Before I start this, let me say I do enjoy some of Drake’s music. What follows is not to say that I think he is trash, they are just a few observations on how he operates in the game. It works for him (You can’t say a man who gets 1billion album streams is doing it all wrong) but that doesn’t mean I can’t have some criticisms.
If you are not familiar with the Mortal Kombat franchise, the character of Shang Tsung is described as “a demonic shapeshifter who absorbs the living souls of those he defeats in order to maintain his youth and power and is able to change his appearance, including by morphing into other characters while retaining their abilities”. Now a key word should be removed in order to discuss the Drake comparison, namely demonic (Drake really isn’t that bad). I would argue that the rest of this stands as up for debate. There’s no questioning Drake is powerful as a pop-rapstar.
Not only that, but I will go through the extensive lists of artists/waves which Drake has successfully Shang Tsung’d. PSA – Many Drake stans will simply state that Drake puts artists on the map or blows them up etc. and I would retort, I might believe this if he doesn’t discard them once he has used up their power. So…Drake has/is successfully absorbed/absorbing the following…The Weeknd, Migos, Future, Popcaan, Skepta, D.R.A.M, PartyNextDoor and (controversially) even his own city, Toronto. I know that last one sounds dumb… how can you Shang Tsung your own city, but all will be explained in due course.
At this point it’s a certified fact that Drake has ghostwriters. Some people hate that, some don’t. Whatever your opinion on that, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t absorbed them, therefore the fact that half the songs from Take Care were in fact penned by then relatively unknown, The Weeknd, he may have been the first one. You can definitely hear The Weeknd’s sound in many cuts on that album, not including their collaborative track “Crew Love”. So that’s one.
D.R.A.M might be the worst example of being Shang Tsung’d, as unlike many on this list; He didn’t accept the move, he didn’t get a remix that would blow him up, he just got his breakout single absorbed and transformed into one of Drake’s biggest single’s period. If you like “Hotline Bling”, which many including myself do despite the obvious creep factor in the lyrics, I would urge you to listen to “Cha Cha” by D.R.A.M. The essence of the song is the same and Drake’s track was actually originally called a remix upon its release.
This isn’t to say that there are not benefits to being Tsang Shung’d, with some of the artists gaining a higher level of exposure to the mainstream audience. Would Future and Migos in particular, reached the heights they did without the help of the self professed 6ix God? We may never know but it definitely didn’t hinder their progression. The same could be said of the Weeknd, with the Crew Love track on Take Care propelling the artist into the spotlight.
An issue that some have with Drake is that he seems to have what had been described as the OVO Sweatshop behind him, with several artists working on hits for him to re-purpose them. Most notably of this is what could have been PND’s huge mainstream hit, “Work”. A demo was leaked of the Canadian-Jamaican artist singing the song which later became a monster song for Drake’s on and off girlfriend Rihanna. He seems to be the most frequent of the artists who’s hits are turned into mere references for Drake tracks and many would argue that his own sound is suffering because of it.
Most importantly to this Shang Tsung philosophy is his ever changing image. Drake in his early career was heralded as a rapper of sensitive emotions and broken hearts etc. Essentially an extension of the same type of RnB that was hugely popular in the 90’s. Some people loved that Drake was able to showcase his insecurities and vulnerabilities in his music, it made him relatable and authentic to many and that was fine. However, in recent times his entire image, from his out of nowhere introduction of Toronto slang into his speech when this had been absent for the first 5 years of his career, to this sudden hyper-aggressive lyrics and delivery, which in all honesty sounds a lot less authentic than his softer side and at the same time make his softer side more intolerable. Suddenly his work is full of “wah gwarn”, “tings” and “man’s never been” etc. which as a Londoner, I’m more than familiar with (Urban Toronto and Urban London slang are identical due to the direct Jamaican influences on both). My question is where were all these colloquialisms and references to Toronto culture on his first 3 albums. In light of this, to many who are not necessarily Drake fans, he doesn’t have the sincerity for the vulnerable side and he is not sufficiently gangster enough to be convincing in that lane either.
Proof of this can be found in his latest release, VIEWS. Drake has ascended to the heights of pop superstardom, however those heights don’t always reflect critical opinion, therefore leading his most commercially successful release to date to also be his most critically reviled release. Compared to his other albums which had all averaged scores in the 70’s and 80’s, this release averaged a Metacritic score of 69. The worst thing about this is the scores of fans who responded to critics of the album by stating that they still had to listen to it so Drake is still winning. While at the same time, if they hadn’t listened to it and said it wasn’t great, the response would still have been negative. That, unfortunately is the first sign of real pop stardom as opposed to rap stardom. Drake is definitely in the latter, and if you take him as a popstar rather than a rapper, then he merely joins the countless number of pop artists with similar rap sheets. If he wants to be taken as a rapper however, these hip-hop sins will surely bar him from entry into the Rap Mount Olympus. Still absolutely none of the above will stop me jamming to some of his songs, “Jumpman” will forever be my tune.