For a second there, it seemed as though maybe Drake had turned a corner.
In the lead-up to the June 29 release of his fifth studio album, Scorpion, it seemed like he might be backing off one of the more uncomfortable aspects of his superstar rap career—his penchant for chastising women who used to be “good girls.” The always sensitive rapper has a long history of extolling the virtues of these so-called good girls, with some of his biggest hits throughout his career centered around an awkward need to police the behavior of the women in his life.
Sometimes, it’s been couched within songs that have been praised for their seemingly feminist virtues, as in 2011’s “Make Me Proud,” which finds the rapper otherwise known as Aubrey Graham celebrating some unnamed woman, but only because she managed to live by his Good Girl ideal. And other times, it’s been blatant as hell. 2015’s “Hotline Bling” is just one long screed against an ex-girlfriend who had the audacity to move on with her life and wear whatever the hell she pleases—and we were dancing to it like fools long enough to make it his second-best-selling single of all time.
Despite being the poster boy for this Millennial rap sound that eschews traditional masculine energy and lives all up in its feelings, a sound he largely helped create, he’s hardly demonstrated that he deserves the feminist mantle he’d somehow earned. From 2009’s “Houstatlantavegas,” where his “You go get fucked up and we just show up at your rescue” perpetuated the idea that women need saving, to a guest verse on 2 Chainz’s 2012 track “No Lie,” where he rapped “She could have a Grammy, I still treat her ass like a nominee//Just need to know what that p—y like//So one time is fine with me” allegedly about Rihanna, to an appearance on Beyonce’s 2013 track “Mine,” where he dared sully Queen Bey’s noted feminism with “I know you think it’s funny that your ex is not a running back//But that n***a came running back//And you tell me that you’re done with that//And I believe it’s true as long as you know who you belong to,” Drake’s taken opportunity after opportunity to enforce his idea of respectability politics on women everywhere.
But with this new material, it seemed like things might be different. The 6 God was out there, handing out a million dollars and crooning about “God’s Plan.” He was celebrating all manner of independent and fierce AF women with appearances in his iconic “Nice For What” video. He had a rap beef with Pusha T to worry about. Surely, he couldn’t be bothered to care about how women continue to dare have agency over their own lives, could he?
As it turns out, he could.
Take the track “Emotionless,” for example. The song, which samples Mariah Carey’s “Emotion” and gained immediate notoriety for being the vehicle for Drake’s first public acknowledgement of Adonis, the son he’d been rumored to have fathered. It finds the rapper laments all the duplicitous people in his life now that he’s famous, before turning his critique towards his generation’s behavior on social media, which quickly crystallizes into one knock on a girl he knows after the next.
“I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome
Then she finally got to Rome
And all she did was post pictures for people at home
‘Cause all that mattered was impressin’ everybody she’s known
I know another girl that’s cryin’ out for help
But her latest caption is “Leave me alone”
I know a girl happily married ’til she puts down her phone
I know a girl that saves pictures from places she’s flown
To post later and make it look like she still on the go
Look at the way we live
I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world
I was hidin’ the world from my kid”
It’s not that he doesn’t have a point—we are all pretty awful to ourselves and to one another when hiding behind our phones—but he’s never met a guy who does the same? Sure, Jan.
In “That’s How You Feel,” despite his clear longing for the woman who’s the subject of the track, he returns to the jabs at her lifestyle that had been a hallmark of his lyrics since his first mixtape dropped, singing, “I know you like to drink ’til the sun up.” In “In My Feelings,” he demands to know how loyal these women are to him, despite copping to the fact that he only loves “my bed and my momma” in “God’s Plan.” In “I’m Upset,” he’s concerned with protecting his money so he doesn’t have to “go 50/50 with no ho.” The album is rife with it.
In a 2010 interview with Katie Couric, before much of his discography could be used as evidence to the contrary, Drake tried to downplay the notion that his lyrics could be considered demeaning to women. “There’s a fine line between demeaning… And fun, and wit. A lot of the music that me and Wayne made, for example…it’s fun, it’s witty. ‘I Wanna F**k Every Girl In The World,’ that’s one of our biggest songs. Is it to be taken literally and dissected? No,” he argued. “It’s more just fun, witty moments. Hip-hop has elements of comedy. Those make the best punch lines… I feel like to demean a woman is something completely different than what we do.”
Does Drake set out to demean and control women with his music? Who knows. But when the fan reaction to Rihanna’s admission in Vogue‘s June issue that his fawning profession of love as he presented her with her Video Vanguard Award at the 2016 MTV VMAs left her feeling uncomfortable and that they’re no longer friends is to attack her and defend him, as was so often the case on Twitter when the story broke, there’s no denying that he’s perpetuating an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous idea of what men are owed by women.
“And you showin’ off, but it’s alright,” Drake tells the women he’s singing to in “Nice For What.” “It’s a short life.”
It’s a nice sentiment, but it would be even nicer if he didn’t presume she even needed his permission in the first place. Life’s too short for that, after all.