It’s been a week since Drake got booed off the stage at Tyler, the Creator’s wildly popular festival Camp Flog Gnaw and the (hip-hop) world is still asking: “Why?”
The months leading up to the festival were riddled with mystery as to who the headliner would be. Despite some speculation that Frank Ocean would be the secret performer and a faux-Instagram ad confirming the suspicions, it turned out to be a hodgepodge: Drake, A$AP Rocky and Lil Uzi Vert.
The popularity and variety of rappers presented weren’t enough to suffice the Frank Ocean theories, and Drake cut his set short following booing and low energy from the crowd.
“I’m here for you tonight,” Drake said. “If you wanna keep going, I will keep going tonight. What’s up?” Then he paused, gauging the reaction of the crowd and was subsequently met with booing. “Well, look, it’s been love. I love y’all. I go by the name of Drake. Thank you for having me.”
The situation seems bizarre to anyone who’s followed Drake’s career, gone to a show or witnessed the virality of memes and jokes about the Canadian rapper. In early 2018, his label reported that he had become the first artist to reach more than 50 billion streams across music platforms and his career, populated with consecutive chart-topping hits, is evidence of his popularity.
But when taking into consideration Tyler’s audience and Drake’s complicated history with likability and a continued trend of entitled fans, a world where Drake isn’t well-received makes sense.
Camp Flog Gnaw specifically curates acts that generally reflect the personal taste of OFWGKTA’s founder Tyler, the Creator. Artists like Solange, The Internet, BROCKHAMPTON, Willow Smith and A$AP Rocky are typically on the bill, attracting the alt-R&B crowd, moshers and Odd Future fans. Think young “hipsters,” the types that shop at the Melrose Trading Post. This is where Drake sticks out.
Aside from not being an alternative-leaning artist, he doesn’t have a cult following like KIDS SEE GHOSTS (Kanye and Kid Cudi) who performed at last year’s festival, nor is he a nostalgic favorite like Lil Wayne or Kelis. He was quite literally too famous for the crowd and not “on-brand” for an Odd Future festival.
Tyler is one of many rappers who has developed a brand and cult identity to connect with fans. Everything he does is “off the beaten path,” sparking a hyper-loyal fanbase and a profitable career with Camp Flog Gnaw at the apex. Drake was simply situated outside of that identity, causing an averse crowd reaction.
The incident is not only characterized by the aesthetic departure from Tyler’s brand, but represents festival culture as a whole. Drake getting booed at Camp Flog Gnaw is what happens when you hold R&B/hip-hop/rap festivals at $200 a ticket, exclusively in major cities like Los Angeles. They become too expensive and inaccessible, excluding a crowd that may have appreciated the mainstream hip-hop-leaning Drake.
Tyler addressed his fans who booed in a series of tweets the next morning:
“I thought bringing one of the biggest artists on the fucking planet to a music festival was fire!” he wrote. “But flipside, a lil tone deaf knowing the specific crowd it drew. Some created a narrative in their head and acted out like assholes when it didnt [sic] come true and I dont [sic] fuck with that.”
Furthermore, as the Washington Post’s Bethonie Butler explained, public opinion regarding Drake has paradoxically shifted both in favor and against the artist since his debut “Thank Me Later.”
There’s continued sentiment that Drake is too mainstream and only makes radio hits. He’s been criticized for not having a classic album. Rapper Pusha T brought to light photos of Drake in blackface back in 2018 with his diss records “The Story of Adidon.”
And his romance with Rihanna has been picked apart by fans and the media after an awkward encounter between the two at the 2016 MTV VMA Awards and a collaboration with her ex who brutally assaulted her in 2009, Chris Brown.
Musically, some of Drake’s biggest hits are heavily influenced by styles that are far removed from the rapper. Think “One Dance” or “Nice For What,” and he’s been accused of being a “culture vulture.” He’s also known for latching on to up-and-coming artists like Summer Walker or Jorja Smith in try-hard attempts to stay in the public’s good graces.
There’s never been a moment where the entire musical community loved or hated Drake, and his humbling moment last week further characterizes him as a polarizing figure.
To round out the reasons as to why Drake was booed at Camp Flog Gnaw, I think of the ways fans have become entitled to artists and their visibility.
It’s the same behavior that causes people to criticize Summer Walker and her performances despite her social anxiety or to become upset when our favorite artists’ latest albums sound utterly different than we expected.
In a world where music is not only a commodity but also a platform where we have semi-direct access to artists through social media, it’s easy to see the relationship between fans and artists as a transaction and not an experience. The members of the audience that booed Drake believed purchasing a $200-plus ticket to the festival ensured them a certain aesthetic that only Frank Ocean could fulfill.
Drake’s appearance at Camp Flog Gnaw represented a rift between Tyler and his fans. He continued to be his “off-the-cuff” and unpredictable self but in a way that was too mainstream for the audience.
At the end of the day, Drake will be OK. Ahead of the changing decade, he’s already been called the defining artist of the 2010s.
As for the fans, it’s a lesson to remember that albums and performances are experiences, and the expectations we place on artists will continue to leave us disappointed. Regardless of whether Tyler’s choice was tone-deaf, no amount of money or cult following should leave an artist like Drake high and dry in front of thousands of people.
Ellice Ellis is a senior writing about the music industry and social justice. Her column “Everything but the Song” runs every other Tuesday.