East Coast Memo: Is Drake’s public image actually good?

During Jorja Smith’s debut performance in Toronto at the Velvet Underground, Drake performed alongside the British singer.

Is life actually good? Aubrey “Drake” Graham’s success in the 2010s cannot be disputed since his music has ruled the charts for years and maintains a significant radio presence. While many may argue that Drake is still in the prime of his career, there has been an increase in talk surrounding his professional and personal behavior, signaling a change in the public perception of who Drake really is. As the previous decade came to a close, his persona as the face of mainstream hip-hop now carries a different image. Coming out of 2019, Drake has emerged as an artist with a sharply polarized audience. 

Drake maintained a relatively strong media presence through his myriad different interests including music, fashion and weed, with his new company More Life Growth Company. In one of  Drake’s most recent media appearances, he sat in his Toronto mansion for Tidal’s “Rap Radar” podcast. Though the podcast was quite long and extensively discussed Drake’s past musical influences, it was mostly a space where Drake bragged about himself, with no uncomfortable or critical questioning. It felt more like an opportunity for Drake to build himself a more positive narrative rather than an interview.

During the podcast, Drake addressed his recent controversies involving Pusha T and his defeat to the Virginia rapper in their 2018 blockbuster rap beef, with Drake taking the final hit as Pusha revealed to the world his hidden son. In the interview he avoids mentioning Pusha  by name and brushes off the incident as a violation of rap battle rules because Pusha mentioned his son. His views on the incident received a lackluster response from his interviewees, and the discussion feels scripted, coddles the rapper and only supports his views of the rap beef. In his appearance on LeBron James’ HBO talk show, “The Shop,” he addresses similar topics in a space surrounded by close friends and associates. Both interviews fail fans of not only Drake but of hip-hop overall through the lack of criticism or questioning on how he handled the situation.

In addition to criticism of his media presence, unfavorable opinions surfaced on the internet in 2019 regarding footage from one of his concerts years ago. This is not meant to be an accusation of any wrongdoing by Drake but rather an observation into how conversations around the hip-hop mogul have turned unpleasant, given the recent awareness in the media to inappropriate behavior ala the #MeToo movement. In one clip, Drake slow dances with and kisses a 17-year-old girl on the neck. 

Similarly, Drake has been criticised for other inappropriate behaviors with celebrities years his junior. Fifteen-year-old actress Millie Bobby Brown revealed in an interview that Drake has texted her “I miss you” and gave the “Stranger Things” star advice about boys. Brown talked about the rapper warmly and expressed nothing but gratitude for his help, yet the idea of a 32-year-old man texting a then-14-year-old girl didn’t sit right with many. 

The same sentiments were felt when popstar Billie Eilish recounted a similar experience with  Drake in a November 2019 interview with Vanity Fair. Eilish, 17 at the time, talked about how he’s a very nice guy and texted her as well. As Drake is a prominent musical artist and popular culture figure, his actions do not go unnoticed in our cognizant social environment. 

Drake’s recent music has also contributed to this shift in public thought. The U.K. drill sound has defined a couple of his last few singles including “Behind Barz” and “War.” Many have  questioned whether Drake is a “culture vulture,” stealing musical stylings that are not native to him. Although he has faced controversy on this matter before with his use of Afrobeats slang and musical styles, his recent U.K. influence has divided the hip-hop community, with some believing he is exploiting the popularity of Afrobeats and others lauding his acknowledgement of borrowing musical styles and his appreciation of the original art form. 

We can also look at his latest single titled “Life is Good,” featuring the rapper and his longtime collaborator Future. This is the first time the duo has been featured on a song together since their widely successful 2015 collaborative record, “What a Time to Be Alive.” The song is split into two parts, with Drake’s verses and hook starting the track, followed with an interlude and verses by Future. The structure of the song is incoherent, with Future’s part completely independent from Drake’s performance in both flow and beat. 

Both professional critics and those on Twitter seem to agree that the song feels carried by Future’s verse while Drake’s has taken some flack for his contribution to the record. Pitchfork goes as far as to label his verse one in which “Drake gets to go all petty king and continue to pretend Pusha T hasn’t rattled him unimpeded.”

The two artists have recently been posting on social media together and there is growing speculation surrounding a potential sequel to their 2015 album. Could this album be a way for Drake to turn around the negative public image that seems to be growing against him in the media? After the release of this single, the view on this potential collaboration is split two ways: Some fans view the rumored album similar to a Hollywood movie sequel aiming for box office success rather than a project with artistic integrity; others simply think it’s a new project from two of the biggest artists in hip-hop.

I have always been a fan of Drake’s music but having noticed this shift in how he is respected by the online community, it will be interesting to witness what his next move will be. After watching these two interviews in which Drake positions himself in his own world with his own rules, it’s going to be harder in the future to please an audience with a growing distaste in what he has to offer and how he acts. The fact that Drake has to adhere to these more exclusive and safe avenues of public engagement might mean that, behind the scenes, life might not be as good as his latest song implies. 

East Coast Memo is a guest column by Diego Ramos. He is a staff writer for the Arts & Entertainment section.