Chris Richards: Started from the bottom, now Drake's insufferable

Drake's second sold-out night at Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center, is where he inexplicably rebooted a fishy beef with a long-defeated foe Meek Mill. Photo / AP
Drake's second sold-out night at Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center, is where he inexplicably rebooted a fishy beef with a long-defeated foe Meek Mill. Photo / AP

When did so much Drake become too much Drake?

If we need to pinpoint the exact moment when the biggest rapper civilization has ever known finally tipped over into the dank realm of overexposure, Saturday felt about right.

It was during Drake's second sold-out night at Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center, where he inexplicably rebooted a fishy beef with a long-defeated foe, botched a tribute to Washington's go-go scene and eventually sent numerous fans drifting toward the exits before the lights came on. It's not something you often see at concerts from pop stars on top of the world.

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And that's where Drake currently resides, at least if you trust the charts. His indomitable fourth studio album, Views, spent 12 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 this summer, and his voice continues to dominate urban radio to the point of total psychic suffocation. But if Drake's tediousness isn't unique to this summer, here's what is: His ubiquity has finally made his fraudulence more glaring than ever.

Overexposure seems like an obsolete concept in 2016, but it used to come fast and easy in the MTV era, back when pop still resembled a monoculture. Nowadays, superstars bent on colonizing the far-flung corners of the internet have to decide when enough is enough.

Alexander never weeps online because there are always more worlds to conquer. Therein lies precariousness of Drake's 21st-century fame. He continues to position himself as all things to all listeners - tough and vulnerable, imperious and approachable, narcissistic and empathetic, tormented and carefree, man and meme - because YOLO.

And those are all fertile inner conflicts to try to make music out of, whether they're genuine or not. But in the beginning, Drake's songs felt especially genuine because he was doing something different, transcending an entire field of macho extroverts by rapping quietly about his interior life.

In 2009, his first great radio single offered a prophetic refrain: "I just wanna be successful." Speaking for a generation of millennials feeling freaked-out by the national financial crisis, "Successful" would be the first of many Drake songs about the American dream. (Never mind that the dreamer himself is from Canada.)

Since then, Drake has enjoyed a state of perpetual motion where his celebrity fuels his music, and his music fuels his celebrity. After rapping about the crushing weight of his dreams, he rapped about the crushing weight of achieving them. So what comes after that?

More of the same. according to Views, an album so patently on-message that its blandness is punishing. Drake may have launched his career in the shadow of Kanye West, but he has since whiffed on Ye's knack for relentless reinvention. And don't all great artists begin to resent their own strengths at some point? That crucial moment hasn't come for Drake.

Maybe it never will. "Story stayed the same through the money and the fame," he rapped on 2013's Started From the Bottom, another American-dream song. Three years later, he's an artist who's grown comfortable working in the aesthetic gridlock that comes with staying the course.

And the bigger he blows up that conservative image, the more flaws he reveals. His self-exposure feels like self-exoneration. His chivalry feels creepy. His rivalries feel dispassionate. His art feels like content.

This all came blasting to the fore during his performance in Washington on Saturday, where Drake dedicated a portion of his songbook to a demographic that he doesn't understand quite as well as we've been made to believe.

"Let me just play a little set for the girls," he announced before launching into a clutch of melodic, R&B-flavored hits. Got that? Drake sings for the ladies and he raps for the bros - which means that the most self-aware artist of his generation either doesn't understand his own appeal, or worse, is too lazy to avoid playing to the most boring sexist stereotypes available.

Later in the show, he threw last summer's beef with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill into the microwave, pressed the defrost button, then started punching down. If you've forgotten, this was a feud that started with great fanfare, but ended with a clump of middling music, including Back to Back, which Drake updated on Saturday with a new, unprintable lyric.


What was the point? Drake had been unanimously declared the victor of this spit-spat more than a year ago. Why go back and kick the horse corpse? Was he trying to humanize himself by being petty? Or was he just trying to send his name across social media for a few hours? Either way, he looked desperate.

More carelessness surfaced when he tried to pledge his allegiance to go-go, Washington's long-standing idiom of percussive funk. But when he tried to sing the hook of his chart-topping single, One Dance, over the drums of a Chuck Brown tune, he failed to locate the pitch and the rhythm.

Then he credited the beat to another group of go-go legends, Backyard Band. And while the proud smile he flashed after this blooper was deeply misguided, it wasn't so much that Drake looked like tourist up there - it was that he sounded like one, too.

That's because his fundamental musicality often feels so undeniable. His easy command of melody has allowed him to saunter around in the space between speaking and singing. But this year, Drake is committing his most bothersome crimes in the more sacred space between his persona and his sound.

In concert, he toggled between singing and rapping, yet repeatedly drew attention to his effortless switcheroos, as if being good at one negated being good at the other - something that his pop-music innovations have proved to be untrue. He mock-scolded his keyboard player after the ballads in the set list, blaming him for turning the night into "a B2K concert." It was a see-through pose designed to signal, of all things, integrity.

And if Drake ultimately chooses to mummify his own career in the bogus shrouds of authenticity, it'll be his own self-imposed notion of authenticity, not ours. Despite everything you've ever heard about keeping it real, rap listeners know that the brightest sparks always fly in the zones between truth and imagination.

Doesn't the all-knowing Drake know this, too? He must, right? Yet, after profoundly transforming the shape and mood of rap music writ large, he's now retrofitting his image to satisfy yesterday's expectations. Instead of conquering new worlds, he's simply reconquering old ones.

- Washington Post

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