An open letter to Drake, DJ Khaled, and the rap world
In some ways I am an old fashioned kinda guy. Being in a car has always meant listening to the radio for me. In fact, not just listening, but going up and down the dial, always looking for the right song to listen to. I’ve done the cassette thing, the CD thing, and even the mp3 player hooked into the stereo, but nothing gives me the same feeling as the radio. As much as playlists can be seriously tight, that moment where you hear a new song and you are deciding if you like it or not is a very important part of how I listen to music. Hearing a new song on the radio you have just started to fall in love with is a joy that the youtube generation cannot fully understand, as they can just go and put the song on over and over without having to wait to hear it on the radio.
When we ended up getting a car with a radio again about 6 years ago, I went back to my old ways of station hopping to find the best song. What I had found was the NYC radio was worse than ever, tighter playlists, more limited selections, and very little interesting radio that you could stay on for more than one or two songs at a time before you were listening to something boring or annoying. The only place I could find some form of consistent interesting music was from the one hip hop station and the one (at the time) semi hip hop station. Although I have been listening to rap music for longer than most current rappers have been alive, I noticed that the genre had gone through some radical changes, like more interesting samples, more complicated rhythms, better instrumentation, and more variation in the lyrics.
Fast forward to the present, and the major hip hop station is still going strong, the one that did both R&B and hip hop now plays mostly rap, the classic R&B station has a weekday mix show which features all kinds of music including rap, plus they bring in hip hop DJs for the weekends, and we got a new station that focuses on R&B and classic and old school rap, especially on the weekends, where they play things going back to the 1970’s up to the 2000s. Plus we have one pop station that throws in a lot of the more commercial stuff, like Drake and others. So as a genre, not only is current hip hop getting more mainstream, older rap cuts that were barely on the radio when they came out are getting increased airplay, some of them up to 30+ years later.
So what is my beef? Well, to truly understand what I am talking about we have to go all the way back to the 1960s. In the early 1960s, a group called The Beatles were formed and playing small clubs and honing their craft. If you are looking to get some schooling you can go and see the new documentary on them called The Beatles : Eight Days A Week — The Touring Years, which gives a pretty decent history of the band as they formed and played live around the world. They were a British band, and although some Brits had hits here in the US, this was a whole new thing. They took the UK and the US by storm, becoming huge in the US, even more so than the UK. One week they had the Top 5 hits on the chart, which is an amazing feat.
The Beatles were more or less a pop rock group, more so on the pop side. They sang cute little songs with catchy simple lyrics about love and relationships. They were all cute, and other than the fact that they wrote memorable songs and could play live, they were not unlike tons of other bands at that time, or that followed them. In fact, there are dozens of songs that people think were recorded by The Beatles that were written and recorded by other groups, that were hits during this time. Think how similar most boy bands have been since New Kids On The Block, or how for many of us we can’t remember if a particular song was done by *NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys.
But something strange happened with The Beatles, something rare and not very common for musical acts. As they, and their fans, grew up, so did their music. They went from writing teen pop songs to political songs, hard rock songs, and psychedelic songs, and beautiful love songs. Their fan base grew and grew, and even those that dismissed them as a teen pop group became fans. Even older people latched on to such songs as Yesterday, or When I’m 64. This is the opposite of how most groups progress, whether it be by their own choice or the choice of their fans. When New Kids On The Block did their first “adult” album, Face The Music, the style was more in the rap vein, but fans did not enjoy that. But slowly, more and more groups are figuring out that if you take some chances, and develop, you can become a major force in the industry.
The first musical act I can think of doing this after The Beatles was Madonna. Her first single, Everybody, was a dance pop song not ridiculously unlike other songs of the era. She sounded sorta black, so they did not put her on the cover (funny knowing how she was marketed in the future) and released the song to radio where it was a moderate hit on dance radio stations. Her next single, Holiday, hit the Top 20, but until today I don’t think I ever saw her very tame and sorta boring music video for the song. She looks like Madonna, dances like Madonna, but that’s all of her you see in that video. Her first Top 10, and her next single, was Borderline, another cute pop song, yet another video that is so NOT Madonna you would be shocked watching it. In it she is hanging out with her girlfriends, getting rejected by a guy, being shy and her Madonna persona is only barely visible. By the time we hit Lucky Star, her biggest hit from that album, we get a retread of the first video, though much better, and we see Madonna and her dance moves, but none of the Madonna trademarks of overt sexuality, campiness, or excess are seen.
By this time Madonna was successful and exerted some control over her career, and the Madonna we all know appeared. At first glance, Like A Virgin can be taken as a sweet kind of song. But when you think about it, the song is literally about her NOT being a virgin. It is a sly and interesting way of letting everyone know she wasn’t a shy little girl. On top of that, try as I might, I cannot think of another popular Top 40 song that even has the word virgin in the title. I’m not saying there hasn’t been, but nothing comes to mind, which tells you how ahead of its time this song was. After this we get Material Girl, Dress You Up, and a bunch of other hits that made Madonna, well, Madonna. What was it that she did different than others before her? Well, she definitely took her sexuality in her own hands, and did not shy away from it like so many others. She also had provocative songs with lyrics about things female pop singers didn’t sing about, like their virginity or their teen pregnancy.
You see, many of the long lasting and influential artists have to flip the script, or change things up from what is expected of them. Look at The Beastie Boys. What started out as a punk group turned into a joke rap group, which turned into a serious rap group. When their first album sold millions, everyone expected their next album to be more of that angry naughty teen rap that they were oh so good at. What we got instead was Paul’s Boutique, one of the most forward thinking and influential rap albums of all time. What they did changed the game.
