Hard as it may be for some rap fans to accept, hip hop in 2014 is all about raw emotional honesty and wobbly chinned sensitivity. From big shots (Eminem, Kanye) to next-big-things (Childish Gambino, Danny Brown), it’s inner turmoil – rather than inner-city turmoil – that sells records these days.
The reigning champ of this unhappy-hop trend is 27-year-old Canadian Drake, who’s touring the UK this month. His monster 2012 hit Take Care (featuring Rihanna), a track about two lovers reflecting on their painful pasts and vowing to offer each other emotional support, was so far removed from hip hop’s traditional subject matter – guns, gangs, beefs, cash – that it barely seemed like a rap track at all.
A decade ago, the most buzzed-about rapper was 50 Cent, a hulking real-life criminal who rhymed with a slur due to a gunshot wound to his face. The back story of 2014’s hottest MC couldn’t be more different: Drake (real name: Aubrey) grew up in Toronto’s affluent Forest Hill district, and first rose to fame playing a teen heartthrob on Canadian soap Degrassi. If Eminem opened the door for white rappers, Drake has done the same for the middle-class.
Drake’s shifting of hip hop’s focus away from aggro megalomania and towards champagne-fuelled self-loathing has meant beefing (rappers casually flinging death-threats at each other) has fallen out of fashion. And the longer MCs keep their anger turned inwards, the less likely they are to wind up as the next Biggie or 2Pac (ie dead). So well done, Aubrey – you’re a real lifesaver.
Drake is currently touring the UK. Check out the dates here.