not just for entertainment. It had always been the culture of the community. Rap had been an outlet for men to express their masculinity. Therefore, it is important for young black men living in the hood to recognize that their favorite rappers are confident in their masculinity by expressing their feelings. This can lead to black men not only to be more in touch with how they feel, but possibly treat there lovers better and get help for there mental issues. Rappers today could impact how young men rewire their brains by redefining what it means to be a man. This would contribute to men feeling comfortable to get help when they need it without the shame or guilt.
Whether you like Drake’s music or not there is no doubt that he has changed the way men write music today. He has done this by diversifying what rappers could rap about in their own rhymes. His music made a dent in the rap game for artists today and in the future. As a result he impacted the black community in a positive way by changing what it means to be a man and as a result, opened up discussions about mental illness.