Drake and Donald Glover both dropping albums today feels a twee bit like 2007’s Kanye vs. 50 Cent drama. Take that and replace with a warmer, slimmer-fitting Sweaters vs. Corduroys storyline. This non-beef sponsored by Urban Outfitters. Or maybe it’s like a Monday Night Football game with nothing at stake: who will wheeeeee!
But there are marbles on the table here. Lots and lots of marbles. So many marbles! I mean, these are two top candidates to be hip-hop’s alpha man of the year: cover of GQ, possibly a trending topic or three, the rapper your grandma hearts best, THE WORKS. A coronation here could start a run that lasts a decade (no one outside the Roc saw Jay-Z in that light until The Blueprint, his sixth album), who knows.
The sales numbers are almost irrelevant (unless Donald goes 36 hulkshares); it’s the influence and idea of these two that matters most. In the big music picture many won’t care about Drake’s Take Care, even fewer about Camp, but everyone who sees these guys on television or in magazines will regard them as emblematic of what it is to be a young ((black)) leading man in America today. Obama's gonna needs some fresh urban signifiers for campaign season, so y'know, stakes is high for Drizz and Gambino. Presidential swagger, Barack Dap, is the best validation of art impulses this country has to offer. (True story.)
So I'm rooting for these guys, but unfortunately, after prolonged listening to their #whitegirlproblems -- not just the leaks from last week, but over 10+ mixtapes and albums between the two -- I’m a little bored. And I'm not getting that "leading man" feeling. I'm getting more the feeling of pin-up boys who nod to the sophisticated sexual ambience of distinguished gentlemen — smell the wine, cleanse the palate, perhaps a condom on a platinum plate — but tell me far too many cumming-in-her-face jokes (Donald), or stories about another guy's girlfriend (Drake. seriously, WTF with that??) to hold my attention for longer than a couple drinks. As I see it, the same emo Man-Child epidemic being pegged to essays about the changing state of marriage/relationships, and infecting movies and television with silly male caricatures are also found in hip hop mixtapes and LP's. It's all very Children of Men. It's a crisis! And who suffers most? The young playa-playas.
Now might be the time to mention that having sex with a million women (this number isn’t arbitrary by the way, I counted the lyrics) is like the easiest problem to stop ever. Ever! Just ask anyone. Watch everyone you know not have sex with a million people right now. Done. NEXT PROBLEM. Money. Too much money? Guess what? Done. NEXT PROBLEM. The one that got away? Hmmm. I don’t know, you slept with a million people and gave all your money away. Could be toooouuuugh (autotune that)
I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old. But if love is the answer, then when to put down childish things might be the appropriate question. And these guys are temping me to put their albums down in search of something with a little more quality-of-character. I’ve long thought a reason why hip hop’s homophobia and female problems are so trenchant is because to learn to learn the craft of emceeing is to learn an art of masculinity. Part of the engine that drives the music is an artfully-aggressive "poetry of the alpha-male". But some can find the balance, strike the palatable note, and some can not. So on the occasion of this benchmark release date for the new guard, here are five archetypes from the old regime who showed us how to play their gender roles like a Man.
1. BIGGIE THE CRIMINAL PATRIARCH
Biggie was best at using old-school family values to contextualize his immoral side. The earthiness of “Me and My B****, the sentimental intro to “Juicy" wistfully recalling how it all started with trying to feed his daughter. This is why while Big's content was street, his legacy is remembered with Vito Corleone affection. The difference between Biggie and Drake capitalism is the subtext of a necessity. Everyone loves an underdog taking care of his daughter (Hint: babies = instant struggle!).
Also: I don't know if Drake or Donald have music that can do this:
Secret Missing Ingredient: Recklessness. For all D&D’s long nights with models and champagne, the nerd force feels strong with them. Even when they cut loose it’s a little prudish (shrooms, anyone?). Biggie’s extra dollop of charm came from an “eww, did he just say placenta?” panache; a fearlessness, “you look so good, I suck on your daddy’s dick” (with no "pause" or "no homo" tag necessary); and constant self-humiliation (“heart-throb never, black and ugly as ever”). Wake me up when you hear something similar from any of these pretty boys.
2. METHOD, THE LADIES MAN
Cue up for a second the wedding song “You’re All I Need to Get By”. Now consider the physiological essence of Method Man’s plea “never ever give my pussy away, and keep it tight, aiight”. Can it all be so simple? What woman will argue with this?
OH, I hate you. You sleep with all the woman. You never buy me nothing. You always coming by late at night.
Hey, baby. Never ever give my pussy away. And keep it tight, aiiite.
Of course your sweet-tart apple pie is his object! In exchange you receive waffles instead of waffling with his affections: “Lie together, cry together, I swear to god I hope we f’ing die together” (sample courtesy of #1 on this list, Biggie Soprano). Too many fake thugs out there to not consider this, ma.
Secret Missing Ingredient: Wifey. When it comes to the available pool of women, it seems these guys are wading in the shallows. The right lady would give them some perspective. Even on the celeb front, nowadays we see so much of a real scotch-drinking woman like Christina Hendricks. Or a seen-it-all-before Rashida Jones. Or a rapper-eater like Erykah Badu. And wouldn’t any of these ladies laugh the Drakeisms out the tri-state area? At home it’d be like, “good job, honey. Can you turn 'Shot for Me' down, I’m trying to work.”
3. TUPAC THE REVOLUTIONARY
Being an East Coast elitist, I’m not as familiar with Tupac’s discography as others. And I don’t want to venture too far lest a ‘Pac fan gun me down on the strip. But I think I’m safe in saying when I think of galvanizing voices, and say, Occupy Los Angeles, he’s the guy we miss most. He did get around, and the whole business with Faith Evans lacked class, but I’m still waiting for a hit like “Dear Mama” or “Keep Ya Head Up” from the current crop of rap smoothies.
Secret Missing Ingredient: Social consciousness. I might be drinking media kool-aid. but Pác should have an accent like Ché. Take Care and Camp have some dance songs, but can you SlutWalk to it? Our studs should be able to do it all, ya heard.
4. ANDRE THE ARTIST
Andre totally broke that boho hip-hop mold. This is the standard Drake and Donald are shooting for. The Love Below isn’t even fair to bring up. The stretch of “Happy Valentine’s Day," “Spread," “Where Are My Panties,” “Prototype," “Hey Ya,” “Roses,” is >>>>> than anything Donald and Drake have done. No need to mention that! What we will mention is 3000 being ahead of the self-awareness curve as a ladies man. He pushed back against ladies who lusted mindlessly. Drake and Donald just soak that shit up. In prep school we called that “JV."
Secret Missing Ingredient: Discretion. This man-issue isn’t about privilege, or even being the best; it’s about shut up with the complaining. And discretion is the better part of A-list valor. Andre was intimate without all the TMI.
5. RAKIM THE EUNUCH
Ladies. Some guys are just about the rhymes. Not the girls. Not the dough. Rakim Allah is one of those guys. His love joints like “What’s On Your Mind” are all earnest and wearing a Nation of Islam suit on a first date. Awww. These guys will usually not get the girl (or at least, the girl has to close), but they’re sort of adorable. Ladies might have to text their friend and figure out a way to let a eunuch down easy. But it’s all good, no women = more time to write rhymes.
Secret Missing Ingredient: Samurai sensibility. Drake and Donald are dilettantes, too much pleasure. Not enough discipline. Control. They need a trip to the temple of Pai Mei.
Ok. That's five. Who'd I miss?