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Started from the bottom, and still there
I’ll admit it, I kind of love Drake’s new record, Nothing Was The Same. I told my cell that last week and one person thought I was crazy. Drake’s apparent arrogance and self-assuredness is too much for some to handle. But if Kanye West’s wasn’t too much for me on his 2013 shocker Yeezus where he declares his both a new slave (“meanwhile the DDA teamed up with the CCA”) and a god (“I know He the Most High / but I am a close tie”), Drake’s mild record is easy. I admit it, the record is a bit extreme at times, but behind the buffer of narcissism seems to be a wounded person and child, as is evident by the not-so-subtle cover of his record. And maybe that’s what beautiful about Drake’s record, it is a picture into a man’s soul—one that he apparently thinks he’s hiding well—but it’s so clumsily concealed, we can’t help but see it and relate.
The record’s opener after all, “All Me,” declares, as he does throughout his catalog, that he’s done it all on his own. That his fame, fortune, and success occurred primarily based on his own skills and hard work. Most of us might retort that he had a successful Canadian TV show, Degrassi, to help elevate him to super-star status (he does pay homage to the show in “Worst Behaviour”), but it seems like Drake is talking about something more than that.
He refers to the dysfunctional relationship he had with his alcoholic father, his obtuse uncle, and his depressed mother more than once (on “From Time” and “Too Much”), which leads to me believe that much of the feeling he has about his self-madeness comes from the fact that he came from an unhelpful family system and still succeeded.
Drake raps about the emptiness of material possessions and one-night stands, while also rapping about how great they are. But it seems clear that he wants something more than that. Saying he’s in a bad relationship, with a woman who is bulldozing him “like an eighteen-wheeler,” just for the sex—but we know it might be something more.
He can’t bear to be alone in “Come Thru,” happy that he’s gotten to the “only time of day I get to spend on my own,” but longing for companionship. He’s says that he values the privacy of his life, in “Furthest Thing,” but then proceeds to tell us about it.
The paradox of Drake’s messages perhaps make him more relatable than other self-assured artists. In “The Language,” he tells us that if you look at his bank account, he’s ready for retirement, that he doesn’t need his record to go platinum because he’s already wearing the platinum. He convinces a woman to be with him because all they do is have sex and smoke—but he’s worked so hard in his record, he missed all of summer. Drake’s message are as confusing as they are desperate.
In “Pound Cake,” he quotes the great M.E.T.H.O.D. Man who famously canonizes cash rules everything around me, which is painfully true for Drake, who has made numerous “friends,” who are nothing but leeches on his success. He remembers, though, how painfully he was treated in high school—and is tempted to go his reunion to change the dynamic of the event (“make everyone go through security clearance”).
And in the hit single of the record, Drake is perhaps most revealing. He announces that he’s started from the bottom. He’s received no help from his family—again, he does it on his own. He proclaims ultimately that he’ll only care about himself—he’s not introducing new people into his posse, declaring that his story has always been the same. He only wants his real friends, not ones that love him because of his fame and fortune. But heart-breakingly tells us that he wears “every single chain” even at home, just to remind himself of his success, which is so fleeting he might forget about it.
The man is wounded. Confused about his success, his addiction to it, and his dissatisfaction with it. His story, and everyone’s broken story, is worth listening to. (And it is a benefit that his comes with some great production, fun featured artists, and a decent flow.)
Perhaps how we treat the “least of these,” which many of us would be hard-pressed to label Aubrey Graham, is how we treat ourselves, and Jesus (as he tells us in Matthew 25).
The lesson Drake is learning, and the one we can empathize with, is what good is it to gain the whole world, but forfeit our souls? Money, success, fame, and endless sexual satisfaction as well as unaccountable substance abuse—a record that isn’t even “radio friendly,” but one that Drake is still confident will get heavy playtime—all of this isn’t enough to satisfy even Drake. Just like Paul’s accolades among the Pharisees, nor his hardships under persecution, are nothing compared to the saving knowledge of Jesus.
Nothing Was The Same is ultimately the anti-American Dream record. The one that shows us even when we achieve worldly greatness, as Drake has in his third brilliant record, it’s still not enough. We still long for love, real community, and acceptance. The truest of which can only be found in Jesus. As he declares to Pilate, Jesus would declare to Drake, “everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Perhaps he would tell Drake the one thing he lacks is his ability to rid of himself of his fame and fortunate, which he paradoxically laments and embraces through this confused album.
It seems to me that the antidote to Drake’s loneliness (which is also the key to his success), is him following Jesus. His fans are so desperate for empathy in a narcissistic world that rarely offers us any, listening to a rapper who embodies the success that we think we need, while also seemingly vulnerably discusses his own loneliness seems like enough of a savior for us.
But there’s more out there. I love Drake, and I agree with him, there is more to the world than success, fame, and fortune—there is someone to follow who will tell us to drop everything for him.
My guess is that Drake might drop it all for Jesus, too.