Take Beyonce for a more modern example. She started out in Destiny’s Child, an R&B girl group that leaned heavily towards pop. Her first solo hit was Crazy In Love, a catchy little pop song with her husband Jay-Z making an appearance on it. After that we get a bunch of other similar type pop songs, including Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) which also came with its own dance. By the time we get to Drunk In Love and Partition, we have a whole new Beyonce here. While the songs are still catchy, they are also interesting, forward thinking, and deal with more adult themes, to fit in and follow her fan base into adulthood. Once again, we see more interesting musicality, better lyrics, and her embracing both her age and her maturity as an artist. I would even go as far as to say that Beyonce has followed in The Beatles footprints to grow into a respected artist, versus a pop star just waiting for her star to fall.
Which brings me full circle back to listening to the radio and Drake. Earlier this year DJ Khaled and Drake released For Free, a song about fucking for free, and the option to charge for it. While the lyrical content is not exactly child’s play, the song is more or less a pop song about sex and sexuality. So far so good. But something funny happened the first time I listened to it. You see, on the radio, some of the best lines in rap songs are missing due to the fact that the radio stations censor them. Sometimes you hear a backwards sound over a curse word, or even a lack of any lyrics, while the instruments play on.
So while listening to the radio and hearing the “clean” versions of these songs, my brain tends to try and fill in the blanks, so to speak. Sometimes I wonder what the lyric really is and when I get home I go to youtube and look it up, while other times the lyrics are so obscured it doesn’t even sound like the same song. Sometimes my guess on the lyrics is spot on, other times I was way off, and once in a blue moon, I have come up with a much better line than in the original song.
The first time I heard For Free there was a blank space where one of the lines in the song should be finished, obviously censoring what was there for the radio. The second I heard the line I burst out laughing as I was SURE I knew what that line was, and it was a good line. The lyrics go like this :
“I need it all right now
Last year I had drama girl, not right now
I was never gonna chat what we talkin’ about
You the only one I know could fit (blank space here)”
Now, I am far from a poet, nor a rapper, but when you listen to music your whole life you start to recognize the structure of songs and lyrics to the point where you can almost know the words before they are heard. While rappers do not exactly rhyme in the same way many musicians do, there is still a structure that is semi-predictable. So we have the first two lines, where Drake (he is credited as the lyric writer) rhymes now with now. Not exactly rocket science, but simple sometimes works, and it’s fine. We get to the next line where the word to rhyme is about, and the word combinations are pretty wide and varied, but one phrase came to mind that fit perfectly with the theme of the song, the lyrical pattern, and the word about. The line, in my head, HAD to be “You’re the only one I know who could fit TWO DICKS IN YOUR MOUTH”.
I can already hear what some people are thinking after reading my idea of what the line should be. Some people will think it’s too crude. Some people will not find it funny. Some people will think the current version of the lyrics are fine. But let’s look at the current version. Drake’s line is “You’re the only one I know who can fit it all in your …”. So while I am assuming I am right about the implication of the word mouth (he doesn’t even finish the line), he is basically saying that the girl is the only one that can fit all of his dick in her mouth. That’s a perfectly fine lyric, in the 1980s, but nowadays it has been used hundreds, maybe thousands of time. We all know that every rapper has a 10–12 inch penis, if not bigger, and is an amazing lover, can last forever, and makes girls beg for them (sarcasm alert). This is nothing new to rap. Bragging is part of the history of rap, going back to rap battles as an alternative to gang wars. Claiming your dick was bigger, you were better in bed, you have more ladies, was part of the game. But that shit is played out. Look at how far beats, music, and samples have come in the rap world. What started out as one of the simplest forms of music has turned into a billion dollar industry creating music from both new and old genres and doing things few people ever could have predicted.
Drake is a talented guy. He has a good voice, he writes and records very catchy popular songs, he has worked with tons of artists. He can act, and people seem to like him overall. Musically speaking, normally I would despise his music and style, but somehow even I cannot resist some of his songs. Imagine his song Headlines with a full string orchestra and a marching band (a fantasy I have had for 5 years now). But I feel that Drake has the opportunity to further both the rap game, and his own career, and what he needs to do is expand his horizons musically, lyrically, and thematically.
Take the lyric I thought he wrote, versus the one he did write. As a sexually active male, I have watched a fair amount of porn in my life. I am also well aware that many females, especially of the current generation, watch porn almost as much as guys do. Girls have much more varied fantasies than they used to, and just like many guys once desired two females at once, many women are now starting to think that two guys just for them sounds like a fun idea. The old school would call these women sluts or hoes, but nowadays some men feel positive towards women who embrace their sexuality and kinks, and enjoy them. So while a lyric about two dicks in her mouth could be taken from the misogynistic point of view, it can also be seen from a positive view of sexually active healthy females who know what they like. On top of that, Drake bragging about his penis size is just so average and common, I expect more in 2016. It’s time to branch out and find new ways of entertaining people through your lyrics, not relying on old stereotypes and tropes to ride the wave which will eventually crash.
Keep in mind The Beatles. They did not continue to write song with yeah yeah yeah as the chorus. Madonna did not keep recording simple non sexual songs about love and relationships. Beyonce did not keep rewriting Single Ladies. All of these long lasting, and influential artists broke free of their original fame, evolved, grew, and went on to be driving forces in music. Drake, you have the opportunity to change the rap game as we know it, and it’s time for someone to have some fun with rap while not always telling us how big their dick is.