Why has Drake earned so much praise–even a key to Toronto–even though he writes sexist and blatantly misogynistic lyrics?
Living in the Greater Toronto Area, I hear a lot about Drake. The rapper hails from Toronto and has become something of a hometown hero. Here’s a sample of some of the respect and recognition he’s received around here:
- In a 2015 ad for Spotify, Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said that Drake “represents what Toronto is all about.”
- Drake is a “global ambassador” for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. In November 2015 the team held its third annual Drake night, complete with a Hotline Bling booth. Fans were encouraged to enter the booth and dance as Drake did in his video for the hit song.
- Drake was named coach of Canada’s team for the NBA All-Star Game, which takes place this weekend. His assistants include former NBA star Steve Nash and current Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
- Drake partnered with famous Canadian chef Susur Lee to open a restaurant near Toronto’s theatre district.
So loved is Drake in Toronto that they’ll probably give him the key to the city any day now. (I must be psychic. I wrote this sentence before today’s announcement that Toronto Mayor John Tory will, indeed, give Drake a key to the city tomorrow.)
The adulation extends beyond Toronto, of course. Drake is an international star who recently appeared in Super Bowl ads for T-Mobile and Air Jordans. The love-in continues on the awards circuit, where Drake has been nominated for four Grammys and five Juno awards. Crafty people have even made Valentine cards with Drake’s image.
Drake’s The Gift Without a Curse Album Cover Image: Rgs
I’m sure on some level Drake is a swell guy. He’s certainly a big booster of Toronto and proud of his roots. His recent song You & The 6 pays tribute to his mother and hometown for “raising him right.” At one time, he was even known for being “soft” and “sensitive” in comparison to other rappers. In fact, his profile on Notable.ca states that his songs are “more watered down [than other artists’] in the disrespect for women department.”
That Notable.ca profile was written in 2012. Drake’s songs since that time have definitely intensified in the “disrespect for women department.” Yet, the shiny veneer on Drake seems not to have chipped or faded, despite lyrics like this:
“Tell her, ‘Stay the night, valet your car, come fuck me now’…
…Jump when I say jump, girl, can you take direction?”
(Drake’s lyrics in the song Jumpman from his 2015 collaboration with rapper Future)
“And I rock Kentucky blue on these hoes;
Drafted, I’m getting’ choose by these hoes;
Usually they just leave when we done;
I don’t wanna share no room with these hoes.”
(Another collaboration with Future, called Scholarships.)
And from 2014’s 6 God:
“I got one girl, and she my girl, and nobody else can hit it;
She’ll admit it, she’ll admit it:
She ain’t fuckin’ with you niggas;
And just like every single other thing in my life;
You can have her when I’m finished.”
Then there are the songs in which he provided guest vocals. He may not have rapped anything stronger than “bitch” in some, but he was present in videos like Love Me, with its caged women and revolting lyrics from Lil Wayne. He was also part of the F**kin’ Problems video that referenced “bad bitches” several times. His 2015 work with Future led to the lyrics above, as well as another gem called Change Locations, rapped by Future with Drake sharing some of the vocals. The song opens with a line about “60 naked bitches” then goes on to talk about how these “bitches” are used:
“We do them favors, them bitches do cater;
We go fuck models then go fuck neighbours;
Fuck all the strippers then we go fuck waitresses, yeah.”
All this and Drake gets a key to the city.
It appears many people have drunk the same Kool-Aid as the Notable editors where Drake is concerned. Mayor John Tory certainly has. Some observers have a more realistic perspective, however, including Toronto Star writer Ben Rayner who wrote in December, 2015 about Drake’s “casual misogyny.” I have highlighted some of the rapper’s more blatantly sexist and degrading lyrics above, but Rayner argued that the form of misogyny practiced by Drake (and fellow Canadians The Weeknd and Justin Bieber) tends to be lighter and, therefore, disregarded:
Only rarely is this [casual misogyny] acknowledged, however, because the artists have managed to glaze over the general sexism of their oeuvres with a veneer of regretful, tormented sensitivity.”
Rayner references Drake’s monster hit Hotline Bling, a song that has been called out by other writers as well for its subtle sexist vibe. In the song Drake derides an ex-girlfriend for “wearing less and goin’ out more,” going places she “doesn’t belong,” and “getting’ nasty for someone else.” In other words, he shames her for moving on and doing what she likes, including having sex with other guys.
In academic circles there is a term for the attitude exhibited by Drake: heterosexual script. As described by psychologist Deborah Tolman and colleagues, the heterosexual script teaches people that sexuality carries different meanings and consequences for men and women.
Sexual double-standards are one of the key elements of the script and something with which we are all familiar: sexual desire and experience are appropriate and normal for males but not for females who risk losing their “good girl” status if they appear sexually assertive or promiscuous.* And women who have a lot of sex? Well, they’re sluts, bitches, and hoes. Such tropes appear often in Drake’s songs. (For a full rundown, I encourage you to read the article “Sorry, but Drake’s obsession with ‘good girls’ is sexist” by Tahirah Hairston.)
Psychologists have expressed concern over the impact of the heterosexual script on teens. Psychologist Janna L. Kim and colleagues believe it may normalize traditional attitudes toward male and female sexual roles. The normality of the heterosexual script may also mean that many adults fail to notice its strong presence in teen media:
Indeed, it is because the Heterosexual Script is so invisible and perceived to be so natural and normal that its potential impact on adolescents’ sexual decision-making is so formidable.”** (Capitalization present in the original.)
In other words, the heterosexual script is nearly invisible because it is so “normal,” but it can teach kids some very unhealthy lessons about sex and relationships. In Drake’s case–or at least according to the persona he has adopted as a musical performer–the message is clear. Men call the shots, need sex all the time, can (and will) discard women who are not worthy (i.e. hoes and bitches), and can degrade women with impunity. Women, on the other hand, are to behave according to a man’s wishes, stay faithful even if he has moved on, and be grateful for whatever attention he bestows.
Of course, media influence is not, as academics say, hypodermic. Kids do exercise discretion and can judge what is right and wrong. (For example: a song like Groupies by Future.) But when the person delivering the message is lauded in the way Drake has been, what is the wider message? Sexism, degrading language, and misogyny–whether blatant or casual–are excused. And if attitudes like those expressed by Drake are not challenged, they will continue to exist and become increasingly normalized.
The fact that Drake counts among his admirers some of the men that young boys tend to look up to–baseball and basketball players–lends him further legitimacy. Are these men okay with women being characterized as disposable sex toys, bitches, and hoes? Are they on board with Drake’s view of men as entitled to control, dominate, and degrade women? I doubt it, but none have done anything to prove otherwise, and their tacit acceptance carries weight with boys and young men.
It’s all rather discouraging but, to paraphrase Drake’s recent album title, if you’re reading this, it’s not too late. You can chip away at the veneer, look under the surface, and see what’s really there. And you can use this misplaced hero worship as a lesson in media literacy for your children: teach them to look beyond the brand of blind celebrity adoration accorded to Drake and consider what an artist really stands for. Only then can they truly determine if that person is worthy of the lofty perch on which he or she has been placed.
*Tolman, Deborah et al. “Rethinking the Associations between Television Viewing and Adolescent Sexuality Development: Bringing Gender into Focus” Journal of Adolescent Health 40, no. 1 (2007): p. 84.e9-84.e10.
**Kim, Janna et al. “From Sex to Sexuality: Exposing the Heterosexual Script on Primetime Network Television” Journal of Sex Research 44, no. 2 (2007): p. 146-7, 156.