Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Lost Boys: Drake, Donald, and Hip-Hop Alpha Males

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.

Okay, booooo.

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?

22 comments:

  1. LADIES LOVE COOL JAMES. I NEED LOVE. He was the best.

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  2. Anonymous11/15/2011

    LL is the least GOAT of rappers who call themselves GOAT, but "I Need Love" is the greatest emo-rap song of all time.

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  3. I was thinking Common and Mos Def and those guys needed an archetype. They're sort of in-between Method (or LL's) ladies man and 3000's Artist

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  4. That baby being soothed by biggie biggie biggie can't you see is amazing

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  5. Anonymous11/15/2011

    i'm with you on the whole be a man and quit your whining business. and while i don't know glover's music (though i think he's a great comedian) i find drake to be the last thing that hip hop needs. he's kanye's light (same amount of whining, same lack of flavor).

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  6. I do wonder how Drake will evolve. I don't think hip hop's had a young star like him, already established but with plenty of future in front of him. if he has as many albums as jay-z, say, he'll invariably have to find some different directions and wonder what those will be...

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  7. I dunno, I think Drake is just a horribly average, unremarkable rapper that people are trying to force themselves to like and listen to so that they can fit in. No one wants to be a hater or be the one to admit they don't get it.

    I understand why chicks like it, as they on average are notorious for cosigning corny hiphop, and I can understand why young people like it as they are big into going with the group tastes. I can even understand why old-school great rappers are pretending to be admirers of his skills, because they are desperate for relevance and a gateway to young ears, and doing collabos with Drake can get them that, so it's in their interests for them to pretend he's a great rapper.

    But I'm really astounded by how many fans of serious lyricists and older heads who grew up on good rap are mentioning this guy in the same breath as some of the greats. That nasal voice, the bad autotune, the emo pussy pandering...UGH.

    I can't say enough good things about Donald Glover. He may not be gangsta or alpha, but the guy has solid skills, good wordplay, and clever punchlines. You feel like he's actually trying to challenge himself to rap better.

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  8. "i'm with you on the whole be a man and quit your whining business. and while i don't know glover's music (though i think he's a great comedian) i find drake to be the last thing that hip hop needs. he's kanye's light (same amount of whining, same lack of flavor)."

    Ironically, I actually think if you look at rappers like Tupac and read his lyrics divorced from his delivery, he was a huge whiner too. Difference is, he didn't SOUND like a whiner. He whined with swagger. I don't know if it's a good thing, but it's definitely better than actually SOUNDING like nasal whining the way Drake does.

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  9. I like that point about tupac's content divorced from his voice. has anyone catalogued the best voices in rap, recent rap? the ones that did the most with the least (in terms of lyrical content).

    also made me think of /pac sounding like glover. amusing.

    don't know if i can co-sign CG being better than Drake. though it makes me feel conscious that i don't know if anyone talks about drake as a dope lyricist, like on that technical/craft side of things. i feel it's more about him being the biggest star or whatever. he needs more street/freestyle joints (a la jay-z on flex) to bump that part of his cred up

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  10. Might be worth mentioning the female rappers who act like dudes.

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  11. Anonymous11/16/2011

    GHOSTDINI!!!!!!!

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  12. You really failed by classifying Rakim as The Eunuch. WTF was that? Wow.....How about you check his final verse on "Know The Ledge". Serious disrespect for Rakim. Smh.

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  13. Just being NOI makes him closer to Eunuchian than most.

    categorically, i'd say some flirty verses here and there don't necessarily change things. but i'd disqualify songs servicing an outside story/soundtrack.

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  14. good call on that verse though. def worth the shout-out...

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  15. Anonymous11/17/2011

    Biggest difference I see between CG/Drizzy is trajectory; Donald is improving, Drake is floundering. Did anything on Take Care really stand out/surprise anyone? Gambino still forever talking about his dick, but he's definitely improved from his earlier mixtapes.

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  16. your boy, KRS, is a Eunuch. He hasn't talked about a woman since Miss Melody.

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  17. Anon: yes, but has DG had a So Far Gone success? maybe Drake is coasting, but he's on a higher altitude I think. Drake may still be tinkering with the SFG formula, but it was a good formula. And def his own formula. Glover might still be feeling for his own lane...

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  18. Spin Magazine with a piece on the "new underground", all guys in this

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  19. "Anon: yes, but has DG had a So Far Gone success? "

    I think you and anonymous are discussing two different things. There's a difference between a skills and craft trajectory and a sales trajectory. I agree with Anon that CG has a much better trajectory than Drake in the skills department in that Drake not only is not improving but, at least to me, rapping worse all the time. And in my opinion at least, he wasn't a great rapper even at his peak. He raps on the level of a college kid who is really good at doing it as a hobby in ciphers at the lunch table.

    I think you're right about Drake being on a bigger trajectory saleswise and CG not having a So Far Gone of his own, but that has less to do with Drake's skills vs. CG's and more to do with the fact that Drake was cosigned by Lil Wayne at the peak of Lil Wayne's popularity. I really think that's 80% of it. If Wayne cosigned CG instead the results would be totally reversed and CG would be the superstar and Drake the underground mixtape grinder.

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  20. seems like somewhere in the comments field "eunuch" took on a faggoty undercurrent. i suppose the metaphor does break down right around there (sexuality), since the point you were making was about (spiritual and creative) focus, and the term "eunuch" does have a effeminate connotation. but that was interesting, your audience shouting "no homo" on his behalf.

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  21. i cannot listen to gambino for more than 30 seconds. drake may be oft-boring and r&b-ish, but at least listening to him doesn't make me feel like i'm watching somebody's little brother rap about blow jobs at a talent show in front of his grandma.

    in half-hearted defense of drake, though... so clearly he's terrible at freestyle--does that automatically make him a sub-par rapper? what's inherently wrong with writing and memorizing? quite a gift to be able to just spit that shit, but if you can't, shouldn't you still have a chance at the throne? what does one have to do with the other?

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  22. and in terms of the mos/common category--well, this works somewhat better for common, i think

    "common the chauvinist-feminist?" they worship the p****, the believe in the unique value of women/femininity, they like outspoken broads, they talk about how hard the ladies have it... never mind that they get it wrong half the time--it just makes them sexier.

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