Is Drake benefitting from a double-standard in music?
Just over a week ago, the talented Canadian rapper Drake pulled a Beyoncé and surprise-released yet another album, this one a collaboration with fellow rapper Future. (Aside: With that move, maybe we should change the phrase from “pulling a Beyoncé” to “pulling a Drake” since it’s his second time releasing an album with no announcement, no promotion and no fanfare in less than eight months.) And, like the previous time, he achieved the desired result.
That result? The year’s tenth #1 rap album on the Billboard 200 album chart with opening sales of over 330,000 copies. Ironically, Drake had the year’s first #1 rap album, and Future had the most recent one, so this new one makes Drake and Future two of only three rappers (and two of only a few more artists overall) to have multiple #1 albums in the same calendar year. Incidentally, Jay-Z was the first rapper to do it (and he did it twice – in 2000 and ’04).
And while news of the album, entitled What A Time To Be Alive, and its success will surely be pleasing to Drake’s fans (as well as a growing number of followers of newish Atlanta-based rapper Future), I’m compelled to ask the following question: Is Drake getting a pass with his liberal use of a certain ethnic slur that is all too common in hip-hop music, the N-word?
Now before everyone flings darts my way for being a “Drake-hater” (I’m not) and harboring a double-standard myself, allow me to elaborate.
You see, Drake is of mixed African-American (father) and white Jewish-Canadian (mother) descent. As his Jewish heritage dictated, he had his bar mitzvah at age 13, the point at which he became fully accepting of the Jewish faith and all its rituals and customs. As far as I know he hasn’t denounced his Jewish faith or background in the years since he became one of the world’s biggest stars. In fact, as the following 2014 SNL skit illustrates, he’s continued to proudly embrace it.
So I find it interesting that he has made a living – and a very good one at that – with his liberal use of the n-word, you know the one that many blacks find offensive (unless – as we all know by now – it’s being uttered by one of our own, an exemption that Drake is no doubt leveraging every time he uses it). Yet, I’m not aware of any of his tracks incorporating the regular use of any ethnic or religious slurs aimed at or found offensive by the other half of his make up, the Jewish side. I’m sure we would have heard about it by now had one existed.
Now, admittedly, I haven’t scanned all of his lyrics for the use of such slurs, which I had to research just to see what those terms were since I don’t use them myself.
In conducting that research, I found plenty of candidates, in fact whole webpages devoted to offensive terms (did you know there’s a racial slur database online?). There was one Jewish slur in particular that the late Michael Jackson used in his 1995 song “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” a move for which he was roundly criticized by the Jewish community and the media, and for which he had to record a censored version deemed safe for radio. Remember that?
How many of you also remember that, on that same 1995 album, HIStory – Past, Present and Future – Book 1, MJ also included a track that included the n-word in its lyrics: “This Time Around” featuring the late Notorious B.I.G. Of course, it was the rapper, and not Jackson, who said it (Michael would never do that himself, although he did curse on wax for the first time in the song’s first verse). But the Biggie rap lyric (“I’ma kill a n—a, I ain’t joking”) still appeared on an MJ album, a fact that pretty much went unchallenged and in fact gave Jackson a bit of street cred at a time when harder-edged hip-hop music was becoming more and more popular.
Some would argue that this was a clear case of a double-standard being applied 20 years ago when MJ included the offensive language on two tracks but only had to atone for one of them. But, as far as I recall, Jackson only slipped up that one time – with both slurs – and didn’t include either as part of his regular repertoire. Drake, on the other hand, regularly includes the n-word (as almost all rappers do and have for the better part of 25 years), but is rarely, if ever, checked for it. (Another aside: He was readily checked this year for the ultimate rap sin of allegedly having his lyrics “ghost-written” for him, an offense in rap that is apparently far greater than the inclusion of any racially or ethnically offensive terms, but I digress.)
And, unlike Jackson, who didn’t have any religious or ethnic ties to the Jewish community (again, not that I’m aware of), Drake is Jewish. You would think that, just as blacks have been issued a “pass” for our liberal use of the n-word, that Drake would have at least been an equal opportunity offender for his other side. After all, isn’t that how it works…as long as we’re the ones who say it, it’s okay to do? Fellow superstar rapper, Eminem, who is white, clearly knows this and has shied away from using the n-word in any of his lyrics.
Now, I don’t want anyone to take away from this post that I am slamming Drake or encouraging the use of any derogatory terms about Jewish people (that’s not my style and certainly inappropriate), or, for that matter, black people (it’s already happening and it’s probably a lost cause to try to reverse it). I’m simply making an observation that the double-standard involving black people and the use of the n-word doesn’t apply to other ethnicities (and/or religions in the case of Jewish people), and particularly not in hip-hop music.
Drake’s two 2015 “mix-tape” albums are no exceptions to the liberal use of his slur of choice, and they both are among the biggest-selling albums of the year. He will likely continue to sling the n-word around when his next “true” album, Views From The 6, is released later this year.
But don’t expect him to slip up and use any derogatory statements about his other half, for that would create a huge uproar, and he’d be atoning for it for a long time afterwards.
To see the entire list of all the Number One rap albums (including Drake’s) in Billboard pop chart history – and to get access to a special DJRob Spotify playlist of songs from each of those albums, click this link.
And to see where Drake ranked on my djroblist of all-time Canadian artists who’ve impacted the American music scene, click here.
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