A List of All the Biases That Prevent Me From Considering Drake One of the Greatest Rappers Ever (Which He, Unfortunately, Is)

Illustration for article titled A List of All the Biases That Prevent Me From Considering Drake One of the Greatest Rappers Ever (Which He, Unfortunately, Is)
Photo: Claus Andersen (Getty Images)

1. He reminds me of hotel shampoo so much that I’ve just started calling him Hotel Shampoo.

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2. The irrational and disproportionate emotional and spiritual attachment I have to the rappers I listened to and loved when I was younger, which makes it more difficult for a “newer” person to move me.

3. He’s never released an album I’d consider a classic. (His best, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, falls short of that status.) But perhaps this is an anachronistic way of assessment, when our primary means of consuming music now is on streaming platforms, and we can just make playlists of the shit we like. Does having a great album still matter if you’ve either released or been featured on (at least) 50 culturally relevant and zeitgeist-infesting songs in a 12-year span—which Hotel Shampoo definitely has?

4. His verses are book blurbs stitched together. Just quotable after quotable after quotable with no real cohesion. (Can you remember him ever telling a story? And not even a Nas-level story, but like Jigga on “Meet the Parents” or Weezy on “Mona Lisa”?)

But he makes it work. The quotable/catchphrase thing is a talent. For instance, Hotel Shampoo ain’t invent the word “fancy,” but he definitely had/has people saying “oh you fancy” after “Fancy.” Same thing with YOLO. And “woes.” And “You wasn’t with me shootin’ in the gym.” And so many other words and lines that feel, well, corny as fuck, but also became ubiquitous.

His verses feel and sound easy, like he spent 15 minutes writing them and five recording them, but there’s a rigor in the performance of ease, and Hotel Shampoo has mastered it.

5. I grew up on GZA and Ghost and Biggie and Dre 3000 and Big L and L Boogie and Scarface and others whose lyrics, lines, and verses were so intricate and complex that it made rap/rapping seem so fucking hard. The best rappers have always been considered linguistic geniuses. There’s even genius origin stories and myth-making(s), like how everyone knows that Jay-Z has supposedly never actually written a rhyme.

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There’s never been a time, in the 12 years now that I’ve listened to Hotel Shampoo, where I thought “Wow. Dude is a genius.” But I think what’s happening is that his genius—the quotable/catch phrase thing and his preternatural ability to ride/create trends and be a chameleon—exists in places I don’t value as much as the overtly difficult lyrics.

6. I wouldn’t place him on a list of the 25 best rappers ever. But I feel like we need to have two separate categories for rap goats. You have the “best at rapping” goat list, with people like Black Thought and Jay Elec and Jean Grae on it, and the “best at making rap songs/albums” list, with people like Hotel Shampoo and Kanye West.

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I’m done here. Goodbye!

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

DISCUSSION

straightoutofpangaea
The Thugnificent Pangaean

Drake belongs in the Pitbull and Flo Ridah (?) club of great dance music and made by great music producer and marginal rappers.

Technical rapper or wildly experimental/creative rappers? Not so much.