October 29, 2015

JAIN | Drake, the Culture Vulture?

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No one in music has had a bigger year so far than Canadian rapper Drake. With two number-one albums this year alone and a third expected to drop in the coming months, Drake may very well be having one of the most successful years in music history. However, with success comes criticism, which Drake is all too familiar with.

Houston rapper Sauce Walka is one of the many rappers to be critical of Drake. Among other things, Sauce Walka claims that Drake appropriates different cultures’ music to benefit himself, and gives very little back to those individual musical cultures. For Sauce Walka, this means Drake has appropriated Houston rap culture’s stylistic variety and lyrical nuance, while only collaborating with mainstream Houston artists, such as Bun B, Travi$ Scott and Beyoncé.

With constant references to dirty sprite and the Underground Kingz, there’s no denying Drake’s pervasive use of Houston culture. Drake even began Houston Appreciation Week, a weeklong celebration of all things associated with Houston rap. However, Drake came under fire for HAW’s lack of representation from Houston rappers in the lineup. The question remains, is Drake a culture vulture?

By now, we’ve all probably seen Drake’s “Hotline Bling” music video. Everyone has also seen the myriad of memes poking fun at Drake’s corny dance moves. However, the video itself featured a very clear influence from artist James Turrell in its use of colored light in a large, blank space. Drake has very openly admitted to drawing inspiration from Turrell’s work. In 2014 after visiting Turrell’s retrospective at the LACMA, the rapper posted several photos of himself standing in Turrell’s installation, with the caption “Turrell x OVO,” a reference to his record label, October’s Very Own.

Turrell didn’t seem to mind Drake drawing from his work and even put out a statement in which he claimed, “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake fucks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the ‘Hotline Bling’ video.” While it’s hilarious that the 72-year-old Turrell would quote one of Drake’s songs, the question remains, is Drake a culture vulture?

It’s clear Drake takes aspects of different cultures and uses them in a self-serving manner. As a native Houstonian and an art history major, a part of me is sort of uncomfortable with this idea. Then again, I’m not totally sure what else to expect. In what way can Drake really benefit Houston rap or the art world? It seems he has done some good for both communities just by transferring his own hype onto them.

If not for Drake, who would care about Houston rap anymore? The biggest names the Houston rap community boasts nowadays are probably Kirko Bangz and Z-Ro, neither of whom are totally relevant outside of Houston circles anyway. Bun B hasn’t put out any heat since Pimp C passed and he seems just fine with Drake using Houston culture to his advantage.

The art world, probably at the peak of commerciality right now, is in a similar boat. With a number of artistic collaborations with rappers, such as Kehinde Wiley and Santigold, the art world seems more open to cross cultural collaboration than ever before. Drake even curated a music playlist for an exhibition at Sotheby’s last year. It seems Turrell really didn’t care that Drake used some of his most introspective work as a dance background, so honestly, why should we?

It’s easy to hate Drake. The guy really can do no wrong. Even when people criticize him for his corny dance moves, bandwagon sports fandom and rumors of using a ghostwriter, Drake emerges unblemished and on top. Maybe we should all take a step back, put some Drake on shuffle, and softly whisper to ourselves, “What a time to be alive.”

Akshay Jain is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. College Stuff appears alternate Fridays this semester. He may be reached at aj265@cornell.edu.

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