Drake Blackface: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

As the vicious Pusha T/Drake beef enters Round 3, Drake has released a statement addressing his 2007 Blackface modelling. Putting aside the decision to issue an apology using the Instagram Stories medium (designed to vanish within 24 hours) what does his statement tell us about social media’s favourite rapper?

His statement is drenched in deflection.

Those looking for an apology for any hurt should look elsewhere. The practice of ‘blacking up’ for a laugh lingers from slavery to today. A shot of your favorite rapper deploying a tool used to propagate "happy-go lucky” and “house nigger” stereotypes is immediately uncomfortable. However Drake merely wanted to artistically express embedded racism, and there is no reason to doubt this. He was not even 21 at the shoot. A reasonable adult would not pillory a well-meaning youngster seeking to “highlight and raise [his] frustrations”. Drake is not a racist. So, why not properly address unintentional hurt?

Words matter. Drake literally trades in them. Yet ‘Sorry’ seems to be his hardest word.

In 2015, reference tracks emerged of Quentin Miller rapping – word for word – on various early cuts from If You're Reading This It's Too Late. Claims of ghostwriting flowed, a cardinal sin in a genre founded on lyricism. The Pusha T/Drake beef stems from this misgiving. Again, Drake shunned our concerns, stating: “Music at times can be a collaborative process, you know? Who came up with this, who came up with that – for me, it’s like, I know that it takes me to execute every single thing that I’ve done up until this point. And I’m not ashamed.” Yesterday’s blackface statement is similarly bereft of shame. Despite the fact that he is superstar – his hit ‘Once Dance’ was streamed 1 billion times and he boasts 42m Instagram followers – he flings a “best friend” into the fire. Mazin Elsadig is specifically named in his statement. This ‘outing’ leaves a bitter taste. Mazin is a relatively unknown figure deployed to apportion blame. It irks that, when faced with criticism the solidarity and brotherly love of ‘No New Friends’ and “stay[ing] down with my day one niggas” vanishes. Drake's naming and shaming of Mazin, is, itself, shameful.

Neither Blackface Gate nor Quentin Miller can undermine Drake’s status as a popstar and a great one at that. But they do highlight an inability to harness hip-hop’s sacred combination of lyrical nous and using that as a tool for socio-political debate. Drake is no Jay Z (see 4:44). Drake is no Nas (see Untitled, a.k.a Nigger). Drake is no Kendrick Lamar or J Cole. Those contemporaries both use hip-hop to highlight societal issues. Drake is no G.O.A.T. Drake is distinctly middle class, we cannot insist he becomes a freedom fighter. Drake is also part African American – regularly deploying Jamaican and Black British culture for street cred – yet he has shirked racism and social issues in his 10 years of stardom.

Drake rarely ever gives interviews (so we cannot know his views on these issues). Drake also does not say sorry.

Research credits: @Gbig_Mike @mr_joeyadz @RotimiLDN


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