OPINION: Drake, the culture vulture

by | Mar 24, 2017 | Opinion

ETC Staff

As a Jamaican, I love being from Toronto.  I’ve been here almost all my life and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The problem is, once you live in this city, any news about Drake instantly becomes breaking news.

Drake has just dropped a new album called ‘More Life’, which he describes as a playlist but is really an album at the end of the day. I gave it a listen just to see what the hype is all about, and as usual it’s only getting the attention it’s getting because he’s Drake. The playlist/album wasn’t anything innovative or different, and listening to Drake put on a UK accent was the most cringe-inducing thing I’ve heard since Donald Trump’s advisor citing “alternate facts.”

A couple songs did open my eyes a bit, notably “Blem” and “Madiba Riddim”. Those two songs are definitely Drake’s attempt at the genre of Dancehall, something he has been doing for a couple of years now. Dancehall’s roots are planted in Jamaica, and Drake has a borderline odd fascination with the culture.

However, there’s a problem here. Even when Drake decided to use Dancehall beats on his Views album, he collaborated with no Jamaican talent, and this one is no different. Of course, he’s not obligated to, but Dancehall is a genre that needs a lot of help to get international appeal. By just straight-up using the sound, Drake ends up being looked at as ‘innovative’ and a creator of the sound.

There are other artists who are using the sound too – most notably Justin Bieber – but nobody is as actively involved with the Jamaican culture as Drake is. In fact, he has been hanging out with one of the biggest artists in Dancehall, Jamaican DJ and songwriter Popcaan. It’s almost as if Jamaican music is cool to use, but not good enough to actually collaborate with the artists.

But here’s the most blatant sign of disrespect Drake has shown for Dancehall music. In the industry, we have something called a ‘riddim’, which is an instrumental a producer makes. He then pays artists to sing or rap on that riddim, and then it’s released all at once with each artist doing something different with the beat. I get Drake has always wanted to voice on a riddim, but at this point it’s straight cultural appropriation to name one of your songs ‘Madiba Riddim’.

Listen here, Drake. There are no shortcuts in Dancehall. If you want to voice on a riddim, how about you go speak with Jamaican producers and go about things the right way. Stop trying to take short cuts and take everything for yourself. You’re literally stealing the culture and trying to make it yours by claiming a whole riddim as a song. It’s dictatorial and leaves a sour taste.

The ‘Dancehall’-style tracks on Drake’s albums were alright. But this is the most blatant form of culture vulturing he has done in his life.